This isn't a political piece. It's a personal one.

This summer, my family moved from North Carolina to New York, upstate, not near the City. the population here isn't huge - nothing like small town, but not huge. What surprises me is that various government functions I'm used to being a royal pain in the ass simply aren't. People are friendly, competent, helpful.

Snow plows. I've lived in areas with snow before, including northwest central Indiana, but plowing was always hit or miss. Here, no sweat. This morning it's snowing and after I get the kids to school it's accumulating. I live up a long hill (1.6 miles, 300' ascent), it's a bit slippery going up and I'm worried that the school buses are going to have problems in a few hours when school closes. Nope. By the time I head down the hill to take my wife to lunch, my neoghborhood's been plowed and salted again. On my hill we wondered if we'd need all wheel drive. No. Plowing is too good. It's like living in Germany or something.

Last week I needed to deal with the DMV. We live just short of half an hour west of the biggest local city, which puts us barely into another county. That county seat is in a seriously cute little town on a river about twenty minutes west of here. So Friday I call the DMV. Second ring someone picks up. Not a machine, a person, who answers all my questions without putting me on hold. It's like calling someone's house. Later I go there. The waits are short and the people are friendly and helpful. The last time I was there the woman behind the counter gave me a good Italian restaurant recommendation. A little neighborhood place with cannoli to die for.

I have to get a Social Security card for an eighteen year old kid (daughter's boyfriend) with a birth certificate and no other ID - the high school doesn't use ID's - and his remote family is such that they have no idea what his number even is. He has no driver's license and needs the SS card to get one. The SS office, which is in the largest local city, would of course like to see his driver's license. If you follow this, you need a Social Security card to get a license but it helps to have a license to get a Social Security card. So yesterday I phone the SS office to see what I need to do. I go through the phone tree and the recording tells me in busy times I might have to wait fifteen minutes. In actuality, I wait about forty-five

seconds. I explain the situation and it turns out a transcript from the high school will do instead of school ID. I call the high school, the main office sends me to the guidance office, I say what I need. I'm asking if they want the name of the kid. No, they recognize my voice, they know I don't mean my daughter, and by the way the transcript is already printing and so is available for the kids to pick up before I come get them.

None of this stuff is taking any time.

Today I bring the kids to the Social Security office. In and out in twenty minutes

Without an appointment. The kids do it all at the window without me.

He'll have the card in less than a week.

I wonder if people who are from here have any idea how good they have it.

Views: 125

Comment by Theodora L'Engle Knight on January 31, 2017 at 11:23pm

oh wow, i could not be more envious or more happy for you. this is how local government is supposed to work. how is the economy? i know there is a college/university where your wife works. do a lot of people work there? we hear about all these hideously depressed areas where the economy has collapsed and people voted for trump. it's nice to hear about a place like this.


Comment by nerd cred on February 1, 2017 at 12:02am

You're not in the south any more. And they elect democrats in NY. All that. It's like that here, too. Except that one time when my niece went for a SS card and, born in Alaska, the clerk wanted her naturalization papers or some such.

And when snow is a regular fact of life you learn to deal.

Comment by nanatehay on February 1, 2017 at 12:04am

Very cool. I had some similar experiences, and was similarly surprised, upon moving to a small town in Missouri a couple years ago. Everyone I dealt with in city and county offices, whether on the phone or in person,  was way more friendly and far better at their job than I'd ever seen government employees be, the streets were clean and well-maintained, the police were  professional and unfailingly polite, and the citizens seemed, on average, kinder, more helpful, and just generally  more reasonable than people in neighboring towns. After a while I started feeling like I was missing something, that some dark, Stepford Wives-type secret must be lurking just  beneath all that charming non-dysfunctionality, but I'm pretty sure that was just me doing my usual preemptive "expect the worst" routine. 

Comment by Ron Powell on February 1, 2017 at 7:45am

You've just described how the administrative functions of government should work when there is no political, social, or ideological agenda to promote.

It also helps to have a civil service system that isn't polluted or tainted with patronage, cronyism, or nepotism...

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 1, 2017 at 8:23am

I expect they have it good, because they know they have it good, because they take care of one another.

Comment by Foolish Monkey on February 1, 2017 at 9:43am

when big cities do govt they rarely have sufficient bodies to do the task properly or it could be a space thing.  all I know is small cities do this stuff so great you want to hug them and big cities don't.  DMV in NYC is nearly a parody, it's so crazy mean spirited and cluttered with angry tired bodies on both sides of the counter.

Comment by Foolish Monkey on February 1, 2017 at 9:56am

snow in CT was our hell.  there are city plows and state plows and then there are individual people plows and they can all collide if like us you happen to live on a corner or a rural route.  we lived on a rural route - state road with a cross street that was a school street.  we were mandated to snowthrow the sidewalk but when the plows were finished the sidewalk was buried in mountains of grey heavy wet ice that had to be hand shoveled.  only there wasn't anywhere to put it because the state plows would plow it up our driveway and the city plows would throw it back on the street if we dared to put it at the curb..  sometimes in the morning, my husband would come out and have to spend an hour unburying our cars from under this solid hell.  and calling offices did nothing. no one cared. 

the slush, ice, snow, salt, gravel or whatever the hell else was in that chemical soup would freeze to a kind of dirty concrete and if it froze solid, we were screwed so one of us was always here during storms.

we never quite got it out of the grass that surrounded the house.  

there was a lot plowing for the sake of raking up hours and a lot of plow drivers power tripping.  I had plows nearly bury me in that ice...they didn't care if you were out there snowthrowing your street.  they'd come as close to the house as they could and if you went inside, they'd undo all the work you did.  it was pure evil.

here in MA it's all quiet and gentle and the plowing is rational, not plow following plow following plow, wrecking the streets.  I didn't mention the potholes those assholes would create with their relentless assaults.  I am SO glad to be gone from there.  

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on February 1, 2017 at 9:58am

This just adds to my admiration of upstate NY. Nearly all my Lit-Snips Radio Show poets are from Upstate...they love it. Greg Correll held the Open Salon Writers' Weekend at the Mohonk Center above New Paltz.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 1, 2017 at 10:10am

When my wife and I used to drive through Connecticut on our way to Massachusetts, either to see friends or drop J at camp (or both), because of the nastiness of the rest stops she used to refer to it as "the unfriendly state."

Comment by Rob Wittmann on February 1, 2017 at 10:38am

I went to school at the University of Rochester and loved it in upstate. I miss it very much, even the winters (amazingly).


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