Friday, November 20, 2009

When a low-level grunt goes way too far

(Note: The entry has undergone some revision since first posting.)

Allow me to set the stage for you: On three separate occasions while driving across a bridge near my home, a bridge currently under fairly intensive constructive maintenance, a certain flagman has copped an attitude with me in particular. With me! I mean, if you're a flunkie flagman and you feel the irrepressible urge to cop an attitude with someone while in performance of your duties, I'm definitely not the one to do it with.

These incidents became progressively worse each time, culminating in the events that unfolded below.

The first was fairly innocuous; the flagman did cop a slight attitude with me, but since (I flatter myself) I'm a pretty fair-minded person with experience enough to know that sometimes people just have bad days, or bad moments as it were, I just let it go, acting as though it never happened. As an old friend and mentor used to say to me, "you can never be sure what's going on in an otherwise decent person's life that may be contributing to his acting abnormally or out of character on certain occasions, under certain circumstances or pressures." In other words, I gave the flagman the benefit of the doubt on this first occasion. The second incident was significantly worse, and I responded only by giving him one of those "don't let it happen again" looks as I passed by him. His glaring response on this occasion indicated that he wasn't smart enough to know when he was up.

The third incident was, by far, the worst. Having gotten behind a rock-hauling truck and trailer on my way to work several mornings ago, I was traveling at a very low rate of speed. When the truck stopped in front of the flagman's station, the flagman began waving it forward. At least this was my impression. Seconds later, and with the truck not responding, the flagman began to flail his arms in the air as if to say "go, dammit go!" I wasn't sure whether he was telling me or the trucker to go, so I erred on the side of caution given that the road in question is very narrow under normal circumstances, not to mention while under construction. Anyway, a mere two or three seconds later, the flagman began to flail his arms into the air even more aggressively, apparently cursing in the meantime to add insult to injury, and pointing directly at me. At this point there was no question about who his aggressive posturing was intended for. So, here's what I did in response...

I very calmly pulled up beside this belligerant little (actually he was about a hundred pounds over weight, by my estimation) punk, rolled my window down, and proceeded to give him a stern and forceful piece of my mind, to wit:

"Hey, son!, I strongly advise you to drop the attitude ... NOW!" He replied: "why?" "Because, whether you realize it or not, you're working in the capacity of a public servant, and I'm the damn public, first off," I said. "I was waving at you to go," said he. To which I replied, "I thought you were waving at the truck ahead of me. But that's irrelevant, your display was completely uncalled for and unacceptable." His response?: "What are you going to do about it?"

Now, no more than ten years ago (ask anyone that knows me) I'd have unloaded out of my vehicle and thrown him into the lake -- with extreme prejudice -- without even a second thought at such a display of inappropriate, provoking behavior. But, of course, he's ten years too late, in my particular case, for that manner of dealing with his over-the-top, belligerant attitude. So I replied, as he turned and began walking away, "I'll have a talk with your boss, do you understand me?" He replied over his shoulder, "he's right there," pointing at a vehicle parked on the side of the road behind and to the right of me. I said, "no; you don't understand -- I don't want to talk to a flunkie supervisor on the job site, I'll be talking to the man!" At which point I drove away.

I didn't want to talk to his immediate supervisor because I'm versed enough to know that there's a lot of inter-company loyalty that exists between flunkies like that. So, I simply began calling the main office of his employer. No one answered that day as everyone was out of the office. But they called me back early next morning, and we got it all straightend out over the phone (apparently mine isn't the first incident they've had to deal with involving this particular individual). But I also explained to the caller that I either know or am acquainted with everyone who lives in my neighborhood; that at least three of these individuals, off the top of my head, would worry about the consequences of their literally wiping the pavement up with him, as a response to his same belligerance towards me, after they'd already committed the act. Much like I likely would have done ten or more years ago. That is, assuming I could have caught him (my experience is that overweight does not necessarily mean slow in the running sense). Some of these people can move fairly fast, depending on how threatened they feel. But anyway,...

What's the moral of the story? I don't know. I know that several days later the flagman in question is no longer working at that particular job site. It was never my intention to have him lose his job, nor to have him moved to another location, though I did suggest to his superior that if he couldn't handle the job's public service related requirements, then they might look to finding him another position, more suitable to his ... peculiar talents.

Anyway, another day, another dollar, and another product of liberalism brought low. Such is the burden that falls invariably on the shoulders of those of us who still understand that "tolerance" of certain anti-social behaviorisms can be as destructive, if not more destructive, than any form of intolerance. Both on an individual and a societal level.


Anonymous said...


That task involves at least three guys using $40 worth of equipment (which is costed out at more like $300) when it could be done more easily and effectively (and far more safely for all concerned) by one individual using $20 worth of equipment (which would probably have to be costed at more like $1000 because it's 'specialized'). But the whole point of government spending is have as many people sucking the teat as can fit.

Well-run crews rotate the flagmen because it's such an obviously stupid and demeaning job. Guys who get stuck there may not be good for much else, but they don't necessarily appreciate the comment on their abilities.

But you know, speaking of traffic lights....

It used to be that, when the red light (or was that long ago) went up for one direction of traffic, it was simultaneous with the green light for the other direction. The yellow light was instituted as a (very reasonable) warning, not that the light was going to go red, but that the opposing flow of traffic was about to get the green light.

In terms of efficiency, this is fine as long as nobody runs the red light. Even though there are still cars crossing in front of you when you get the green, you can't actually hit them unless you've got fast reflexes, a sports car (or motorcycle) and a death wish. Which combination traffic lights cannot address. On the opposing side, this made the red light naturally self-enforcing, because it was warning of a real danger. People stopped.

Then bureaucrats got involved and decided that, to increase the safety of the system, the light should be red for long enough for all the cars to clear the intersection before the other side got a green. As any moderately intelligent person could have predicted, this encouraged people to run the red light, since they knew by experience that they had a few extra seconds. So the bureaucrats tried to solve this by increasing the wait during which nobody had a green light, further increasing the incentives to run the red.

Finally, technology intervened and we got traffic cameras to automatically ticket people running red lights. But all this does is establish that any light that doesn't have a camera doesn't 'really' count. Which, in a literal sense, it does not, at least not in the same way that the camera light does.

Billions of dollars wasted and widespread scofflawism among the driving public because bureaucrats think that rules don't need a distinct and immediate justification for people to follow them. The story of every government in microcosm.