Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Public Service"

The Quarter Acre is situated in a town without curb-side pickup of rubbish and recyclables so we take a weekly trip to the town dump to dispose of our household waste. We actually look forward to this trip -- it's not overly difficult as far as tasks go, it has visible and tangible benefits.

During this week's trip an incident with a public servant sparked the question: whatever happened to "pubic service?" Let us remember that service is the operative word. To get into our town dump one must purchase a sticker (valid for the calendar year) that is affixed to the lower left hand corner of the windshield. A public servant sits in a booth and checks to make sure you have it. No problem.

This past weekend there were two men checking stickers. A car in front of us stopped, and the guy impatiently waved him through. Seeing this we rolled slowly into the checkpoint thinking that would help to keep things moving. But, no. The checker scowled, waved a hand for us to stop, which we did, looked exaggeratedly at our windshield and then let us pass, waving us along, impatiently.

This was a small thing, a momentary blip in the weekend, but it annoyed no end. There was no consistency in the approach. No rhyme. No reason. Pure caprice and a petty power play by a guy who, as Steve Miller sang "makes his living off of the people's taxes . . . " was on full display. Other interactions with "public servants" at the town dump have inspired similar feelings. The woman who works in the office and takes your $15 to dispose of computer monitors etc. is sullen, hostile and miserable. The guy who hovers around the dumping zones is equally miserable, and somewhat menacing.

The local town dump -- and ours is a very efficient and good dump from an operational perspective -- is about as grass-roots as one gets in the national governmental spectrum. Yet dealing with its agents is unpleasant at best, disheartening at worst and overall, very frustrating. We believe that it was Kafka that wrote about petty people with petty powers in petty jobs, and we, the citizens of this country, fund a bureaucracy -- at least three levels deep, each with myriad sub-levels -- filled with people that Kafka would most certainly recognize.

The service side of "public service" is dead. Long live the service side.

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