Posts Tagged ‘bureaucracy’

May I Help You?

Golden post office, photo by Jimmy Emerson

I went to the local post office this morning to mail a couple things.   Instead of the usual postal employee (let’s call him Mr. McFeely), I was greeted by a new person (let’s call her Ms. Bouvier).  Mr. McFeely is always friendly and patient even when the line of people waiting goes all the way out the door.  He answers your questions clearly and quickly.  But he is also simpatico; when you tell him what you want, that’s what you get, with a cheerful smile.

Today there was no line at all.  I walked up to Ms. Bouvier and after exchanging greetings, I put my two items on the counter and explained that the card needed to go overseas and the package needed to go via Media Mail.  She picked up the package (literally a paperback book wrapped in brown paper) and asked if I wanted to send it 1st class.  Okay, maybe she didn’t hear about the Media Mail.

“No, I think Media Mail would be fine.  It’s just a book.”

“But 1st Class is only $3.10, about 50 cents more, and it would only take a few days.”  Okay, she’s just trying to offer better service.  But Media Mail really doesn’t take very long!  

“No, Media Mail’s fine.”

“That’ll be $2.47, and it will take a week to get there.  Are you sure?”

What is this, one of the computer software programs that doesn’t trust you to know when you’re ready to sign out?

“Yes, thanks!”

“Do you want any insurance or delivery confirmation?”

Geez, how long is this simple transaction going to take?  Eventually I escaped, having achieved exactly what I went in for.  It really didn’t take very long.  It made me think about the differences in the kinds of consumer transactions offered by different businesses.  For example, at the grocery store you do your own shopping and then the checker rings up your purchases (or, as at many stores, you have the option of ringing them up yourself).  Simple.  Then there’s the quickie oil change places where you sit in your car while they work on it.  They’re always, to lesser or greater extent, going to try and sell you other things you don’t want, like a new air filter or a more expensive kind of  oil.  Part of the business model is over-selling, so as the customer, you just have to steel yourself before you go in and be sure that your repellent armor doesn’t weaken.

I would hate to think that the post office is turning into the latter kind of model.  I know there’s been a lot of discussion lately over whether the USPS can survive under its current business model, but I LIKE going to a place where the staff is friendly and helpful, not pushing me to buy more stuff!

And, I hope that Mr. McFeely is just on vacation this week and that he will be back with his mustachioed smile the next time I go in.


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After last week’s visit to the DMV licensing facility, I wasn’t eager to endure government bureaucracy again.  But my Oregon vehicle registration expires soon and I had an opening in my morning, so I headed off to the Jefferson County office complex (affectionately known as the Taj Mahal).  The Motor Vehicles office opens at 7:30 and doesn’t close until 5:30, which means that someone with my work schedule could actually do their business without having to use up vacation time.In fact, there was no one in line when we arrived (Bo came with me for this trip).  It was too good to be true–Bo even was asked twice if anyone was helping him!–  and it was, in fact, not true.  The distinctly un-sour employee informed me that I had all documents except one: a Vehicle Identification Number verification.  I knew about the existence of this VIN verification form, but since I had 4 documents with my VIN on them (title, Oregon registration, insurance card, and Colorado emissions testing facility report), and since the VIN on each document was exactly the same, I figured I was covered.  But no… this was not good enough.  Before I could register my car, I had to go to a dealership, a law enforcement officer, or back to the emissions testing facility to get this piece of paper filled out.  The employee helpfully printed out a blank form for me.

I leaned over the desk and said quietly, “Is it always like this here?  I mean… is it usually more busy?”  With a wink, he took out another form, marked it in various places with a circle and an X, and said, “Tell you what– if you come back today, don’t take a number–  just give the attendant this No-Wait Form, and you can skip the line.”

Bo asked what I wanted to do as we walked back out to the parking lot.  I crankily replied that I wanted to go to work… but I didn’t want to have to figure out when I could come back and do this.  Since I had noticed a building marked “County Sheriff” on the way into the complex, I thought maybe we could just go there and quickly find an officer of the law.

We mistakenly wound up on the “jail” side of the building (Bo opted not to come in with me this time), and the officer was happy to tell me I could go around to the other side of the building and find someone to fill out my paperwork.  This was true– again, no waiting in line!– and ten minutes later, I had my VIN verified.

