Dark warnings from the mind of a parking meter


Don't call the psychic hotline to predict the future. Don't read tea leaves. Read parking meters.

Little things like that take people from dull anger to deadly desperation.

The city of Reno is doubling the price of metered parking to 50 cents an hour, limiting occupancy to two hours and expanding ticketable time through midnight seven days a week. Reno has been the most financially mismanaged city in Nevada over the past 30 years, so the burning desire for more money becomes understandable for a town pocked with potholes.

But I worry about the effect on already overburdened people. The worker bees can make room for paying casino customers by using parking garages, say the town fathers. It's not that easy.

Regular readers will remember my experience with Harrah's parking garage a couple of years ago. I took my wife to dinner and we both played a few coins afterward. When we returned to our car, we found a notice on the windshield. If I came there again, my vehicle would be towed.

What did I do that rubbed them so wrong? I dared to park my old Pontiac, which apparently looks like something only one of their employees would drive. I haven't been to Harrah's since.

Harrah's parking garage policy demonstrates the disfavored status of workers. They cannot park in at least one garage if their autos don't reflect proper prosperity. Now, they can't park on city streets without risking the law's wrath.

I guess that means ride the bus, the main station of which is in serious danger of demolition to make way for another casino in the most congested area of town. All this contributes to that vague and growing anger people feel but can't quite define.

Down at the people's legislature, our lawmakers are making sure that the worker bees remain royally screwed. At the behest of the gambling-industrial complex, our representatives are imposing new taxes on those least able to pay while cutting casino levies. In the grand tradition of Ronald Reagan and the Victorian era robber barons, they are also passing laws "deregulating" major industries, getting that dastardly government off our backs. In reality, they are providing opportunities for gambling and mining behemoths to get big breaks on their power bills at your expense and mine.

The poor fry cook looking for a place to park may soon wind up walking as more and more of his money goes to subsidize the utility expenses of big corporations. His old car was becoming nonviable anyway. In the same deregulation bill pushed by state Sen. Randolph Townsend (R-Reno), lies permission for major oil companies to gobble up more retail gas stations to ratchet prices higher and higher.

Last week, I talked to a disheartened man. He labors at a downtown casino and has been fighting for the rights of his fellow workers for many years. Every step forward has meant two steps back. He has seen families fall apart because no matter what they do, they have a hard time surviving in sucker bet cities like Reno and Sparks.

Hopelessness leads to alcoholism, cigarettes and other drug abuses. Crime by juveniles and adults becomes a predictable result. Prisons are the fastest growing industry in the state. Plans for a major expansion of the Washoe county jail are afoot.

"All this is contributing to what Jerome Miller, a former youth corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, calls our emerging 'gulag state.' He notes that African-American and Hispanic men account for about three-quarters of new admissions to American jails," reported Craig Cox in the current edition of the Utne Reader. Most alarmingly, Miller predicts that "within 15 years, an 'absolute majority' of African-American men will be behind bars. He argues that this would be comparable to the post-Civil War period, when officials viewed the penal system as a cheaper alternative to slavery."

Though barred by federal and state rules, prisoners are replacing workers.

The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Fabry Glove & Mitten Co. took advantage of a state prison labor program. The northeast Wisconsin employer closed two of its three plants, cut its workforce up to 40 percent and hired inmates to do the same work. And we complain about China?

All this seems to be okay as long as the victims are perceived to be black or brown. A report last week brought the less-than-startling revelation that black and Hispanic families possess only about 10 percent of the net asset worth of the average white household.

If you believe the party line of the powerful, the only answer lies in cowboy rugged individualism, harder work, more personal responsibility for your own life. That's intellectual junk food fed to the public by billions of tax-deductible corporate propaganda dollars and politicians bought on the side. Reality is much different.

We've been sold the idea that the richest country in the world can't afford to pay its people a living wage or educate its kids. But the public is still forced to fund corporate welfare, outrageous executive salaries and the tax-deductibility of tobacco damage claims.

Public education remains the only hope for the underclass, but the schools, too, have been corrupted by greed. Despite a year of revelations of financial mismanagement, University of Nevada regents gave lightweight chancellor Richard Jarvis humongous pay and benefit increases plus job security for life. The legislature gave the university system the largest percentage increase in the nation for the second time in a row. Meanwhile, classes continue to get cancelled and students and professors still don't have enough materials to get the job done.

President Joe Crowley and UNR just lost another of a continuing series of cases brought by aggrieved faculty members and employees, this one for $400,000 in Judge Mills Lane's courtroom. That taxpayer money could have been earmarked for students instead of lawyers. The plaintiff, Dr. Peter Stacey, told me he was damaged for speaking his mind against an administration wary of offending corporate interests. Therein lies a real-world lesson for students.

So what hope can we offer the fry cook who will soon be unable to afford, let alone park, his old car? What do I tell my disheartened friend who speaks out for workers?

Perhaps my unhappy pal answered his own question: how about a broadly based citizen organization which can move quickly and act decisively? Great idea. But a crusade needs a leader. Two decades ago, I thought that would be Randolph Townsend. I was dead wrong.

Anyone willing to step forward?

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988. This column originally published 6/29/97.

Reprints of the UNR financial scandal newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot Reno locations.