July 20th, 2024

‘User pay’ a cutting edge idea in the ’80s

By Lethbridge Herald on May 21, 2022.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

The City’s decision to introduce paid parking at the Enmax Centre starting in September has generated a lot of response – positive and negative.

And that’s understandable because change always provokes a response. Some welcome it, others are fearful of it. Right or wrong, people get accustomed to things being done a certain way and changes can be difficult adapting to or accepting.

But change is part of life. And adapting to change is essential as we go through this unpredictable journey.

The new $5 fee isn’t being welcomed by some while others have told me they think it’s inevitable or overdue.

I’ve also heard and read plenty about the concept of “user pay,” especially when it comes to the garbage, recycling and upcoming green bins which have now been introduced in a few areas of the city.

We’ve heard “user pay” bandied about for years on various matters – when the City has considered building a new arts or sports facility, opponents have used “user pay” as a rallying cry because they didn’t want their taxes to be used for a facility they wouldn’t utilize.

I first dealt first-hand with the idea in the mid-1980s in Ontario when we who used the weight room at the town-owned and operated fitness complex were told we needed to come up with money to help pay for renovations or they wouldn’t get done to that part of the facility.

That complex also included squash courts and an indoor swimming pool which was used not only for recreation but also by the town’s swim club.

So a couple of us joined forces to figure out a way to raise the needed $5,000 that was deemed to be our share to help pay for an expanded weight room. The space was tiny, crowded and had decrepit equipment so improvements were needed. And the town wanted us who used it to help pay for costs. Right or wrong, we had no choice.

At the time, I wore a man perm, a long shaggy one which flowed down to my shoulders. It was a thing back then as people who watched MTV and MuchMusic videos will remember. Perms and fluourescent spandex were big in the ‘80s and I rocked ‘em both. Maybe not well, but I rocked them nonetheless. 

While walking to coffee at the old Rainy Lake Hotel to brainstorm, I had an epiphany. My colleague in the fundraising venture, a firefighter named Bob Tkachuk, was completely bald, having shorn his hair one night to the surprise of everyone who saw him stride into a Kinsmen Club event. Bob fit the bald look; he was an absolute physical beast.

 As we walked, sunlight reflected off Bob’s shiny noggin and that aforementioned epiphany struck like lightning  – we’d shave my head for charity.  Back in 1985, charity events like Farm Aid were just getting started so I thought why not do Bald Aid?

We stopped in front of a provincial government office where staff were having their coffee and I just stared at Bob’s head – I think he figured something was wrong. Then I told him my idea and Bald Aid was born. The government staff knew something was up so later that day, one waved me in as I went for afternoon coffee and asked what I was up to. They laughed and said there was no way we were going to do it. Wrong.

Ontario has a thing called socials that are mostly done before weddings where people rent a venue and hold a big party with the proceeds going to the soon-to-be wed couple.

Bob and I figured we could pull off something similar for the weight room. In front of a paying audience in the community room at the arena, I’d have my locks shorn then a deejay would fire up the music and everyone would party away until late at night.

One of my best friends was a barber so we had clippers we could borrow, the idea being that Bob would do the cutting and then finish it off gently with a razor blade.

Molson Brewers, whose area sales rep was a friend of mine, supplied the liquid refreshments at no charge for us to sell and we got the word out quickly to the town to let them know what we were doing. CBC Radio Thunder Bay provided us with some extra publicity and welcome support by doing an advance story since a public head-shaving was still a novelty.

With the town supplying the room and a DJ company their services for free, Bald Aid became a reality. The local RCMP detachment even lent us a drug scale for an extra fundraiser where people paid $1 to guess the weight of the hair that fell to the floor. 

That idea wasn’t great but we would have sold locks of my perm and told people it was Ozzy’s if we could have gotten away with it.

In one memorable night, we easily raised the $5,000 we needed so our weight room renovations could go ahead with the rest of the project. It was a classic example of “user pay.” And we still talk about it to this day. 

The morning after, though, I had to be at a Lake of the Woods tourist camp at Nestor Falls to do a story on their 50th anniversary – which I never thought about in advance – and the shocked look on the owners’ faces is something I’ll never forget. Or the pain of some of the nicks the razor blade left in my scalp.

I had left Ontario for Lethbridge by the time the renovations were done so I never got to strut with my spandex and man perm into the weight room to revel in the results of our efforts but I have over the years seen it and I’m proud of what we accomplished. 

We took ownership of our space and that’s what user pay is about – taking ownership of something that’s of value.

I’m not going to express an opinion one way or another about the paid parking idea at the arena – I have to be objective since I do cover city council –  but $5 is not that expensive when you consider what you pay elsewhere. 

Stampede Park in Calgary charges $15 per vehicle in addition to event tickets. 

We’ve paid that money for years when we attend the motorcycle and sportsman shows at the BMO Centre. 

For me, that fee isn’t bad because I’ve always gotten media passes for those events since I wrote about them when they were still being staged before the pandemic.

 But thousands of other patrons do pay the parking fees along with admission to go to those events and obviously they feel the price is worth it.

With time, perhaps the critics of paid parking will feel the same in Lethbridge where incidentally people already pay to park at the Exhibition for some events, which really needs to be mentioned because paid parking is already here.

So should “user pay” be a thing?  If I still had the spandex, I’d don them and think about it at the gym with some Whitesnake and Poison blaring in the earbuds as the grey hairs flow out of the aging ears. Unpermed hairs, that is. Although perming them could be the start of a trend for us old-timers.

Follow@albeebHerald on Twitter.

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