I’d rather get kicked in the face with a soccer cleat than deal with a government bureau

Last Friday I found myself having to make two important customer-service-type calls, unrelated to each other.

The first call would be to Best Buy. I switched banks recently, and so the check card that was used to charge the monthly fee for my iPhone’s extended service plan no longer worked. They’d phoned me earlier in the day and left a message saying that my bill was a month past due and that I needed to call them to update my credit card information.

The second call would be to the Miami-Dade Department of Animal Services. I checked my mail Friday and received a letter from them saying that my dog was due for her rabies vaccine on the 3rd of February, and I have to pay a $65 citation for not taking her to get her rabies shots. Keep in mind, this is the first time I’ve ever received a letter from Animal Services, and it’s July–five months after the fact. Not to worry, though… I’d already taken my dog in for her rabies shot a few months ago, and I had the receipt, her tag ID, and her vaccination papers.

I, like most Americans who’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the government is more likely to make me happy than a mega-corporation, figured that I’d run into trouble with the first call, since Best Buy is an evil corporation that’s only out to make money. They don’t care that I’ve just switched banks. I thought for sure they’d charge me a fat fee or drop my coverage altogether so they don’t have to replace my phone if it breaks.

Additionally, I figured that the citation would not be a problem, since they only issued it because they thought I didn’t vaccinate my dog, when in fact I did. I figured all I had to do was show them the proof that Oreo was vaccinated months ago, give them the tag ID and fax them the paperwork or something, and the fine would go away. It’s a government organization, right? They’re there to serve the public. I’m the public. So no problem.

Now, here’s what actually happened.

I dialed Best Buy’s number. After a bit of maneuvering through their automated phone system (not too much though… only about two or three menus), the call was picked up relatively quickly by a customer service representative. I explained the situation and proceeded to tell him that I had just switched banks, so I have a new card.

I also explained that I would be glad to update my payment information right then and there, but that I was afraid my account would overdraw. So I asked if it was possible to either set the payment to process in two weeks or make a note on the account telling anyone who sees it that I will be calling to update my card info in two weeks, so they don’t cancel my service.

The guy reassured me that my service would not be cancelled, and, with no arguing or negotiating at all, was more than happy to add a note to my account saying that I would be changing my card info in two weeks. He also said he was going to set a reminder on my account so that someone calls me on the 16th, just in case I forget.

He then thanked me for calling, I thanked him for his help, and we bid each other a good day.

Problem solved.

I dialed Animal Services by dialing the number listed on the citation. It was right next to the part that says “Got any questions?” I was put on hold for at least ten minutes. At about the point I was ready to lose my patience, a guy answered. I explained the problem in full, and he said he couldn’t help me and that he was going to transfer me. Great. Another wait.

This time I was on hold for about seven minutes. Still pretty long. Another guy picked up. I explained that I’d received a citation for not vaccinating my dog for rabies, but I had proof that I’d sent her in for her rabies shot several months ago. He looked up my citation and said that it wouldn’t do any good because I didn’t get it done within thirty days of the due date.

I told him the truth–that I didn’t know I only had thirty days after the due date and that I wasn’t even notified that the due date had passed. Shouldn’t someone have sent me a letter or given me a phone call or something? He said that I did get sent a letter. Like I said, this citation was the first piece of correspondence I’d ever received from the Department of Animal Services. So I obviously didn’t get any letters before then.

He said it was too late. I’d missed the deadline to vaccinate and the citation is still valid. He said that at this point, the only way to avoid paying is to file an appeal and take the case before the Clerk of County Courts. But even if I did that, I’d probably still have to pay some court costs.  I asked him if there were any other options, and he said he didn’t know, but that maybe I could drive down to the DAS in person and show them the proof, and maybe the person in charge of citations could do something about it.

The “I don’t know, but maybe” part was more than a little annoying.

It’s the Friday before 4th of July. I have to get this taken care of today because I can’t afford to pay a stupid citation for an offense that I didn’t commit. So I made the half hour drive in the pouring rain from Biscayne Park to West Hialeah, and had to wade through a huge puddle to get to the front door.

When I got there, I had to take a ticket to be seen. I got number 52. They were on number 18. Sooo… this might take a while.

While I’m waiting, I notice that one guy behind the counter, who easily could have been helping people to lessen everyone’s wait time, was watching World Cup soccer. The whole time. Even the other people would pause what they were doing once in a while to glance at the screen to watch people kick a ball.

After nearly 45 minutes of waiting, they called my number, not knowing just how close I came to taking that soccer guy and stabbing him in the larynx with one of the pens chained to the counter. I explained the issue (for the third time now). He told me he wasn’t the guy to talk to. He told me to wait in front of the citation office, and pointed to the other end of the room, where there were some small makeshift workspaces.

More waiting. It’s thundering outside. The thermostat is apparently set on “Cuba.” Dogs are barking. That guy is stillwatchingthe soccer game. I start to wonder at this point if it might be less of an inconvenience to just turn a few tricks on Calle Ocho to get the $65 for the citation than to deal with this shit for another minute.

Finally the woman in the office says “next” and I go in. She’s somewhat nice (to the extent that a government employee can be considered “nice,” anyway). I explain the citation. Again. I explain that my dog is indeed vaccinated, contrary to what the citation implies. Again. I show her the papers. She says, sorry. She can’t help me. It wasn’t within thirty days of the due date. Once a citation is issued, the matter is out of Animal Services’ hands, and the only way to get rid of it is to appeal.

Game over. I still have to pay.

So what’s my point?

There’s a good reason why people hate going to the DMV, the courthouse, or any other government organization. Government bureaucracies are unorganized and inefficient. Government employees have no accountability because government employers are reluctant to fire anyone (plus, many times these employees are unionized). Anything that needs to get done in the public sector goes through a lengthy and labyrinthian string of inter-departmental red tape and paperwork. They know you have no other option, and you have to go through them to get done what you need to have done, and so they have no incentive to make the process better, faster, and cheaper. They have no incentive to make you happy.

Companies like Best Buy, on the other hand, do answer to their customers. They know that if they don’t make me happy now with my iPhone service plan, perhaps I’ll go somewhere else when I decide to purchase a Playstation 3 or an LCD television set. Apple Inc. knows that if they don’t replace my iPod (even if it’s a few weeks past the return date), I’ll be dissatisfied. And then not only does it lessen the chances of me buying an iPad, Macbook, or iMac in the future, but it also increases the likelihood that I’ll dissuade other people from doing so as well.

Yes, they’re motivated by money. But it’s my money. That’s the whole fucking point. It’s my money to spend, and I can choose to spend it wherever I want. So Best Buy and Apple had better do whatever they can to keep me as a customer if they want my money. They don’t have to, of course. But if they don’t, someone else will.

That, in a nutshell, is why I’d trust a corporation to treat me better than a government organization. That’s why, if given the choice, I’d ship a package through FedEx or UPS even though USPS would be cheaper. That’s why I’m already looking to invest in a private retirement plan, instead of trusting that Social Security will still be there when I retire.

That’s why, whenever someone says “there ought to be a law,” or “there ought to be a government department to handle this,” my default response is that there probably oughtn’t.

Not always, of course. But most of the time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, one of my johns is calling me.

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