Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Big tree, big men and my tax dollars at work

Who says government doesn’t work? Out here in the Land of Cotton it’s humming along fine, taking care of all the little details – especially when there’s an emergency.

Wednesday morning I dashed out to take a walk. Despite overcast skies, a few sprinkles and some wind gusts tossing about debris, it was nice to be out an about. After running a few errands, I was headed home a few hours later when, to my surprise, a huge tree blocked my path.

Apparently one of those little wind gusts tossing me around on my walk had also grabbed hold of a towering pine in my neighbor’s yard and tossed it into the street. I was forced to make a u-turn, swing around the corner and approach my house from another direction. The tip of the tree was actually just touching the corner of my property. Its bulk was splayed out across the street, a mess of broken limbs, pine needles and cones and a weighty trunk that I couldn’t begin to budge.

A few neighbors gathered about, circling the problem, trying to figure out the best way to clear the area. One hearty soul went looking for a chainsaw, another for a bottle of beer. I decided this was a grand opportunity to put my tax dollars to work.

It only took a moment of research to find a directory of numbers for various government agencies in my little corner of the world and only another moment or so to contact a clerk charged with handling road complaints and emergencies.

I didn’t have to cool my heels and listen to piped in music over my phone; didn’t have to listen to someone explain that they couldn’t help and that I needed to reach another department; didn’t have to punch my way through an endless phone tree.

The clerk asked a few questions – my name, address, area of the county I called home – and then said she’d dispatch a crew immediately. Now it’s been my experience that immediately, especially when dealing with government agencies, can mean an hour or a week; in this case, immediately meant 30 minutes!

For a moment I thought I’d stumbled into a Keystone Kops video – and I mean that mostly in a good sort of way. Three trucks, filled with at least a dozen workers pulled up in front of my house. The workers – at least half seemed to be prison trustees – took only a minute or two to examine the problem, then started picking up debris. Meanwhile, a few other guys grabbed the heavy equipment – chainsaws, axes and other such stuff – and began whacking away at the pine tree with great gusto.

After only 10 minutes or so, all the debris was neatly piled into one heap and the tree’s trunk nicely cut into manageable sections. Then yet a fourth truck, waiting patiently off in the distance, wheeled in a mammoth chipper to finish up the job.

In less time than it takes to renew my driver’s license, or purchase a new auto tag, or pay my property tax, the downed tree was cut, quartered, chipped up and carted away. Only a small bit of the trunk remains in my neighbor’s yard, a little reminder of the towering pine that had once towered over this corner of the neighborhood for decades.

I’m still not certain why and how all this happened so quickly. But I’m thinking that maybe the county commission chairman might live nearby or the workers are getting paid by the job, not the hour.

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