Blood In The Water

  • Posted on: 27 September 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

Why are Victorians cheap?

I’m way down river from the mouth of the Ganges. Victoria caters to a large temporary population of tourists and students. Their money plumps our economy, but the introduction does funky things to the business climate. It means that hospitality services (restaurants and hotels) are over represented; but the other sectors are starving. Were our population consistent and made up of worker residents, we would see a very different make-up. Worker residents pay property taxes (through ownership or rental income). Most of their income flows through the community. They go to the furniture store. They shop local for their goods. Tourists parachute in; they eat Kobe beef appetizers; they buy a plastic mountie and a postcard, and hop on the next boat out of town. We have to make services and infrastructure capacity to satisfy the peak population (permanent and temporary are indistinguishable). The services are expensive to deliver (frustrated moreso by hapless spending in all levels of government) and not a lot of people are around to foot the bill. The remaining (eg. those Shop Local shops) pay inflated rents and property taxes to cover the burden. They don’t have any money left, so they cheap out on their expenses. The web designer is an expense.

I was in Nanaimo yesterday. All day and all night, I saw a frenzy of commercial activity. I saw subdivisions with hundreds of homes whose children play together and walk quiet streets to the nearby school. Stuff was going on. It’s roughly as picturesque as Victoria (they don’t have the Legislature; but luckily they don’t have to put up with Christy Clark and her band of corporate vampires either). It’s easier to get around. They have two ferry services to Vancouver-- even if they lose one, the ferry service is close to town. They don’t have the psychological barrier of the Malahat, so nearby communities are close at hand. It’s not that Nanaimo is better than Victoria. It’s that Victoria is severely self-hobbled and most other communities are not. Many of Victoria’s obstacles are imaginary and yet they have choked off the city for generations. As a side effect, they freeze the motility needed to make businesses viable and the cost of living affordable. That means they don’t have operating funds needed to support things like marketing. They have a delusion that their marketing and IT appetite should remain intact even though their wallets house moths.

Why Don’t Things Change?

I know so many people who are hungry for change who are caught up in Victoria’s amber. You would think this may spawn something like class warfare. I don’t think they fully realize the impact of this systemic inability to make things happen. Is everyone suffering? No: large contingents are keeping our city frozen through apathy. Some would rather you not change anything.

Dilettantes

I have long looked at people and thought, “How do you make ends meet?” I watched as two people partnered on a venture. One had to scrape and scrimp to keep their life in order. The other one took their leisure on Salt Spring Island at the family estate while their venture moved towards conclusion. People with old money and buy-outs (inheritance, insurance, and other suitcases of cash) find their way to Victoria and they distort the landscape. If one person can afford anything and the person beside them can afford nothing, the former will be oblivious to necessities of daily life. The former establishes the price points and you have a Gold Rush thing going on. When these realities are flagged to the dilettantes they will shoot back “That’s not my problem.” It means that people who pay their own way, start the day with one hand tied behind their back.

Douchebags

Victoria has lots of money and people will clutch onto their cash. Still, some fall prey to scammers of varying shades. Ian Thow found lots of eager victims who were propelled by greed to convert their money into even more money. Some people can cajole funding out of locals by successfully circumventing the tire-kickers who want to talk business but never commit. Some cast a Svengali like enthrallment on their victims. The best of them commit their scams with such delicate artistry that no one is aware they were scammed. The scammers become celebrated. They become gurus and experts. Some of these scammers have been at it for more than a generation, piping money from victims to their own spawn of dilettantes who can dance between the raindrops without a care in the world because their finances are taken care by Daddy’s douchebaggery.

Old Money

The cost of property is the limiting factor in Victoria. If we had an intact and functional population of consumers, the businesses could withstand Vancouver-like property prices. Instead we have a Duncan-like consumer volume of customers flowing through our shops. Old businesses (those established 10+ years ago) bought significantly cheaper properties and even the outrageous property taxes are bearable. If your home and business is long since paid for, that saves thousands of dollars per month in expenses; those savings can be rolled into other investments. Those savings represent money that doesn’t have to be earned. Changing up the dynamic or making things fairer for new businesses will diminish the advantages held by the old money crowd. Old Money wants things to be hard. In this municipal election, a bunch of them clustered behind a willing puppet who will do what it takes to prevent new blood from threatening old money.

