The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


When Giovanni came to America he had great hopes for making a wonderful life for himself in his new country.  He found employment working at a hot dog stand and was always one of the customers’ favorites to ask for service because of his good looks, winning smile and pleasant attitude. 

After several years, he met Rosa and they married.  In the course of time the couple had a son and a few years later twin girls.  The two of them spoke about Giovanni’s dream for himself and his family – that he would start his own hot dog business and make enough to send his children to college.  The two of them scrimped and saved and when Roberto their oldest was five, Giovanni opened his own business.

Giovanni had learned a lot from his former employer.  He knew who made the best hot dogs and the best buns, who sold the best restaurant equipment at the least expensive price – but most of all he learned that hard work was the key to business success.  So Giovanni determined to work even harder to make his new venture a profitable enterprise.

The stand was located right off the exit to an expressway in the city.  About a mile from the exit near his stand he paid to have a large billboard put up which said, “Giovanni’s Hot Dogs – the Best Hot Dogs In Town.  OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY.  Come and enjoy!”  (Exit one mile).

And the people came and came.  They liked Giovanni and they liked his hot dogs.  And they came 24 hours a day.  Giovanni and Rosa saved and saved and saved enough to send Roberto, who was a very bright boy, to Harvard where he graduated near the top of his class.  On graduation he was admitted to the Harvard Business School.  And then the recession came.

Even though Giovanni stayed open 24 hours a day as he always had, business began to decline.  He wasn’t hit as bad as so many others because hot dogs were still affordable and not really a luxury.

And then one day he opened his mail.  It was a letter from the City Department of Food Services.  They  wrote to inform him that a new ordinance had been passed.  Restaurants which were open past midnight, “shall pay a fee of Two thousand five hundred dollars per month.”  Giovanni didn’t understand why this should be but Roberto had just returned from a break at business school and he showed it to him.

Roberto called the department the next morning to find out the reasoning behind the new ordinance.  He spoke with the second chief assistant to the Director of the department – who passed him along to the third Assistant Director in charge of “vendor relations.”  This woman gave a very cogent explanation to Roberto.

“We have conducted numerous surveys and have found that in at least a few instances, restaurants which maintain late night schedules often are the preferred venue for gang activities and other un-desirables.  This, of course, means that we must have additional police patrols which costs the city money and we are merely passing this additional cost along to those restaurants as their fair share of paying for essential services.”

Roberto, who was studying governmental-business relationships understood the logic and passed the Assistant Director’s comments along to his father.  “It’s really only fair, pop.  You don’t want bad people hanging out around here so they need more police to make sure they stay away.”

Giovanni replied, “But we don’t have any bad kids around here.  I’ve never seen anyone I thought belonged to a gang.  These are good kids come in here, a lot of the time with their families.  What should I do?”

Roberto suggested that since the country was in a recession his father should close the stand – after all  – how many people came in for hot dogs after midnight.  That way he wouldn’t have to pay the fee (other than for the three months that it had been retroactively applied to businesses in the ordinance).

So Giovanni began closing at midnight.  This wasn’t all bad as he got to spend more time at home with Rosa and his two twin girls who were still living with them.  But his business began to decline.  Giovanni thought that this must have been due to the recession.

A few months went by and Giovanni received a certified letter in the mail.  It was from the office of the Corporation Counsel’s office.  Giovanni was being sued for “false advertising.”  The complaint stipulated that Giovanni had a billboard which purported that his business was open 24 hours a day.  The business in fact only operated between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight.

Giovanni had forgotten about his large billboard on the side of the highway.  The city was proposing that a fine of $500 a day be imposed for each and every day that this criminal false advertising had been “perpetrated” on the public.  That would cost Giovanni at least $30,000 since he had changed his business hours to avoid having to pay the fee the other city department wanted to collect.

Roberto was back for another break from business school.  He read the complaint and promised his father that he would handle it for him.  The next day he went down to City Hall to speak with the Corporation Counsel.  The head of the department was on vacation but Roberto was able to speak with his Second Assistant Prosecutor in charge of fraud and bunko. 

