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Frank Gray

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Greed, gouging all too apparent in Toledo crisis

When I got up Sunday morning, I looked at the front page of the paper and immediately thought of how glad I was that I don’t live in Toledo.

Nothing against Toledo. They’ve got a great art museum that has a great little restaurant inside. Other than that, however, the city has held little allure for me.

Then, Sunday, I saw the story of how the city of 400,000 had no water, at least no water that was any good for drinking, bathing, brushing your teeth, cooking or doing much of anything else. A huge algae bloom had filled the area of Lake Erie where the city gets its water with toxins. Because we’re talking toxins and not bacteria, even boiling the water did no good because boiling wouldn’t destroy the poison.

Suddenly, nearly half a million people concentrated in one city were on the hunt for bottled water.

The only good news to come out of this was that large corporations didn’t try take advantage of the masses. According to various news reports, they brought in extra supplies of bottled water, but they apparently decided that gouging the public wouldn’t be a smart move. Prices for bottled water remained the same.

Supplies, though, ran out quickly, and there were reports of people driving up to 50 miles away in search of water.

As one might expect, however, some people did try to take advantage of the situation. There were reports of convenience stores charging huge prices for cases of bottled water.

Then there were the people who decided that they deserved more water than anyone else. They were buying multiple cases of bottled water, more than they needed to drink or cook with in a month. There was even one report of someone who had bought so much water, their car couldn’t handle the weight.

That always happens. Sometimes, it gets to be a habit, a natural reaction.

In the years following the bitter winters of the 1970s, including the blizzard of 1978, people started raiding grocery stores as soon as they heard a heavy snow was coming. It wasn’t uncommon to see people with grocery carts jammed with more than a half dozen gallons of milk and a dozen loaves of bread.

I always looked at that with a mixture of humor and disgust. The milk would spoil and the bread become mildewed before they could possibly eat it all. Meanwhile, someone who needed a lousy gallon of milk and a loaf of bread went home empty-handed.

What the water crisis told me was that some people will get greedy regardless of the excuse.

People say the public has a short memory, but let’s just hope that in this case, the public remembers the shops that decided to gouge their customers.

And it’s amusing to think of what the people who were buying dozens of cases of bottled water are going to do with it now that the water emergency has been lifted.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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