Wednesday, September 03, 2008

COLUMN: Bureaucracy

Occasionally, I like to pretend that I'm a patient, happy-go-lucky sort of bloke. The kind of guy who the random annoyances and nuisances of life bounce right off like so many super balls. Then, as if on perfect cue, the world does something to remind me just how impatient and pessimistic I really am.

We live in a technological age of convenience and efficiency, yet strangely we still have to wait an hour at the DMV only to discover we've been standing in the wrong line. Microsoft may have opened the doors to the future, but if your Microsoft product breaks, you still have to hold on an indefinite phone call to India for help.

We don't live in a world of technology. We live in a world of bureaucracy. Modern science lets us accomplish new and exciting things, and modern bureaucracy makes sure we accomplish those things in the most backwards, complicated, and inconvenient manner possible.

This week, I got to live the bureaucracy dream first-hand, all thanks to an Egg McMuffin.

I was in the drive-thru last Friday on my way to work. I got my McBreakfast and put my foot on the clutch when I heard a noise like "kerrrrrrr-ack." I tried putting the car in gear but the shifter just flopped around as though entirely unattached (because, I later found out, it was entirely unattached.) I was able to coast the car into a nearby gas station. Little did I know I had just entered the Bureaucracy Zone.

My first call (1) was to the national emergency roadside assistance hotline of my insurance company, who issued a tow after an inquisitory round of questions both important ("Are you hurt?") and pointless ("Now, is Rock Island an actual island? Can you reach it by roadway?" Answer: No. I built my own Volkswagen factory, oil mine, and gas station on my isolated hermitic island, so that I could cruise around its sandy shores in style.)

Then a call to work to explain why I'd be late (2), followed by my favorite mechanic (3): "Could you fix this?" Answer: Nope. Sigh. The dealership (4): "Could you fix this?" Answer: Absolutely -- on Monday. Grr. (5) was an automatic callback from insurance, saying a tow would be there in 30 minutes, followed by the tow company (6) asking questions I had most definitely answered in (1).

(7) & (8) were to the dealership again, ensuring that the car would arrive safely and inquiring if they had loaner cars ("Nope.") Instead, they gave me the number to a rental car place they recommended (9) if I needed a ride for the weekend. (10) was to a different rental car place to see if I could get a better rate (I couldn't.)

(11) was a much-needed sanity break call to my mom to whine, who nodded appropriately and told me everything would be okay, which is all I really wanted to hear in the first place. (12) was back to the original rental car place, who told me they'd be glad to rent me a car provided I had a major credit card. Uh oh. I did, but it was maxed out. Maybe the bank (13) would extend my credit? ("Nope.") So I call the rental car company (9, 12, and now 14) back.

Would a debit card work? Sure, I'm told -- all I need to do is provide them a current phone bill (15), cable bill (16), and power bill (17) proving I was in good standing. Three faxes later I am good to go, so I call (9, 12, 14, and now 18) back to arrange for my car.

This was a place whose motto may or may not be "We'll pick you up" who then told me that absolutely under no circumstances could they pick me up. Instead, they referred me to their Moline branch (19).

Rob at the Moline branch told me he'd gladly pick me up -- if only they had any cars, which they did NOT. So he refers me back to (9, 12, 14, 18, and now 20.) They reiterate that they cannot pick me up, as they are in Iowa and I am in Illinois and apparantly some kind of unknown yet powerful cosmic rental-car-prohibiting barrier field exists across the Mississippi River. I call Rob (19) back (21) who tells me that (9, 12, 14, 18, & 20) are crazy and that he'd pull strings and take care of me.

Which eventually he did, and I publicly thank him and the whole staff at Moline's Enterprise Rent-a-Car for helping me out of a big bind. Rather than pick me up, they even brought the rental car down to me at work, which was above and beyond the call of duty. Of course, looking my gift horse in the mouth, I had asked for an economy car and was instead greeted by a white 2008 Crown Victoria, which is economical only when compared to a Princess Cruiseliner, which coincidentally is exactly what it feels like to move from a Beetle to a Crown Vic.

Still, part of me digs this beast of a car. It rides like a cloud, people think I'm an unmarked cop, and best of all, I can play CD's via a button on the steering wheel and that's pretty sweet. So I'm not in a huge hurry to give it back, despite the off-shore oil drilling I'm causing just by cruising this yacht of a grandpa car around the QCA. In a way, though, it's sweet payback for Shell Oil, considering I made (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) and (7) from one of their company phones.

So wish me luck, dear readers. In the coming days, I'll need to return my rental and pick up my Beetle, and my only goal is to do it in fewer than 21 phone calls.

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