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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pain at the pump

Note: This post was originally published on August 13, 2013 and has been rewritten and updated with new information.
"Sliders" is the term given to criminals stealing purses and other valuables from cars at gas pumps. While women are pumping gas, the criminal sneaks up on the opposite side of the car, opens the door, and grabs the purse, or they go in through an open window. Sliding gained popularity a few years ago and is still a technique used today. Another method of “gas pump” theft is one person distracts the victim while a partner steals the item. Either way, customers at gas pumps need to be alert and aware of their surroundings.

How do you pump gas?

Most people pull their car up to the pump with the tank opening nearest the pump. They are then tucked in between the six or seven-foot high pump and their car while filling up or even worse a large SUV or truck. People pumping gas are ripe for theft. They either have their wallet/purse and keys on them or leave the keys in the car, and/or their purse in the unlocked car.
Gas stations have become hawking grounds for car products. Salesmen are allowed to set up in parking lots and sell their wares. When customers are focused on operating the gas pump, with field of vision shielded, is not the time to try to sell them something. Blame it on cynicism or all of the cons and scams that have been perpetrated throughout history.
One point of curiosity is not as much the people who approach you while pumping gas, but that they don’t understand how vulnerable a person is at that moment and yet they want to talk to you. It is sad that the world has come to this, but people have to be on their toes at all times to protect themselves. Some vendors are a little more enthusiastic than others and will go pump to pump asking to clean your windows, shine your car, or demonstrate whatever they are selling. When you tell them you’re not interested or stop them from approaching, they get offended. Apologies for being curt, but we’re just trying to be safe. Please don’t be offended when stopped from approaching.
Recently, while pumping gas, a man was going pump-to-pump talking to customers. Not knowing exactly what he wanted he was stopped as he approached. He was thanked and told I was not interested. He immediately became offended, told me how rude I was and moved on. But he never came within ten feet. He moved to next pump and was overheard asking a lady for money to get him and his daughter home. She also declined. I watched him return to his car and meet up with his six-foot “daughter” who appeared to be quite male. Maybe he did need money and felt the daughter angle would work better, maybe it was a scam. Anyway, with all of the crime that takes place at gas pumps, not the wisest place to panhandle.


Another panhandling scam that is gaining popularity is the fake motorist in need of assistance. Police in central Maryland have had several reports of vehicles sitting on the side of the road or on highway ramps. When good Samaritans stop to help, the driver (usually male with a female companion and a child or more) will say that they only need money for gas. Most people will give them a few dollars and move on. The problem? The driver doesn’t move on. He/they pocket the money and wait for the next big heart to roll up. Recently, the Maryland State Police stopped to help just such a stranded motorist. While getting the spiel from the driver the Trooper noticed that the vehicles fuel gauge indicated a sufficient amount of fuel. Subsequent investigation led to the driver’s arrest after which he was found to be in possession of several hundred dollars.
Luckily, most criminals do not want confrontation. They want the quick grab and slip away without the victim knowing. Crime is still based on three elements-means, motive, and opportunity. Take one of these elements away and you can reduce your risk of being a victim. Most criminals have the desire and the motive. What they are looking for is the opportunity.
Pumping gas, ATMs, movie rental boxes, even the grocery checkout, anywhere a person is focused on operating an electronic pay device can give a criminal the opportunity they need to pounce. Watch for people trying to talk to you as a distraction while their partner steals from your car or worse, comes up behind you. Keep your doors locked and pay attention to what is going on around you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fighting for your holiday dollar: Halloween v Christmas

Shopping in a big box hardware store in early October I had the pleasure of viewing Halloween decorations on one side of the aisle and Christmas on the other. I say pleasure, because instead of fighting it, I try to ignore the retail world’s impatience to be the first out of the gate with the various holidays. In early October, one can tweak their Halloween decorations while perusing the new offerings for Christmas. If someone needs replacement bulbs at least the store is meeting the needs of its customers.

Christmas in July 

Every year the rush to be the first retailer for any particular holiday gets earlier and earlier. Can’t say when it started but it seems like in the last five or ten years Christmas comes earlier. Soon Christmas in July won’t be a fun summer celebration but the real thing.

The holidays themselves can’t be moved (Or can they?) Halloween and Christmas have been set dates since ancient times. Doubtful a special interest lobby is going to get Congress to change the dates, but you never can tell.  The commercialism of the holidays is the variable. It comes down to being the first to grab the customer. Black Friday sales used to start at normal business hours on the day after Thanksgiving. Can’t move the Friday after Thanksgiving but retailers can open their doors whenever they want. The sales started to creep earlier, beginning at six AM, four AM, then midnight. Then the “Black Friday” sales started in the evening hours on Thanksgiving then the morning of Thanksgiving. It starts with one major retailer, then someone else will open earlier, then another and another. Until the whole holiday weekend is sales, sales, sales.

