Monday, May 26, 2008

The dread menace of elderly altruists, thwarted at last!

From Rad Geek comes the bizarre story of an elderly man in Florida who was arrested and fined $2,000 for offering a woman who said she needed help getting home- who was actually an undercover agent of the Miami-Dade County’s Consumer Services Department- a ride home in his car. His offense? After the agent repeatedly demanded to know how much money he wanted for his aid, 78-year old Rosco O’Neil finally agreed to suggest a price, at which point he was set upon by a group of police who seized and impounded his van for providing an “illegal taxi service.”

This is incredibly perverse, but the fact that O’Neil is being punished by the government for trying to help someone in need isn’t the main aspect of this that interests me. The fact that the man in this incident was obviously not engaged in anything resembling any sane person’s idea of “taxi service” is not the most bothersome thing. The most bothersome thing is that there are undercover agents hunting unlicensed taxi drivers. My first thought was that the whole idea sounded like something out of Stalinist Russia, but that’s not quite right; it more like something out of a wacky, over-the-top parody of Stalinist Russia.

I’m sure it’s not easy working for the Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department. Every morning as you put on your bullet-proof vest to go to work, you wonder if this is the last time you’ll say goodbye to your wife and kids, if this is the day some unlicensed taxi driver hopped up on pine-scented air freshener sticks a knife between your ribs or beats you to death with his beaded back cushion. At night you lie awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, as the faces of licensed taxi drivers whose monopoly profits you couldn’t save stare accusingly back. And yet, when you look into your youngest daughter’s eyes every morning, you don’t regret the sacrifices you’ve made, because by God you are not going to let her grow up in a world where kindly old men offer transportation to people in need on every street corner. Not in your town, not while you have anything to say about it!

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