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December 5, 2009
A Sarasota Christmas Rip-Off
There is something special about the Christmas season. It is not often that one is greeted by
smiling children dressed in red and green costumes giving a wave and a hearty "Merry
Christmas!" On the west coast of Florida life regains, at least for a short time in Sarasota, the
friendliness I discovered after moving here more than twenty years ago.
Sarasota was laid-back then, slower and neighborly. People, some poor, others richer, some young, most
considerably older, some well educated, others not, understood that to live together in peace
simply meant trying to be good neighbors. Doing so required treating each other fairly and with
basic human respect. Such happens to be the message of the world's great religions. Perhaps
youngsters in seasonal reds and greens are learning this, particularly during Christmas
We in Sarasota cherish our trees and flowers, tropical sunshine, beaches, fishing, and sunsets.
Not long ago we cherished the character of our small city, its quietness and its brick, cement
block, and wooden structures. Our community changed significantly during financial bubbles of the
past decade. Suddenly it was all about growth, progress, and big money-making, a world unfamiliar
to many local residents. Out-of-town real-estate developers, flush with credit, had referred to
Sarasota as blighted and persuaded our city counsel to open the area to their business. Then they
gave us the business. I no longer bicycle around town due to traffic.
Sarasota is known for its artistic and cultural events, one of which is The Singing Christmas
Tree, a tradition which has even been transported to England for special performances. Its
website describes this as "an annual music and drama production written and directed by church
members, and accompanied by an orchestra. The performance features a multi-story tree, adorned
with our talented choir members. With the various musical pieces, the tree comes to life in an
awe-inspiring light show. In addition, each year's drama performance is new and spectacular,
but with a special message."
I did not attend The Singing Christmas Tree performance today and I wonder what this year's
message might have been. Perhaps it involved treating one another fairly and with basic human
respect, this being the minimum of that great ethical message brought by, and for whom, our
Sarasota "tree" of choir members sings during this season.
There will always be some people who never get the message, especially when money is involved,
as discovered by three Longboat Key ladies who drove downtown this afternoon to The Sarasota
Baptist Church on Main Street to be prompt for the 3:30 performance of The Singing Christmas
Those of us who are downtown regularly and park a car diagonally on either side of Main Street
have, over the past few days, noticed small yellow posters tacked on trees saying that normal
on-street diagonal parking would not be allowed after 5:00 on the day of a Christmas parade,
scheduled to begin at 7:00. Today was that day.
When Liz Yerkes arrived downtown with two friends this afternoon from their Longboat Key homes
for the Christmas Tree musical performance it was difficult to find an empty parking space.
Finding one, she parked her car, locked it, and the three ladies walked less than a block to the
church in time for the start of the performance. Advice was announced to the audience attending
The Singing Christmas Tree that, following the performance, they would need to move cars parked
on Main Street because the annual Sarasota Christmas parade was scheduled this evening.
Following the performance and walking to the car Liz and her friends were surprised to see a
tow truck backed up to their car. Men were attaching a tow bar to its rear. Liz ran to the scene
and asked that the tow truck be moved in order for her to move her own vehicle. It was at this
moment that I happened to be walking past on the sidewalk. I looked at my watch. It was 5:10 and,
remembering the yellow posters, I realized what was going on. I stopped to listen.
There was a Direct Towing truck and its men present as well as a Sarasota police officer. I
looked for a familiar yellow poster bearing the 5:00 message. The closest one was across the
street and several yards to the west. Obviously, it could never have been seen by Liz or her
Although it would have been an easy matter for the tow crew to move and allow Liz to
drive away with her friends, clearing the street for the 7:00 event, they refused to do so.
I overheard them refer her to the cop. When asked politely why it was necessary for the
tow crew to remove her car, he referred her back to the tow crew. The tow driver then explained
that the law required him to remove the car.
I overheard Liz ask, "What if we had not come in time and the car was gone? How would I know
where to find it?" The tow truck driver said that when she reported it to the police she would
have been told. He said he was going to tow her car to their storage lot. When Liz asked how
she could get there, he suggested that she get a taxi.
Turning again to the cop, Liz protested that she had been unaware of the time limit. When the cop
told her of the posted signs, she asked to be shown one. There were none posted on her side of
the street visible from the area of her car. Then a simple solution emerged. For the sum of
one-hundred and twenty-five dollars, in cash, the driver of the tow truck would move his vehicle
and Liz could back her car and drive off. I watched as the three ladies dug through purses and,
fortunately, were able to came up with the cash. The money was paid. The vehicles were moved,
but not before I asked permission to interview Liz for the purpose of taking a few notes.
The way to have treated these ladies from Longboat Key, our neighbors, fairly and with basic
human respect would have been to acknowledge the absence of a posted sign, tell them how
fortunate they were to have returned to the car when they did, and let them move their car,
thereby clearing the street for a parade scheduled to start nearly two hours later. If, in fact,
there does exist a law that required the vehicle to be towed, then it was broken for the sum of
one-hundred and twenty-five dollars in cash.
Liz and her friends say that they never want to come to downtown Sarasota again.
Mar. 19, 2009:
Preparing for Civil Unrest in America
Is it over for the USA? - Can this be true?
Posted 12/13/09: A Stability Police Force for the United States
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