This man agreed to withdraw the complaint if Giovanni paid the fine and removed his billboard.  He realized that would take a few days and came to an accord that there would be no further levies imposed as long as Giovanni had the sign removed within ten days.  Roberto left promising to explain this to his father.  He was sure that his dad would go along with the agreement he had negotiated.

Roberto went to his dad’s hot dog stand where as usual Giovanni was behind the counter.  As he stood waiting to speak to his father he heard a long-time customer ask, “Giovanni, are you alright?  You look a little worried.”

Giovanni replied, “No, Sammy I’m okay.  Just a little trouble with the city but my boy Roberto is going to take care of it for me.  You know he’s in Harvard Business School.”

Roberto explained what he had discussed down at City Hall.  His father said, “You mean you think I should pay the $30,000 fine and tear down my sign?  Why?”

His son explained that the city had its residents’ welfare at heart.  After all, Giovanni wouldn’t want to do anything fraudulent – and the sign obviously was inaccurate since the restaurant was now only open sixteen hours a day.  He went on to explain that fighting this in a court battle would not only take a lot of his time but he would have to pay the legal fees whether he won or lost.  He reminded his dad of the old expression, “You can’t fight City Hall.”

But Roberto also told his father that if he tore down the sign he would save the $500 a month that the billboard company was charging him.  Besides, after all the years in business his customers knew where he was.  Why should he spend money every month on advertising – especially in the middle of a recession?

So the sign came down and Giovanni paid the fine to the city.  The recession got worse and now it was beginning to have an effect not only on Giovanni’s business but on his health.  As his strength failed, Giovanni had to hire two people to do the work that he had formerly done by himself.  It was hard to find good help who lived up to his standards.

One day while Giovanni was at the hot dog stand a man came in from INS – the Federal agency which makes sure that employers only hire those who are qualified to work in the United States.  He asked to see the various forms that department required be completed to make sure that Giovanni’s employees were not illegal aliens.

Giovanni looked at this agent and asked him, “What do you mean by forms?  These are kids I have known for eight or nine years – kids from the neighborhood.”  The agent wasn’t impressed with this and in the absence of Giovanni’s being able to produce the requisite forms wrote up a citation.  If convicted, Giovanni could face a fine of up to $50,000 per undocumented worker.

That night Giovanni went home and after one of Rosa’s wonderful dinners he had a heart attack.  Rosa called 911 but by the time they responded, Giovanni had passed from this world.

Roberto served as the chief Pall Bearer for his father.  The funeral was well-attended as Giovanni had made many friends through his business over the years.

No one from the City Department of Food Services, the Corporation Counsel’s office or the INS came to pay their respects.

Comments on: "THE HOT DOG STAND" (4)

  1. Oh how sad. See the irony of life? Going to Havard business school only made his son to accept the bills that were presented and convince him to pay them without introducing anything to make up for it! Well written and very touching.

  2. If the business schools in this country wanted to add a class to their curriculum that would be truly useful to it’s students it would be, “Defending Your Business Against Government Intrusion 101.”

  3. Loved this blog. You’ve only scratched the surface of governmental blundering and stupidity though. Growing up I could go anywhere, there was little intrusion into the lives of people. But today our lives are regulated to extreme and we are no better off for it. Much of the quality of life has been taken away from us by this over protection. However it is explained to us that all this government intrustion is for our own protection. Our “elected” leaders are our Mother and Father and their rules are for the common good.

  4. Trust me, Ian – I have enough material on this subject to write a book rivaling “War and Peace” in length. (That may be an upcoming project). While I believe as you do that this is perfidious, there is only one reason it exists and is growing. That is that more and more people are abdicating their sense of personal responsibility – and are happy to hand over that which is fundamental to their being people and not robots over to government or whoever promises the biggest “free lunch.”

    I’m glad you liked the post.

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