Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Day of Immersion in Bloomberg Bureaucracy: Roll Out the Barrel

Any elementary school teacher could have better managed this.

This was my comment to the people from the EPA running the rain barrel giveaway at Marine Park yesterday on a cold and nasty day. What should have taken about a half hour of my time ended up using up most of the day. Okay, I know. I could have bought one for about $30. But I wouldn't have. You know the motto in the Scott family: free is better than good - or actually - free is better than anything.

photo from EPA website
The offer of a free 50 gallon rain storage unit along with the converter kit was too much for me to resist. I have 3 spots I could make use of it in my garden. So when I accidentally came across the announcement on Friday that barrels would be given away on Saturday from 9-2, I made plans to be there early before the crowd and get home in time to get to the gym by 10. So, I how did I feel when I came straggling home with my barrel after 3 trips back and forth, hacking and coughing from the cold wet day at around 3:30PM? *&*&%&%%.

I got to Ave U around 8:45 and the traffic was backed up for blocks and a massive line was formed in the parking lot. People were already walking away with barrels. Apparently most of Brooklyn have the same motto as the Scotts. But on the good side, it was nice to see how many people are interested in gardening and conservation. Or maybe since we are quickly slipping into banana republic territory in this country it was simply a case like they use to have in Russia - if you see any line join it.

I won't get into the details of how poorly this was managed. But a few quick hits. One guy has number 13 at 7:30 and was told he could leave and come back at 9 since no barrels would be given away before them. So how did he end up at the back of a long line with people like me with number 355? Of course they started giving away barrels at 8 and by 9 there were none left.
The prefect manager for rain barrel giveaway

They were giving out numbers - to cars coming in and to people on the line - total chaos. Lines forming all over the place. "Another truck is coming," they told us. So we line up to wait. In the cold (I didn't dress as warmly as I should have - just pick up the barrel and put it in the car - I figured.) An hour goes by. Where's the truck? Jersey Turnpike was one answer. Williamsburg was another.

But we all start to bond while waiting. A great slice of Brooklyn diversity. People who might never talk to each other if they were not on a line on a nasty Saturday morning waiting for a rain barrel. The guys from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations tell us how they use gravity feed systems all the time on the Islands. The guy with number 13 who got screwed is in remarkable good humor. He asks why is rain water better than tap water? The nitrogen. Much of it gets lost through filtration in tap water. Thus watering plants with rain water gives them more nutragens.

Finally they tell us to leave and come back in an hour. Everyone with a number (cars and people were still pulling in and were told it was too late.) My number was one of the last given out.

So I go shopping for my 93 year old dad who as a true Scott wants me to chase all over Brooklyn to different stores so I could save a dollar. I get the goodies up to his apartment, am questioned intently as to why I paid $4 for a tin of raisins when I could have gotten them for $2 at CVS, head over and get gas and then back to Marine Park.

No truck. But at least I have a spot in the lot. So I listen to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Finally at around 12pm the truck arrives. Ensuing chaos - they can't figure out an orderly system to give out the barrels but they say they are doing it by numbers. I stay back since I have 355. They aren't really doing it by numbers. They run out before I get to the front of the line. The truck leaves to go back to Williamsburg to get more barrels. It won't be back for at least 2-3 hours. There are about 50 of us left.

The dispatcher is a nice guy. "I'm from Wisconsin," he says. "You can trust me." Ha, I say. "I'm from Madison," he answers. "OK," I say. "You pass." He says everyone with a number will get a barrel. He's from Madison. I believe him.

I'm not giving up on this quest. I go back home, take cough medicine, eat lunch and head back at 2:30. Sit in the car for about 15 minutes and finally the truck comes. Even with this smaller crowd there is no clue on how to manage it. Sort of like the newbie teacher who tells an entire class to get their coats at the same time. I figure that every single teacher in the school system with minimal management skills could have done this better. It is raining but I wrestle the barrel into the car. (Can't wait to get home and rip open the conversion kit. I knew I shoulda been a plumber.)

Maybe it was not the fault of the poor EPA workers who have been there since 6AM. They are not trained in crowd management. But no one seemed to be in charge – the benefits of Bloomberg-style management. What was needed for this even was a top-level manager. Someone with vast experience in managing large organizations. Someone who would be available on a Saturday morning. A perfect job for Cathie Black.

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