(Rant from the old Blessed by the Potato)
I had a very long day at school today, the weather is crappy, and I was tired to begin with, so when I got off the subway I called my dad for a ride home, even though it’s only a 15 minute walk. I met him a block away from the subway station, and just as I was getting in the car, the snowplow went by us compacting the 6 cm of powder on the road into 1 cm of solid ice, and using the remainder to build barricades in front of people’s driveways. As we followed, we hit a rather large bump in the road.
Turning around to investigate, we saw that we had run over an open manhole — the snowplow had ripped the cover right off and deposited it in the snow bank 3 m ahead. We climbed back in the car and flagged down the snowplow to tell the operator about the manhole. After repeating the tale three times, he turned the engine down and removed his earplugs so he could hear us, and finally understood that the situation may be a little dangerous. He called back to Metro Works and told them to send a truck out to fix the manhole cover. My dad and I offered to go and park by the manhole cover until the repair truck came so that nobody else would hit it with their cars, or worse yet, fall in while walking.
Luckily, there was no damage to my dad’s car, which is probably due in large part to its 17″ wheels. I have to admit that if we had hit that in a Prius (the car I was looking at trading my Accord in for) it would have destroyed the tiny aluminum wheels, and possibly the axle. After a while sitting in the car by the gaping hole in the road, we got bored enough to find exactly where the manhole cover had ended up. It was at that point that the old fella who lives in the house in front of the manhole came out to shovel his driveway.
We asked him if he had a sawhorse or some pylons we could put in front of the hole to warn people so we could go home. He said the best he could do was park his truck on the street by the hole… but he never drives it during the winter, and hadn’t planned on shovelling more than a path for the mailman through his driveway. Expecting Metro Works to show up at any minute, we told him not to bother, that we’d wait a little bit longer.
When about 35 minutes had passed since we started watching the hole (about 45 since we first hit it), my dad figured that my mom must really be worried about us, so we called home to explain the situation. While we had her on the cell, we asked her to look up the phone number for Metro Works so that we could make sure that the plow operator’s call went through. “Ah, here’s one,” she said “emergency road repairs.”
“Sounds good,” I said “what is it?”
“It’s a 24-hour emergency number you can call for road repairs.”
“Yeah, ok.” I said, trying not to laugh at my mom, “so what is it?”
“The number to call after hours.” She said, completely serious.
“The NUMBER, what is the NUMBER?” I asked, remembering why my mom never needed to drink. After she gave it to me, I called, and had to go through a number of very slow automated response menus. Finally, that got me another number to call, which connected me to a very annoyed but mostly living operator. I reported the missing manhole cover, and he said that it had been reported already, and that someone was on the way. I asked how much longer it might take, trying to stress that an open hole in the road was a tad bit dangerous — especially given how easily it could be fixed. He said that I would only have to wait a few more minutes.
After that, the old fella finished shovelling his path, and started poking around the snow bank by the manhole cover. He dug it out with his shovel, so my dad and I went over to take a look. We tried to move it over the hole, but it turns out that those things are really, really heavy. The ice-like surface of the freshly plowed road didn’t help our efforts any, either.
The resident returned to his nice, warm, house while we returned to our moderately warm car. When an hour had passed waiting, we called home again and had my mom look up the non-emergency number for 32 division of the Toronto police. I called them, told them about the open manhole, and asked them to send an officer by to watch over it or at least place some pylons until Metro Works arrived to fix the problem. The dispatcher said that she would send someone over right away, and took down my cell phone number.
Twenty-five minutes later, we were still waiting for the police. Finally, we decided that they must have called Metro Works, found out that they had “sent a truck” and decided not to bother sending a car, even though the station was only a 5-minute walk away — the dispatcher could have walked some pylons over herself without missing a beat. I was pretty pissed off at that point. I consider myself to be a very reasonable person, and I can understand that the police may be too busy to baby-sit a hole in the road, or even to drop off some pylons, especially on a snowy, accident-filled night. But to tell me that they would be right there, and then not show up or call my cell is horrible. What if my dad and I had left right away? Several cars drove by, as did a few people walking dogs — what if someone was hurt?
When we had been waiting an hour and a half since we first started watching the hole, we were through. My dad called Metro Works again, on the theory that I was far too polite on the phone with the guy, and determined that they had called someone from home to come and fix it. My dad pointed out that it had been an hour and a half, so unless this guy was coming in from Hamilton he would have had plenty of time to drive across the city three times. The annoyed receptionist (I could tell it was the same one I spoke too) said that the guy had to come downtown to pick up a truck and a spare manhole cover. Of course, that still didn’t explain why it took more than an hour and a half, nor why one of the staff already on-duty, such as the supervisors prowling the roads in trucks with nothing better to do than keep logbooks couldn’t do it. After all, we had found the manhole cover, we just needed some picks to help us drag it into place. After that brief argument, it was determined that the operator had no sweet clue when the truck would arrive, if at all.
So, sick of trying to help the world, my dad asked the old fella who lived in front of the manhole if he wouldn’t mind backing his truck onto the street to guard the manhole. He did so, and nearly broke his own axle swerving around in reverse and coming within 6 cm of the hole. It was very obvious that he wasn’t used to winter driving.
It seems that no good deed goes unpunished.
Most people would have said “Phew! Glad my car wasn’t destroyed by that hole in the road! Oh, well, time to go home I guess.” Without so much as trying to flag down the plow. And when we do try to keep an eye out for other people, the local government conspires against us to waste our time and infuriate us. I can sort of see how Metro Works ended up without anyone on duty to replace manholes — they probably got blasted for it one year when they ran over budget, but I still don’t see how they didn’t have anyone who was able to respond. At worst couldn’t they have called in one of the plow/salt truck operators, or one of the many tow-truck drivers they charter to steal cars that are parked in snow removal zones at night?
Worst of all, though, were the police. When the police say they are going to come, I expect them to be there, and if they don’t feel up to it at the moment because Krispy Kreme is having a sale, then I expect them to tell me. I mean, if my house were being robbed and they said they’d be right there, then I would hunker down and wait for the cavalry. But if I knew they weren’t going to arrive, I’d probably act very differently. In the case of a robbery, I might try to be a hero and stop it. In the case of the pothole, I might have assumed that the police really would have been there in a few minutes, and left the hole then and there, trusting them to keep the public out of harm’s way.
Let’s try to break this trend together, my loyal readers, you and I. The next time someone does a good deed, make sure it gets repaid properly and in full. Hold doors open for people, bake them cookies, buy a round of beer, perform oral sex — whatever you feel is appropriate. Likewise, when you see something terribly (or even slightly) wrong in the world around you and which you have power to fix, then by all means do so. Don’t be yet another apathetic 21st century denizen who blankly stares and says “not my problem.”
Who knows? Maybe if we start looking out for ourselves and each other, the lawyers will stop putting those annoying warnings on everything.