DICK GEORGE, looking a bit bummed out from racing around town during a transit strike, settles into a chair clutching his briefcase in one hand and a Coke in the other. The author of "The New Consumer Survival Kit" looks like he won't survive the rest of the day himself.
"I'm parked illegally outside," he laments, glancing at his watch.
George is head writer for the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting and the original writer for "Consumer Survival Kit" on Channel 20. His book has been out six weeks, and is selling well. Over 10,000 copies so far. "The publisher's happy, so I'm happy," George says.
That back cover of the oversized paperback, published by Little, Brown, expresses George's belief that "more consumer dissatisfaction stems from an incomplete understanding of products and services than from 'rip-offs.'"
"There is fraud, there are rip-offs; and when we come across them we don't hesitate to talk about them," George says. "But for the most part, it's a matter of not having enough of the right kind of information. I hope the book will help solve that problem."
About 30 years old, recently married, Dick George has a baby son and just bought a 100-year-old house, which he and his wife are fixing up.
He is the kind of person he wrote his book for.
"This is a time in my life when, you know, I've just gotten married, now I've got a family . . . when you're in your 20s and early 30s, you're acquiring a great deal of goods and services, and I'm fortunate that my job pays off very well with the experience, because I can use a lot of the information in my private life.
"There's the elderly, too. People approaching retirement. There's a chapter on retirement planning. There's a chapter on wills an estates, and one on funerals and nursing homes. Very little has been done to help people who have an elderly relative, who needs more care than they can give him, as well-intentioned as they may be, and we cover that, too."
George believes much of the information disseminated by consumer groups and industry does the averaGe consumer little good because it's badly written - too complex, or so greatly influenced by commercial interests as to be misleading.
"Misleading at best. The information consumers get seems to come from two sources. It either comes from the industry itself, in which case there's a lot of window dressing, and there's a lot of things they don't tell you because they want to sell you the product. So in that respect, it's a bit misleading.
"Or, the information comes from some kind of consumer group that goes into such detail that you really have to wade through it. Mose consumers don't have the time for all that.
"This book attempts to do something in the middle. It gives you the information you need to make an informed decision on what you're buying, which I think is really the most important thing."
About the slackening of the consumer movement, "Five years ago, consumers were quite a fashionable subject. They felt they had the short end of the stick, and they feel that way today. The difference is five years ago the clasic response to that kind of complaint was government regulation of one sort or another, new legislation, new bureaucracies.
"Today, the focus is on what consumers are getting for the dollars they spend in taxes. They think they're getting the short end of the stick from government as well as industry. The surveys show that distrust of big business and big government are very high. The focus has changed.
"I don't consider myself a consumer advocate - the subject matter I've been working with mostly is consumer issues of one sort or another, but I consider myself a writer first."
Advance publicity for George's book said he bagan winning awards for his sportswriting in his high school newspaper. But George himself demurs a little in discussing his past. His first year out of Syracuse University, 1970, was desultory, mainly because of the draft.
"I couldn't get a job because I thought I was going to be inducted. I found some work with the Marland State Department of Education, as - well, as a Kelly Girl, actually. Then I got a job with the Naval Academy in Annapolist. Finally, the director of the Selective Service came out and said he wasn't going to draft numbers over 195 for that year.
"My number was 196. So I went back to the Department of Education, wrote a news show for kids called 'News Lab,' and 'Calling Careers,' a career education series for kids." Shortly after, he moved on to the Maryland Center.
"In 1973 a producer came to me with an idea for a series that became 'Consumer Survival Kit.' He asked me if I'd write the pilot, I did, and it became successful.
"What we're trying to do with the show today is encourage people to complain and assert themselves in the marketplace. They have more power than they think they do, and we're trying to make them aware of it.
"Most of the time, if you can't get a legitimate complaint resolved, it's not because the business doesn't want to, it's that your complaint just never gets to the level where someone is capable of taking care of it. Often, you have to fight with clerks, and sometimes even store managers who just want to get rid of you.
"Well, someplace in that organization there's someone who would probably be appalled if they knew what had happened to you. Of course, I'm speaking generally - in some cases that's not true. But for the most part, it's matter of getting your complaint to the right person.
"What we've done, rather than bemoaning the system and doing exposes, is to say: "This is what the situation is, what do you DO about it?' The key is to do something for yourself. We don't assume, like some people do, that the consumer's powerless. We try to give consumers the tools they need to assert themselves in the marketplace, to help them make informed decisions, intelligent decisions. When somebody does you in, don't hesitate to complain, and push as hard as you can."