Mark Franke: The virtue of pestering

Fort Wayne, my hometown, has a telephone service that residents can use to ask questions, request city services or report situations that require attention from city departments. I’ve never used this service, but I have a friend who contacts the 311 folks daily.

Of course he is a retiree with plenty of free time on his hands. The city isn’t the only recipient of his well-intended advice; I am sure he calls the local media outlets when he detects insufficient coverage of his favorite newsworthy entities such as the Fort Wayne TinCaps, our local minor league baseball team.

In fact, it was through the TinCaps that I met him. We both have season tickets and sit across the aisle from each other. He doesn’t deny TinCaps management his gratis advice either. The head groundskeeper, the concessions manager and even the team president benefit from his keen observations about everything going on around the ballpark. It may be my imagination, but most team staff seem to quickly head in the opposite direction when they spot him bearing down. So far I haven’t seen him sitting in the dugout offering advice on pitching changes, but who knows?

The hobby horse he has been riding ever since the TinCaps resumed play after the COVID shutdown is their cashless policy at the concessions stands. Now this policy makes management sense if one thinks it through. There is no handling of paper money and its potential for spreading the virus, no need to make change and no requirement to mount a cash-counting operation at the end of the night. What irritates him most is that the team can now charge sales tax on top of the sale price rather than absorb it. Digital transactions don’t care how many pennies are included.

This is quite logical to me, an undergraduate economics major with a master’s degree in business. Not to my friend, who finds this decision diabolical at best. When informed that nearly every public event venue has done this, he clearly sees conspiracy at the highest level. So he has been boycotting the concessions stands for the past two seasons. He has been known to smuggle in bags of peanuts, somehow never being caught by security at the gate. They are too focused on looking for weapons and alcohol and entirely missing this real and present danger to team profitability.

Still, he means well. One can’t gainsay his ideas or suggestions. They make sense and more importantly make things better for all of us.

It’s not that he is unusually opinionated; after all, he is even older than I, and we geezers have earned the right to have strongly held opinions about everything, the more negative the better. Since we became nonproductive contributors to the economy, sucking the Social Security trust fund dry, our only value to the youngsters in charge is to assertively point out how they can do things better.

He does have one character flaw, though. He is a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. This is still America so that is his right, but he assumes my only role in life is to keep him posted on the Reds score on nights we are sitting at Parkview Field watching the TinCaps. He can’t do it himself because he doesn’t own a cellphone. We all have to take a stand against the evils of modern society, and that is the hill he intends to die on. That, and using a credit card to buy peanuts at the concessions stand.

I write this as the TinCaps wind down their home season for 2022. I won’t see much of my friend until next season, and I will miss his running commentary on all my defects as a husband, citizen and baseball fan. He has even threatened to have my seats moved to the Treetops section, a bunch of metal bleachers high above right field radiating intense heat from being in direct sunlight. Given the awe in which he is held by team management, he might just pull that off.

At least he can continue to pester the 311 line throughout the winter. There will be streets that need plowing in addition to all the year-round deficiencies he detects. He should stay busy.

Medieval English towns had officials called beadles who were responsible for order. Maybe Fort Wayne can hire my friend as town beadle. He would drive around all day, scouting for broken streetlights, unfilled potholes and anything that offends his sense of propriety. He could have a direct line to every city office and department without having to go through the 311 switchboard. The city would be in spic-and-span shape without doubt. I just wouldn’t want any of the long-suffering 311 operators to lose their jobs when their contact volume plummets.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected]