Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Permits and Self-Possession

The other week I went to get a parking sticker for the student parking lots. Not a big deal, I’m used to having to hurry up and wait in long lines when it comes to bureaucracies, and I expected a lot of silly forms and delay.

It seems that younger students don’t expect any of that. I don’t think they know what to expect. They just don’t want you to know they don’t have clue.

Here’s what happened. I found a window in my work schedule, clocked out, and drove over to the main Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) campus. I found a place to park approximately 150 yards from the front door (that was as close as I could get and not pay for parking) and walked in. (Remember that number. There will be a test later.)

The information desk is right next to the front door and it turns out that’s where they were selling the parking stickers. I found a stack of forms, and clear directions, on two separate tables, of the various forms that were required. One of those forms was a current copy of your car’s registration. I knew that before I came, but in my efforts to get this over with I’d forgotten it in the car.

So, back to car another 150 yards (that’s 300 so far), get the registration from the glove compartment, and walk the same 150 yards a third time (that’s 450 yards in a matter of just a few minutes, in case you can’t do the math). By this time I’m a bit winded (hey, I’m fat and out of shape, okay?), but that’s okay. There’s a long line at the front window, so I trudge along to the back window where there are less bodies hanging out, my registration in tow.

I sit down at a folding table and start filling out the registration form. This is a weird form. It’s like an SAT answer sheet. It’s got little circles I have to fill in, along with my regularly printed name and such.

Two younger men (early 20’s, I’d guess) are nearby. One is sitting next to me at the table (Table-boy), and the other is having an animated conversation with a young woman (on work study, I’d guess) at the information desk (Desk-boy).

The guy at the desk comes back, and in an exasperated tone, says to Table-boy, “Do you have your registration with you?”

“No, why would I?” Table-boy replies in disbelief.

“I don’t know. They say they we need it” says Desk-boy.

“Pffft,” says Table-boy, and they get up and leave, clearly outraged.

It’s about this time that I start wondering, did they not read the same letter about it that I got, saying you needed your car registration when you went to get your parking permit? Did they not read the signs very clearly stating that they needed it, before Desk-boy even became Desk-boy? How did they figure that they were above following simple directions? Maybe they’re selectively blind.

Then I remembered. I used to be that self-absorbed when I was their age. I wasn’t sure what was going on in my first year of college (back in the Bronze Age) and I tried to cover my ignorance and fear through arrogance and self-possession. Just like these two were. What a humbling thing to realize that I used to be just as much of a jerk as these two were.

Anyway, I finished filling out the form and stepped up to the desk.

The two women working the desk, an older woman closer to my age (Wise-woman) and a student on work study (Prima-Donna), looked busy, so I quietly waited. After several minutes, and several direct gazes (eye contact and everything) with Prima-Donna, she comes over and says, “This side is closed. You’ll have to go around.” Minor frustration to have it close in the amount of time it took me to stand up and walk four feet, but okay. I went around the other side and got in line.

As I stood there, waiting with all the other student-cattle, I noticed that Wise-woman was working her butt off helping students, and Prima-Donna was acting like she was getting ready to leave. It turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. Someone else had just left, and Prima-Donna was getting on. She didn’t want to open up her till, though.

Prima-Donna started with, “I don’t know. Do you think I should log in and open it up?”

“Yes,” Wise-woman replied, “Ask anyone standing in line and they’ll give you the same answer.” (I was beginning to like Wise-woman.)

“But the count is screwed up,” whined Prima-Donna.

“It can’t get any worse than it already is,” replied Wise-woman, in-between getting the line of harried students what they needed.

“Yes is can,” protested Prima-Donna.

“No, it can’t. Just open it up and get to work.”

“Well, I’m not logging in under my name.”

“Whatever. Just do it, now.”

It turns out that the till count wasn’t right, and Prima-Donna was more concerned with covering her ample butt than doing her job. Another wonderful example of post-high school self-possession was played out right in front of my eyes.

When I finally got to the front of the line to be helped by the wonderful Wise-woman, it was a relief. It took less than two minutes and I had my parking ticket in hand, walking back along that same 150 yard stretch to my car, (That’s 600 yards, total. Did you keep track?) and then back to work.

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