Bitchsters

Think “Hipster” with an emphasis on the the high school “bitchy” practiced by teens. In Victoria, there is a little clique of wonderful hipsters. They love each other ever so much. They get to a level to fame that I call, “Victoria Famous.” Famous is to a T-Rex as Victoria Famous is to a gecko. I endured one Pecha-Kucha talk where all this hipster did was giggle as she showed off her slideshow of crappy graphic design. Her peeps were in the audience. They laughed and applauded at the inside jokes that were so inside, that they could only otherwise be discovered with the aid of proctologist. This affirmation-circle vets its own. No matter how lousy their work, you kinda need to love their work too if you want to hang with the cool kids. When they utterly fail to make Victoria a better place, you can’t fault them for it, lest some checkered neck beard will leap to their defense.

The Foreign Legion

This is almost me. The one way to make money is Victoria is to not earn it from Victoria. A number of viable businesses do it this way. They set-up shop here and pull in work from elsewhere. They don’t have to care how sparse the local opportunities are. If they want to get to civilization, Vancouver and Seattle are just across the water. This used to be me when there was a flow of money. If you don’t need to care about the plight of locals, the prices and go high and the opportunities can be hard to come by. All that, can be “someone else’s problem.”

The Pit of Despair

This is where I’ve lived for the last few years. When you look at a desert, you’re not seeing a lack of water: you’re seeing a landscape lacking in consistency. Things dry up so badly that the rains cause their own problems. As a self-employed person, I am in a no-man’s land. An employee can get sick time and vacation time. A charity case can get EI or welfare. I could get none of that. I made the mistake of working with Victoria businesses who don’t pay well, don’t pay quickly and are generally bad news. I have to thrash, splash and look like I have a good business to hire. Above all, I cannot look desperate.

Truth is: I have been desperate. I beat every bush. I looked all over the place. I got few commitments. If worked my ass off, I made crap money. If I did nothing, I would make no money. I had to keep thrashing.

It got so bad that I actually asked for a handout: Someone I knew was due to come into some money. Even though he was habitually broke, his plan was to sign over that inheritance to a niece and nephew as a familial F-U. After I had handed out over 20 years of smokes, free meals, taxi-service, computers, and other handouts large and small, I said: “I’m circling the drain and you should give me that money instead of giving to your two relatives.” $5000 wouldn’t mean anything to them (as kids due to to get some of the inheritance anyways, it’s icing on icing); but it could bridge me over a few months until I get to some safe financial harbour. It could mean the difference between losing and keeping my house. He suddenly mustered some dormant business savvy and replied, “What’s in it for me? What’s my return on investment?” It was a dodge. The river of charity flowed in one direction around him. Maybe he’s iconic of Victoria: that Victoria is a cannibalistic community.

Why wasn’t I out there publicly, hat in hand? There are stories of people who lost everything in a fire because they opted to not blow $40/month in fire insurance. One dude lost his wallet full of cash and people flocked in with so much money that he had spare money to do an elaborate honeymoon as well as a wedding. In Victoria, you forget to tuck your wallet into your pocket and you can get a week in Maui. If you struggle for years in quiet silence, you get nothing.

Why would I wait until now to divulge what’s been going on? It’s because as bad as it is for a local who cannot make money, it’s much much worse for a local who is desperate as well. Once the sharks sniff blood in the water, you’re screwed. The deals get much worse: people will dangle $18/hr. for a guru knowing that desperation will go a long to convincing talented people into taking crappy deals.

When one friend was desperate for work, he agreed to horse riding lessons and a Tennyson print. Horse riding only puts food on the table if you discreetly ride the horse all the way to a willing French butcher.

Another friend offered to sell his good scanner when times got tough. Someone offered him a crappy scanner in trade. He asked why on Earth the offer was ventured. The reply: “I thought you were desperate enough to take the deal.”

There are so many people out there not making it. We are all quiet. We are all stoic. We are all dancing as fast as we can. If you drop the facade that everything is awesome, you are betraying the code of stoicism that is pervasive in Victoria. Don’t put blood in the water or it will all go to Hell.

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Friday, September 29, 2017 - 01:50