Bad Attitude Is Taking Its Toll


April 21, 1991|By Dave Barry

I hate to bring this up, but a lot of you members of the public have a bad attitude. Consider the following true story, which was told to me recently by my attorney, Joseph "Joe the Attorney" DiGiacinto of White Plains, N.Y., who by the way is available for hire, although he, of course, is far too ethical to advertise.

Joe has a client whom I'll call Charles, a mild-mannered corporate financial officer who has never been in any kind of trouble. One evening Charles was driving home from work on the New England Thruway and came to a toll plaza. When his turn came, he pulled up to the booth and held out his $1.25. At this point, the toll-taker pulled out what Charles described, according to Joe, as "the biggest pile of one-dollar bills I have ever seen," and started slowly counting them. A minute went by. A line of cars formed behind Charles. Another minute went by. The toll-taker kept counting. Some people behind Charles started honking. Another minute went by.

Charles sat there, looking in disbelief at the toll-taker, who apparently planned to continue counting the entire pile of bills, and then, who knows, maybe read "War and Peace." In the lengthening line behind Charles, more people were honking, shouting, gesturing, possibly rummaging through their glove compartments in search of firearms.

Finally Charles, despite being mild-mannered, did a bad thing. In fact he did three bad things: (1) He made an explicit, non-toll-related suggestion to the toll-taker; (2) he threw his $1.25 into the booth; and (3) he drove away.

He did not get far, of course. Western Civilization did not get where it is today by tolerating this kind of flagrant disregard of toll procedures. Charles was swiftly apprehended by two police cars, which escorted him to the police station, where he called Joe, who managed to keep him out of prison through the shrewd legal maneuver of telling him to pay the $50 fine.

So justice was done, but this story illustrates my point about the bad public attitude. Too many of us are, like Charles, guilty of assuming that everything is set up for our benefit. We come to a toll plaza, we see a person standing in a toll booth, and we expect to just hand our toll to this person. We fail to consider that this person might have other things to do.

I am fed up with complaints about postal clerks. Just because a person works for the Postal Service, in a job called "postal clerk," standing behind the post office service counter, does not mean this person has nothing better to do than help you conduct postal transactions. Recently, while I was waiting in line at a post office to purchase the new, conveniently priced 29-cent stamps, I was shocked to hear people muttering because the three clerks behind the counter were moving so slowly that, to the untrained eye, they did not appear to be waiting on anybody.

When I heard people complaining, I got angry. "Listen!" I wanted to shout. "If you don't like standing in line for 45 minutes while these clerks fulfill what is apparently some kind of Postal Service requirement to display the same energy level as linoleum, take your business to some other Postal Service!" But of course I didn't shout, because it would have violated a postal regulation, and they might have put me in prison, or -- worse -- sent me to the end of the line.

The most serious public attitude problem I have encountered was in a Florida Department of Motor Vehicles facility, where I was attempting to renew my driver's license. I heard a lot of ill-mannered grumbling from members of the public, especially the ones who had been there more than three days. Again this was a situation in which, just because these people had been told that they could renew their licenses at this facility, they expected to just waltz in and -- talk about gall -- renew their licenses. You can imagine how irritating this was for the Department of Motor Vehicles employees, who already had their hands full with their other duties, which include: taking breaks; informing you that, whatever line you've been standing in for the past hour, it's the wrong one; and taking additional breaks.

I must confess that even I started to develop an attitude problem after a couple of hours. When I finally got to the front of the right line, and the clerk asked if I wanted to be an organ donor, I almost screamed "No! I want to donate your organs!" But fortunately I restrained myself. The only indication of how I felt is my photo, wherein I look like Charles Manson, only less rational.

My point is that you members of the public need to stop assuming that the government has nothing better to do than serve you. You also need to straighten out your attitude toward the phone company. Also hospitals. And don't forget about newspapers. We're sick and tired of your telling us you didn't get your paper. Hey, we have enough trouble printing the paper; we can't worry about whether you actually receive it. So just shut up with your complaints. You're in the wrong line anyway.

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