Most shoppers feel that Black Friday has encroached too much on Thanksgiving, starting too soon. But those feelings didn’t keep them away from computers. While 2015 brick and mortar Black Friday sales were down approximately 9%, online sales jumped 14%. (Variety of sources)


Is it the impatience of the consumers or the retailers? What is driving the need to get the next holiday merchandise on the shelves before the present holiday has arrived?  Although consumers will grab anything on sale, the drive for early holiday shopping seems to be the need for retailers to capture their market share. As individual retailers look at their bottom line the next big promotion is driven by current sales. Didn’t do well with back to school? Get out the Halloween stock. Don’t usually sell that much candy or ghoulish decorations? Clear more shelves for Christmas. If a retailer knows that they don’t do particularly well during a certain holiday they’ll try to start snagging shoppers for the next.

Rarely do retailers advertise Christmas items on “sale”. They just appear on the shelves next to costumes and Jack O’ Lanterns. Buyers have little product comparison and probably feel they are getting a good deal buying their supplies two months early.  Too much might be too much. In 2015, Target took some media heat when it ran commercials in October that had combined Halloween/Christmas themes.  

It’s like ready the Sunday comics on Saturday, it’s just not done. Stores can stock the shelves as early as they want, I’ll at least wait for the holiday month to start looking.

Monday, October 3, 2016

More Southern hospitality

Living in the Mid Atlantic region you’re not really in the north or the south and sometimes it depends on who’s asking. If you live in a metro area you are more accustomed to a fast paced lifestyle. You get use to it. Not sure if it’s the pace or living in zip codes instead of actual towns, but when you leave the hustle of the Washington metro area heading south there is a marked increase in hospitality and friendliness. I wrote on this topic once  before (Southern hospitality June 2016) and it was noticed again on two separate trips this year. Maybe being from out of town you expect to be treated as such or maybe there is a real difference. Whatever the reason, it is welcomed and why we enjoy traveling thru the South.

While in Alabama near the Georgia line and always on the lookout for BBQ, we came across a little place not much bigger than a shack, but on a late Sunday morning the place was packed. We stopped for some take out and the bill came to $15.10. All I had on me was $20 and other bills. Not wanting to short this small business a dime I told the cashier I’d have to run out to the car. There was a nice older lady waiting for her order near the register. She immediately spoke up and offered a dime to cover me.

Now this wasn’t a great act of kindness that will save mankind. It was only a dime. However, everyone seemed to know each other. I’m sure I was pegged for an out of towner. This lady didn’t need to say a word. But she spoke up and opened her purse. Probably, “A had to be there” moment, but it was very touching. And the BBQ was excellent! What made it for me was the Georgia style mustard BBQ sauce, which I had fallen in love with on an earlier trip to the area and seek out whenever I’m in the Deep South. But this isn’t a food blog.

The second trip took us through the Carolinas and did not disappoint. Everyone we came across was astonishingly friendly. People speak to you when passing-wish you a good day-Cashiers, clerks, hotel employees, everyone.

Visiting an antique store in North Carolina we were greeted by a friendly proprietor that was not extraordinary, especially with the theme of this blog. But what was surprising was his willingness to get out from behind the counter, engage us in conversation, and point out the different collections within the store. The openness and hospitality to strangers that we come across again and again. Now I’ll give him a bit of salesmanship, I mean why not be friendly and show people around. Only going to increase sales. But we have been in plenty of stores, similar and otherwise, where the clerks/managers/owners could care less. You’re lucky of they make eye contact.

During our visit we came across another shopper. He was looking around just like us. After a few excuse me’s and pardon me’s (small store) we began commenting on what each other was examining. A chat started and for the next ten minutes we had the most enjoyable conversation with the gentleman. We parted with a hardy handshake, a God Bless, and safe travels.

To top off our visit, the proprietor had learned we were passing through on the way North. He wanted to make sure that we knew about the gasoline shortage. (Having disconnected for a few days we completely missed the Alabama pipeline leak that was affecting the entire South) Stations were running out of gas and he encouraged us to top off before leaving town, giving us a few suggestions on which stations still had gas.

I texted a friend who was vacationing in South Carolina at the time to make sure he knew about the gas shortages. He replied that he did, receiving the information from a friendly southerner the same as me. “Amazing”, he wrote. “can’t see that happening at home”

Sunday in the south
Several years ago we had just gotten off the interstate in North Carolina, checked in to our hotel, and went looking for dinner in the nearest town. Unfamiliar with the area we thought that what was once a thriving town had been denigrated by the loss of industry or a box store shopping center. The town looked like it had some business but every thing was closed, no one around.

Then it finally hit us. It was Sunday evening, in a small town, in the South. Nothing was happening or was it going to happen. But that was OK. It’s refreshing to come across old time values. Take a moment to slow down and observe the day of rest.

Well, we fell for it again. The night before visiting the aforementioned antique store we did some exploring for what we might do the next morning. Again, the town looked deserted. Nothing open, no one out and about. Save for the few people you saw sitting on their porches enjoying the unseasonably cool summer evening. Wondering what had sucked the life out of the town we came back to our initial finding-Sunday in the South. It’s just the way it is.

We could all take a few lessons from these experiences. Wave and say hi to strangers. Take a break on Sunday. The world might just be a better place.