The voice sounds familiar. A clipped, somewhat bemused delivery not unlike that of David Brinkley: "If you want to throw the fear of God into a Washingtonian, just mention a Denver boot," or "If Diogenes were wandering through the streets of Washington, chances are he'd find an honest man before he found a legal parking space," the voice intones.
Actually, the voice belongs to Lincoln Bouve, a native Washingtonian, who has produced his own radio spots to sell his new business, Humiliation Elimination Inc.
The commericals, which began airing this weekend, are aimed at thousands of Washingtonians who have ever suffered the inconvenience and indignity of paying parking fines.
For a yearly membership of $35, Bouve's company will save you the humiliation and aggravation of settling your parking debts with the District of Columbia government. No more missing half a day of work to stand in line with other scofflaws -- only to find out you didn't bring enough money. Humiliation Elimination will do the waiting for you. And in the event you car is towed, Bouve will send around a chauffeur-driven limousine and whisk you away to the impoundment lot in style.
Bouve, who believes that Humiliation Elimination eventually can turn a profit if it attracts 5,00 to 6,00 members currently works out of suite at the Georgetown Dutch Inn on Thomas Jefferson Street NW. His staff totals six, including executive assistant Jacqueline Polland, two runners, a limousine driver and three office workers.
According to Bouve, each day about 330 persons in the District find their cars either shackled or towed away. An informal survey done by Bouve found that the average waiting time from the time of the tow to the point of retrieval of the vehicle was 3 hours and 4 minutes.
"With us, it's less than an hour," he said "Nobody like to waste time. You are being herded through a process and there's no way you're going to come out of it in a good mood."
Unsurprisingly, the idea for such a service came to Bouve while standing in line at the Bureau of Traffic Administration on Indiana Avenue NW after he had had his car towed for the third time in 14 months. Also in line was Dave Joiner, who just that day had been fired as an assistant to former secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt -- and had found his car towed to boot.
"We started talking and holding court as to the aggravation. I came up with the name. People in front of us died laughing," Bouve remembers. "Afterward I said to him, 'Maybe there's something to this.'"
Bouve returned to Indiana Avenue a few days later and began talking to people to find out what made them so angry. "People objected not to the fines but having to having to stop their lives for 2 to 4 hours [to pay]," he said. "There is a considerable differnce between paying more money and completely disrupting your life."
Sensing a market for his idea, Bouve then contacted the D.C. Department of Transportation. Without their cooperation, he said, the idea wouldn't work. He convinced James McWilliams, head fo the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication, that people might have a less hostile attitude toward the department if they paid them by proxy.
"Jim has been totally supportive," Bouve said.
Under the present management, if a car is towed or booted, the driver calls Humiliation; Elimination and gives the membership number and a credit card number. Humiliation Elimination then contacts the Department of Transportation. "We make a phone call and find out the total story on releasing a vehicle in second," he said. A runner is then dispatched to Indiana Avenue to pay all current and outstanding fines.
"It makes it almost enjoyable to get towed," Bouve said. "The system has screwed you and you are saying 'Take that!'"
For a member who is a victim of a tow, there is a $5 service charge for the limousine service. (A nonmemeber must pay $75, which includes the $35 yearly membership fee.) Within an hour of the distress call from the frustrated driver, a rented limousine from Admiral Limousine Service will pick up a caller anywhere in the District and deliver him or her, calm and refreshed, to either the Brentwood Road or the Georgetown impoundment lot.
Bouve says that one of the most valuable benefits of his service is the peace of mind, knowing that help is only a phone call away.
"Life goes on. All you do is pay the fine," Bouve said.
"We don't really know what chord we will strike in the public psyche," he said. "Indications are that we're onto something pretty hot."
Bouve also hopes to make his service known to outsiders who are unfamiliar with the parking laws and customs of the city. He currently is working on setting up some kind of arrangement with area hotels and car rental agencies to inform visitors or the consequences of disobeying area parking laws.
"We may move into other area of humiliation," Bouve said. He is talking to the Department of Motor Vehicles about the possibility of helping people obtain license tags and also paying violaters' fines on a regular basis to avoid a tow or a boot. Another possible offshoot would be an entertainment-ticket buying servie for people who don't have the time or the temperament to stand in line.