It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

Most people will recognize the title as the opening lines of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens.  Dickens goes on to cite other opposing points such as wisdom/folly and wealth/poverty.  However, this post isn’t a treatise on the Tale of Two Cities or the work of Charles Dickens.  It is only a note on the best of people and the worst of people.

Most everyone has the inherent capacity to be either evil or good, and most of those people display a somewhat neutral face most of the time.  If you really want to know what a person is made of, toss them into a crisis and the true self is usually revealed.

I’ve been through a number of local and regional crises in my life ranging from floods to ice storms, to tornadoes, to blizzards, to hurricanes. During a blizzard, I saw a tubby man grab a slice of bread from a child and secure it in his shirt.  (food was being rationed at that time)  I also saw a dentist and his hygienist deliver a baby in the hotel hall.  The worst and the best.

During the 11 months since Hurricane Michael, it has become clear that humanity hasn’t changed a lot in the past 55 years.  Well, perhaps the mix is a little more weighted to the bad side.  With over $7 billion in still unsettled insurance claims, not counting the $4.5 billion needed to rebuild Tyndall Airforce Base, attornies from all over Florida have descended on the Panama City area.  It is like a feeding frenzy of grasshoppers attacking a pea patch as my granny would have said.  We probably have more lawyers per square mile than any place in the U.S. other than the U.S. capitol building and surrounding turf.  Then there are the swarms of field adjustors and more contractors than I thought existed.  Everyone with a pickup truck and a paintbrush has become a roofer, fence installer, window installer, flooring expert, or dock repair company.  Of course, many of those are simply charlatans in it for a quick buck and split.

It isn’t easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys either.  Just because a company is listed or not listed in the phone book proves nothing and the BBB can’t keep up with the ebb and flow of “contractors”.  Actually, the majority of the companies in the phone book are no longer in business or are so booked that they won’t even come to give you a quote on work until 2020.

As an example, we had a very tall pine tree that died after the hurricane.  We needed it removed as if it fell (when it fell) it was likely to fall on our neighbor’s house.  So, Christina worked her way through the tree removal companies in the phone book.  Some didn’t answer, some said to leave a message and then said the mailbox was full, one call was answered by the man’s neighbor who said he was too busy to take any new business. and one promised to come look at the tree but didn’t.  Finally, one did show up and quoted us $2600 to cut and remove the tree.  Now she was reduced to driving around the area making notes of tree removal signs on street corners.  A few duds there, but eventually we found one that removed the menacing tree for $800.  Perhaps still high, but cheaper than fixing the neighbors house and a lot better than the guy in the phone book that wanted $2600.

Another example was that of a neighbor.  He had damage to his dock.  One company said to call them back in the spring of 2020.  The second call was to a company that said their repair barge was somewhere on the bottom of East Bay and so they were out of business.  The third call actually produced a person that surveyed the damage and said that yes they could fix it, but would need a $6,000 deposit for materials.  The ink on the check was scarcely dry before it was cashed at the bank and the guy hasn’t been heard from since.

The gas station that jumped the price 30 cents a gallon overnight.  Why?  It seems the one across the street was out of gas.

The examples could fill volumes, but there is a counterbalance.

We met a contractor (immigrated from Venzuala several years ago) that actually showed up when he said he would and repaired our pool cage as promised. Then there was another man that immigrated here from Brazil 17 years ago with all his belongings in a backpack.  Today he owns the largest brick paving company in the panhandle. After a couple of false starts, we found a roofing company that proved reliable and did what they said they would do. The painting company crew bungled the job, but the company stepped up to the plate, sent a new crew that fixed the problem.

Then while I was wrestling with the Genset, trying to get it started, the UPS delivery truck arrived.  The young man stopped by me and said let me have a go at it, and it was running with a couple of pulls on the starter cord.  I just didn’t have the strength to make it happen.  When I thanked him, he humbly said, “not a problem, glad I was here to help”.

Perhaps we all have a bit of larceny in our souls.  If so, most of us keep it in check most of the time.  However, take a dose of larceny, season with a large amount of greed, and mix it into a batter of opportunity and you have a recipe for disaster and that is something you will see in and after every crisis.


Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent
KEN is a 46 year veteran hotelier and entrepreneur. Formerly owned two hotels, an advertising agency, a wholesale tour company, a POS company, a leasing company, and a hotel management company. The hotels included chain owned, franchises, and independents. They ranged in type from small luxury inns, to limited service properties, to large convention hotels and resorts. After retiring he authored a book, “So Many Hotels, So Little Time” in which he relates what life is like behind the scenes for a hotel manager. Ken operated more that 100 hotels and resorts in the US and Caribbean and formed eight companies. He is a firm believer that senior management should share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of management.

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  1. You are so right that a time of crisis brings out our true colours. I feel that humanity’s mix ‘is a little more weighted to the bad side’ because an honest person is often labelled as a loser. I fear that the more disconnected we become from nature, the more cannibal we will become. Thank you for sharing.

  2. The times and needs of people in duress change the good and bad heart of men and women. Needs in live to protect and survive traumas of life change your perception of life actions. All people are at war with life every day. God fights every day to help all people to survive the battles that life gives us. As we grow older in time and we create a history of life experiences that are to share the wisdom from loving. God and family influence the history of Good and Bad decisions in life experiences to survive and are based on the price of one’s morality.