Saturday, November 8, 2014

Death By Gridlock

I’ve had an interesting last few days. I leave for SE Asia in a week. The plan was to spend two months in Thailand, then fly to Mumbai, and spend four weeks traveling around India and Nepal.  The flights to Bangkok are set, and can’t be altered without significant extra costs.

Herman and my problem was that our passports were sitting under some stack of other paperwork at a third-party company the Indian consulate uses to process the flood of visa requests it receives on the West Coast. They had had our paperwork and passports for the last four weeks, and nothing seemed to be getting done. After numerous phone conversations with their “Help Line”, which was no help at all, we decided to drive up to San Francisco (an 8 hr. drive) to cancel our visa request and retrieve our visa, as we were running out of time for our departure.

The negative side was that we will have to postpone our India plans. The positive side is we will leave for Thailand on time and visit Vietnam and Hong Kong instead of India (both countries we can get a visa upon arrival.)

So we made the long drive up Thursday, stayed overnight at a friends apartment, and was at the third-party company by 8am the following morning. When we arrived, there was already a long line of about two-hundred people, some of which had been waiting since 6am. By the time the doors opened at 9am, there were another few hundred people in line behind us. We braced ourselves for a long day.

It quickly became evident why nothing had happened with out visa requests over the past several weeks. They had a system (everyone was handed a ticket with a number on it, and then three people they had at help windows began calling out those numbers) but the system was soon abandoned to the help staff helping the loudest angry voices as impatient people demanded action. The process they had in place turned into shear pandemonium.

The problem? Too few workers trying to hold back the tsunami of people who needed attention.

We waited patiently, expecting to be there all day, and not knowing if we would get our visas. The longer the chaos went on, the more our doubts grew. We did, however finally grab someone’s attention and submitted out paperwork, and an hour later we were handed out passports. We spent a total of five hours getting something that should have taken five minutes. I felt sorry for these harried, overworked, underappreciated help staff.

But the more curious thing happened after we left the building, trying to make our way out to the Avenues for a very late lunch. What I saw, particularly down town, was the whole city seemed to be in the same condition as the third-party company. Too many people fighting for too few resources. Traffic was almost at a standstill. Angry motorists were driving wildly and rudely in attempt to get past roadblocks. People on the streets yelling and fighting each other. All the people on the streets and in their cars had the same harried look of those few help staffers in the third-party company.  The feeling was very tense.

I have loved San Francisco for all of my adult life, but this is the first time I wanted to flee that city, and I frankly have no desire to go back. I became grateful that I live in the slow, relaxed pace of Palm Springs, where most people still smile and say “Good morning,” and wish you a pleasant day. I don’t know if San Francisco was always that tense and angry and energy-zapping, and I’ve just gotten used to a more tranquil setting, or, as I suspect, overpopulation is making all big cities harder to live, simply because there are more people than resources.  Will our cities become dog-eat-dog environments where getting from one day to the next is a constant battle?  I hate being so negative, but I also can’t help thinking that’s what we’re creating.

1 comment:

A.B.Gayle said...

Working my way through your blog!

I think it's the frog being immersed in water that is brought to the boil. For the last eighteen months I have had jobs that take me out of Sydney (Australia) for a couple of weeks at a time. Mostly these are in rural areas, some towns only a few hundred people. Each time I return to Sydney, I see the same thing.
Actualy worse as I was in San Francisco earlier this year and it seemed tame compared to Sydney (mind you I wasn't driving at peak hour!)
Here all day is peak hour.
But people still prefer to live here and the country areas are desperate for professional people to work there.
"Too boring" out there, "Nothing to do" yet most of the people in the city spend their time, working, commuting or staying at home watching television or on the computer. Doesn't make any sense to me.