Since last August, my friend Lily and I have been doing these Gothamist Interviews. We've stuck to a pretty regular format that includes a selection of questions tailored directly to the subject and another selection that we keep the same for everyone we talk to. One of those questions-for-all is "311: Help of hoopla?" concerning New York City's local information and complaint line. Basically, if you have a non-emergency issue (i.e., don't call 911!) or a complaint about noisy neighbors or you lost your cell phone in a cab or you're wondering who to talk to about when a public pool is open, you call 311. The 311 line has been a wildly successful program for the city. It has also been something that until last night I had never utilized.
You know, we're always told it's the little things that really matter. That if everyone takes that moment to help in a small situation that most of the time you would just pass right by, well, then eventually all the little things build to make this world a better place. But dammit if stupid bureaucracy or maybe even incompetence still doesn't manage to get in the way.
So last night, I did in fact go to Prospect Park to see The Phantom of the Opera. After, my friend and I went for a bite at a pretty good Mexican place in Park Slope. Somehow, it turned into a pretty gorgeous night with a cool breeze and an awesome slightly clowd-covered moon perfect for howling. Suddenly it was almost 1 AM, and me being the relative Brooklyn illiterate that I am, my friend decided to walk me to the 2 train. We kept going further and further from where she lived, however, and I'm not sure whether we just weren't paying attention to where we were going or what, but suddenly we were across from the Atlantic Center on Atlantic Avenue. I was about to hop on the 2, and she was going to take the subway back a couple stops to her place, but then she said that she kind of wanted to walk home cause we were stuffed and it was so nice house. Me being me (and also having no idea how far it might actually be) I offered to walk her.
So we're walking down 4th Avenue at about 1 or 1:15, and there aren't too many people or that much traffic when suddenly out of nowhere there's this really loud pop – not quite an explosion, but very loud nonetheless. At the corner of 4th and Baltic, a car had driven over a ConEd manhole cover at the corner of which seemed to then pop up, knock off the car's hubcap and blow-out the tire. The car slowed down at the curb right next to us, but I never saw the driver because I was staring at this manhole cover and the hubcap and saying something like, "What the fuck?" And just like that, without getting out to see what happened, the car just drove off.
We stood there for a moment staring at the manhole. I said, "Should I call someone? That could totally cause an accident." She said, "Yeah, call 311." So we went into the street and kicked the manhole cover back into place, and I called 311.
Now I can't say for sure what action was taken place – whether or not anyone came out, how quickly they did, etc. I suppose I could have with the end of my call resulting in a complaint number (that I didn't write down) which I could have checked, but I didn't mean to get involved in any big process. I just wanted to report something and thereby know that I had done a very small thing to maybe help make sure a bigger accident didn't happen in the future. But damn if that one little phone call didn't turn into a huge fucking pain in the ass.
I was on the phone for 10 minutes, mostly just listening to the operators type. (Yes, operators! After telling the story to the first person, I was then transferred to an Environment Protection specialist because apparently they handle manhole cover incidents.) They asked for my name and my phone number (you know, just in case they needed to follow-up the complaint). It didn't matter that I was blocks away nor do I live in the neighborhood let alone Brooklyn, and they weren't asking me any questions really. Besides, other than describing the incident and the location, I didn't really have much to offer. I barely knew where I was.
It was quite aggravating, and apparently my reward was NYC and the MTA bitch-slapping me into my place again as it took roughly an hour-and-a-half for me to get home to the Upper West Side thanks to a 25 minute wait for a transfer to the A train at W 4th Street, during which time some of the humidity seemed to have dissipated thanks to a brief thunderstorm, but you never would have known it on that subway platform. Only after I emerged on 81st and CPW seeing cars and the sidewalk covered in water did I figure this out.
So anyway, if Lily and I ever conduct one of these little interviews on each other, I guess I finally have a 311 story. Help or hoopla? I guess I can't totally judge since I don't know if the loose manhole cover has actually been fixed, but the experience of the call itself was pretty damn annoying, so for now, I'll have to just call it "helpla" or maybe "hoopelp," and leave it at that.