The Motor Vehicles employee was almost jovial when I came back (again, no line), and seemed very pleased that I had figured out that officers of the law can be found at the County Sheriff’s office.  “I’m not allowed to tell you to go there, but I am allowed to mention that officers of the law can sign the form,” he explained.  The rest went fairly quickly.  A few signatures– including one form attesting that the “Lia Mary Vella” of the passport was “one in the same” as the “Lia M. Vella” on the Oregon vehicle title (we had a conversation about the grammatical flaws of this form, and he agreed with me that it was incorrect, but since he didn’t write the form there apparently was nothing he could do about it)– plus a check for over $100 (good for only one year !!), and I had my set of plates tucked under my arm as we walked out the door.

This excursion provided very little in the way of entertainment, as last week’s did.  Our only comic relief occurred in the parking lot, where a couple was apparently preparing themselves to go to court: she in a tank top, brushing out her long blonde hair in all four compass directions with a lit cigarette hanging out of her mouth all the while; he impatiently jingling the coins in his dress pants.

And, in case you are wondering about the impressive appearance of the courthouse building in the photo above:  well, it occurred to me when I saw the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson inside that the county is named after our third US president, and the building is actually meant to look like his home, Monticello, not the Taj Mahal.  Phew!  good thing.  I’d hate for some current presidential candidate to think our local government facilities were named in honor of one of his establishments.

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I love bureaucracy!

Okay, that is a sarcastic pronouncement.  But my experience with bureaucracy this week left me feeling more amused than angry, so perhaps my tone is meant to be more fondly disapproving than purely sarcastic.the cause of the experience

I lost my campus parking tag, the plastic egg-shaped slightly holographic hanger that cost about $100 and goes on my rear-view mirror.  This leaves me open to the possibility of being ticketed, unless I drive up to the little parking booth each morning and ask for a day permit.  The first time I attempted this was October 22, before I lost my tag.  I was driving a rental car because I had smashed up my own car by hitting a deer, and the parking tags are not transferable from one vehicle to another (this also carries the possibility of being ticketed).  The young man working in the booth would not give me a day pass, however, because I already had purchased a tag for my car, but for some reason my name was not on a list of people who had done this.  Since I couldn’t prove that I already had a tag, he wouldn’t give me a temporary pass (this might be the part of the story that makes the least sense, but you can be the judge).

The next week, my car in the shop, I drove the rental car to work armed with my little plastic tag so that I could prove to the parking booth person that I already had one, and therefore deserved a temporary one for that day.  Unfortunately or not, no one ever asked me for proof that I had a tag, or looked for my name on a list… in fact, I never saw the first booth staffer who had told me the confusing story about this.  I hope I didn’t get him fired.

All was fairly well and good– until I got my car back and returned the rental, and realized that I no longer knew where the plastic parking tag was.  Curses!  I thought I had been so circumspect in keeping track of it!  I returned to the rental car place twice to search their box of items left behind in cars (the box had some very interesting things in it), combed my garage and my office at school, all my various purses and backpacks and briefcase– all to no avail. Every time I searched at school, I thought of another place at home where it might be.  Every time I searched at home… well, you get the idea.  When neither place yielded the missing item, I thought I should make just one more trip over to the car rental office.

Finally, I realized that life could not go on this way, so I stopped in at the campus cashier’s office to admit defeat.  However, it didn’t open until 9:00, and I had to be at the reference desk working at 9:00.  So I stopped once more at the booth, only to find it vacant and closed up.  When I returned to the cashier at 1:00, I discovered that I could only request a replacement tag if I reported the first one missing to campus safety.  But I would have to wait until the next day, because the parking officer only works half days, and she was already gone for the day.  Oh, and, I should probably replace the tag with a sticker, since she would have to charge me the full cost of the original pass if I wanted a plaster hanger, whereas the sticker was only $5.  And, also, did I have a temporary permit on my car right now?!  I explained that the booth had been closed that morning when I had driven up, attempting to be on time for work.  “Oh no! I hope they didn’t get you!  Did you leave a note on your dashboard?”

And thus, I learned the sophisticated ways of parking control on campus.  A hand-written note on a blank scrap of paper might get you out of a ticket, and the parking officer only works half days anyway (now the trick is to figure out which halves of which days…). Compared to the other schools where I have been a student, this one is pretty small.  Klamath Falls itself is not very big, and the city doesn’t try to collect money for parking.  So, the school’s attempts to pose as a “big” school with parking control measures became more transparent to me as I walked back and forth across the 100-acre campus talking to the nice people who are trying to enforce the rules.

IMG_2796The next day, I found the parking office tucked away behind the engineering students’ labs, reported the missing tag to the parking officer’s brand new assistant, walked back to the cashier’s office, and bought a sticker.  Now I just have to get the sticker glued to the car before it goes missing.

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