I called my friend (who I'll not name to protect his innocence) today to see where he was watching the Detroit Pistons game. His response was that he wasn't, but wanted me to call him to give him periodic updates because he was working and expected to be on the job until about 3 a.m.
Too bad, and great, is what I thought. Too bad because he would miss the game, but great because he was making a ton of money in overtime. My friend works for the phone company.
I felt for him, with so much going on in the city today. The Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals and the Tigers playing to win a game -- we'll take any victory against any team at this point. I left the YMCA downtown today at about 3:30 p.m. and Tigers fans (the stadium's three blocks away from the Y) were already tailgating for the 7 p.m. game. With all that happening, I thought it was too bad he was stuck at work.
Being the great friend that I am, I took him a little portable TV I use to watch ball games out on my deck. I figured he and his co-workers could catch a bit of the game during their break, and of course he took me up on the offer.
When I got to the job site -- I had to know what kind of important gig he was assigned that would keeping he and his crew working through the night -- I discovered it was a strip job. Someone had stolen a boat load (or maybe trunk load) of telephone wire from a neighborhood. It was a pretty huge haul, as my friend explained, leaving hundreds of people without phone service for a couple of days as a result.
Thieves have been stealing phone wire for the copper inside and selling it to scrap yards. I'm told that they can get $20 a foot, and for several hundred feet, make a nice chunk of change for about an hour's worth of work -- or even less for seasoned veterans. And there are plenty of veterans, because this problem has been rampant in the city for a couple of years.
I was amazed. Well, not shocked, more like disgusted. I have been reading about this stuff for years but hadn't actually visited a crime scene and viewed the damage. It was such a waste, and an even sadder commentary about the desperation of so many people in this city. The criminals who risk the loss of their freedom to steal the wire, and the scrap dealers who knowingly accept the stolen wire from them. I'm reminded of the Chris Rock joke, that there would be a lot fewer drive-by shootings if bullets cost $5,000 a piece. There would be a lot fewer cases of criminal vandalism in the way of stripping of vacant homes, utility infrastructure and shuttered businesses if the powers that be could make the cost of doing so a compelling deterrent.
I'm not one for adding to bureaucracy, but the city needs to beef up its oversight of scrap yards and levy heavy penalties for anyone doing anything suspect. Here's an example of how the task force I envision would control suspect transactions --
Scrap Yard Dealer: "Mr. Smith told me he found this 400 feet of wire laying in an alley."
Task Force Investigator "Well, since you have to ask for IDs now, let's see your records.
Investigator: "Wow. Mr. Smith seems to have a proclivity for finding wire. He's been here twice a week for the past year."
Dealer: "Looks that way."
Investigator: "Sir, do you smoke crack?"
Investigator: "Do you think I smoke crack?"
Investigator: "That means you do actually have some sense."
Dealer: "Um, thank you?"
Investigator: "You're welcome, sir. I'm fining you $25,000. Have a nice day. And pray that Mr. Smith doesn't find some cable laying in your alley one day."