where the writers are

You know, I am not a radical. I am not a protester. You will not find me chaining myself to trees, spiking Redwoods, or throwing bags of feces at the cops. I am pretty Establishment, from the sports teams I root for, to the schools I attended, the politics I support and the way I feel about my country.






Not too long ago, my editor, Dave Burgin, sat me down and said, “Every once in a while, write about something other than sports.” You see, I am a sports columnist. Most sports columnists (Hunter Thompson aside) are not radical by nature.






I thought about Burgin’s directive. What could I write about? The post-election fall-out? The West Bank? Who is at fault when the power goes out and I lose unsaved pearls in my computer?






I had a screenwriting teacher once who said, “Write what you know.” So I am.






I do not like being lied to. I do not like being played. I do not like being the “little guy vs. the system,” because the world is not a Frank Capra movie.






A few years ago, it came to my attention that there was a cancer drug called Krebiozen that saved thousands of lives in the 1950s, but the drug never got FDA approval because the pharmaceutical companies squashed it. Their reason for doing this was because the ampoule, costing $9.95, was too inexpensive to allow for profits. The doctors who held the patent would not sell it because they wanted it to be affordable, so they were blacklisted. The whole thing made me mad, and if you lost a loved one prematurely to cancer, it should horrify you.  






Another thing that does me dirty is suburban cops hiding behind bushes in quiet neighborhoods. I always thought police should do like fire departments, who send there people out to “hot spots” when an inferno gets out of control. Instead of letting their men in blue hang out looking for “Hollywood stoppers,” send ‘em to Oakland or someplace where real crime, drug dealing, shootings and the like make life miserable for citizens trying to live decent lives. Why is it that, if a person works hard enough to afford to live in a nice place like San Anselmo or Novato, that should increase their chances of getting tickets for stopping one and a half feet past a stop sign at 11:30 AM when nobody is around? That frosts me.






“No scalping” gets me, too. I am not talking about the guy who sells tickets outside the parking lot for twice its value for a “living.” I am talking about the guy with an extra ducat because his buddy’s wife told him he had to spend quality time with her, so the fellow wants his money back instead of eating the thing.






I do not like price gouging. It bugs me that Radio Shack quoted me $230 to install a sound card, when H I Q Computers did it for $76. It really gets me when I make a calling card call from a pay phone to another number a few miles away, get voicemail, leave a message, and later get charged $8 for that one-minute call. I am all for de-regulation, but consumers will get decent rates when they vote with their feet. I have not seen anybody write about this, so hopefully shedding light on this subject will have a disinfecting effect.     






San Rafael Ford sent me a notice. There was a recall on my diagnostic system, and they would fix it for free. Except that once there they said I needed a new radiator. I bought it, gullible me. $500, the man said. That figure magically became $689 when I went to pick it up. I showed him my note that said “500” on it, and explained it had nothing to do with Barry Bonds’ latest home run. “500” did not appear on that piece of paper out of thin air. Worse yet, when I went to the one honest auto mechanic I have known in my life, a guy named George in Redondo Beach, he told me I never needed a new radiator, that the whole thing could have been handled with plugs.






The last straw was at CompUSA in San Rafael. I bought a laptop, and the salesman sold me $500 worth of service warranties guaranteeing that the company would fix any glitches in the laptop for three years. I brought it home and it did not work. I came back and asked for an exchange. They said they did not have that model, but would sell me another one for $500 more. I told the man, “What the meaning of is is that I have spent my last dollar at CompUSA. I will give you the laptop and you will refund my money. I will go to your competition, buy another laptop there, and do all future computer-related business with your competitor.” My daughter was embarrassed, but my point was made.






He said, “I’ll be right back.” Upon his return, he said he “just found out” that the manufacturer had posted an up-date stating the problem had been discovered. Just found out, huh? Over the next month, I brought that laptop back about six times. Instead of honoring the service agreement to repair all the little problems, they offered do-it-yourself advice: Go to Windows up-dates, run system recovery, blah blah blah.






I finally brought it back because it still was not up to snuff, and I wanted them to make it up to snuff precisely and, to pure crystalline effect because, that is what I bought the service agreement for!






They refused, saying the simple adjustments I needed were not covered in the service agreement.






Hey, consumers, here are some tips. Small claims courts are there for you. Every District Attorney’s office has a Consumer Affairs department. The DMV investigates stuff like what San Rafael Ford did. The Better Business wants to hear from you.






Did you know that small print on contracts is not necessarily enforceable? It is called “boiler plate” language, and high court decisions have formulated the contract law taught at all law schools, which is that for a contract to be valid, it has to offer “the benefit of the bargain” to both parties.






Unilateral small print rarely does that, so do not be intimidated by it. I am not.