Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A Cup of Common Sense
Children in the United States have been putting card tables at the end of their driveways and selling lemonade for years and years and years, like, since the first Levittown went in in the late 1940s. It has become a time honored means of procuring cash for those who are too young to get a job flipping burgers and who are cut of the lucrative textile industry be child labor laws and the fact that they don't live in Malaysia. It has almost become a rite of passage for some to hang out their lemonade selling shingle and dispense cups of syrupy and overly sweet yellow summer goodness for 50¢ per tiny Dixie cup - you know, the kind that people have in their bathrooms or that they deliver meds in at the hospital.
So that's all that little 7-year-old Julie Murphy and her mother Maria Fife were trying to do, except that because this is America and they are filled with the entrepreneurial spirit they tried to kick it up a notch and they applied a really good idea to their Kool-Aide Lemonade selling business: they set up shop at a friendly local arts fair. This, to me, makes boatloads of sense, okay? Lots of people milling around the arts fair, with cash on hand, it's outdoors which makes people think refreshments, etc. etc. I love this idea, and props to Ms. Fife for helping her daughter along with this, because there are not a lot of parents who would be willing to throw all the things in the car and truck down to some park somewhere and set up a tent and deal with all the people and all that jazz. So kudos to her. Should have been a great thing, right?
Enter our nameless villains: two Multnomah County health inspectors. But we will enter them one at a time. The first one came along and asked to see the 7-year-old girl's restaurant license. Take a minute to let that sink in. They hit up an adolescent child selling lemonade to see their restaurant license. She, of course, had none, so the inspector informed her that she needed to cease and desist immediately or else face a fine up to $500, which I am pretty sure is what more than she was going to make selling lemonade that day.
Now, I am going to fall in line here with Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen, who we will learn more about in a little bit. I understand what this health inspector, and the second one who showed up a little bit later at the scene, were doing. They have a job - probably a pretty good job with the county - and that job is to enforce a code of ordinances and laws made up by the elected officials of Multnomah County and the State of Oregon. That is what they are paid to do, so they were just doing their job. And unfortunately sometimes the rule book just doesn't have and contradictions or gray areas. Sometimes it is just black and white and you can quote right from it "...the sale of liquid refreshments such as lemonade, iced tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. to members of the public beyond immediate family and not located upon the privately owned property of the seller shall be subject to licensure from the Multnomah County Department of Health..." and then yes, technically she needs a license that will cost more than she is going to make and yes she will have to get everything inspected for everything and made out of restaurant-grade stainless steel. Yes that happens sometimes. But more often than not the law is open for some degree of interpretation, and even if it is not there is always some degree of interpretation that is available when it comes to enforcement.
The problem here, is that nobody has a sense of what is really right and wrong anymore, and all that the health inspectors knew was that they couldn't lose their jobs or be reprimanded for following the laws on the books. So who can blame them? I can, and will. You have to couple the laws with common sense, people, and realize that maybe the 7-year-old doesn't need to have a restaurant license to sell lemonade because it's not that big of a deal. You can give me all the lines about serving the public good by keeping the public healthy and whatnot, but I am not going to buy it because I don't believe that you really do either. Hell, I have given lines like that in my work before tons of times in person or on the phone, but I don't put any stock in it when it comes out of my own mouth. Besides, in this instance, the public didn't seem to be concerned that there were no hair nets being worn or proper sterilization of the utensils.
The reason that I can infer that is because, as the second health inspector arrived on the scene to back up the first - I never knew health inspectors called for backup - there was a group of people surrounding them urging them to allow the sales to continue and supporting Julie. For their part, choosing the path of least resistance and not fanning the flames farther and being good citizens, Julie and Maria packed up their things and they left.
This is where the story gets interesting, because while the girl and her mother didn't fan any flames, they ignited nonetheless. While nine times out of ten this would have gone down in the history books as lesson for the young girl about just how much the grown-up world sucks and that people with clipboards in their hand and official looking identification badges will normally ruin your fun. But this happened to be the one out of ten where things went differently. Not only did the people at the arts fair leap to the defence of the young girl and her lemonade agenda, so did many other people in the Portland area, the most prominent of which was Mr. Cogen. He called up Ms. Fife in order to apologize for the hassle. He went on to the The Oregonian that "A lemonade is a classic, iconic American kid thing to do. I don't want to be in the business of shutting that down."
I immediately like this guy, and I am seriously considering moving to the Portland area just so I can vote for him. He has said - in regards to this situation - basically exactly what I would say. He made sure not to skewer the health inspectors because, well, they were doing their job and enforcing the law. He made sure to note that the kid should have been given a break but he never went out of his way to blast the law requiring a restaurant license. And he stood up for American-as-apple-pie traditions as he should have.
Here is the second place that this should have ended, and it is a happy ending place. The people at the art fair, who supported Julie, sort of are vindicated in the whole thing because the County Chairman admitted that he overreacted a bit. The girl gets to sell lemonade supposedly and at least got an apology out of the whole thing. The county looks like it is using its common sense. Now, if everyone else just would.
The story doesn't end here at the happy Hollywood ending spot because there is going to be another art fair. And one of the vendors is still unhappy and has told the Oregonian that they are planning a "lemonade revolt" which really, really boggles my mind. That would be the most useless and harmful thing one could do. You want to set this 7-year-old girl's cause back six years and make her think that the adult world is REALLY fucked up? Go ahead and stage your lemonade revolt. You want to make Mr. Cogen look like an ass for sticking up for a child and using his common sense? Go ahead and stage your lemonade revolt. You will be essentially tearing the scab off of a wound that is already rapidly healing and doesn't really need to be picked at. Mr. Cogen says that he doesn't know what he will do if a large number of fair vendors attempt to sell lemonade without a license. But I suspect that it will go down like this:
The county officials will know about this in advance, and they roll in there with their pencils and forms and citation books and come down on everyone in there selling without the proper permits. There will be backlash from and against both sides, because here is the deal. Technically, the county is right here. They were enforcing the law by shutting down Julie's operation, even if common sense said they shouldn't have. And the officials, even Mr. Cogen, has the responsibility to enforce the codes, so if these other vendors don't think they will be shut down in a heartbeat ESPECIALLY when they mouthed off about it in the first place, they are sadly mistaken. And if they think they will be able to challenge anything in court good luck, because the county, by shutting down Julie and her mom first, and shutting all you retards down second, will be able to claim uniform application of the ordinance and you will just waste everyone's time and money. And there will be no lemonade, there will just be sour grapes. And no one wants sour grape juice.
So here is my advice to the yahoo who wants to set up this lemonade revolt: I have always admired the people of Oregon for their forward and sensible thinking. Your leaders are showing the same spirit by offering an apology and somewhat straddling the fence on this one. Everyone is sort of at a happy conclusion. Just let it be. Think like an Oregonian and let it stand. Don't have your ill-conceived "lemonade revolt." Don't make any bigger of a deal of it than has already been made. Just keep selling your arts and crafts and we can all go back to peace. Otherwise, there won't be enough sugar to sweeten this batch. Damn it! There is that cheesy pun that I was trying to avoid.