Tuesday, September 27, 2005

An Hour I Can’t Have Back

As you know, I live in the heartland in a major metropolitan area, the largest one in the state. Some of you can probably figure it out based on previous posts, but I’m not going to state it here.

Since my wife works and attends law school, I manage our personal affairs. That means that I often use my lunch hour to run errands and take care of business, so to speak. Today was no different. I needed to renew our license plates. You can do that by mail for a slightly higher charge, but I’m too cheap for that. They offer online renewal, but everything has to be right in order to do it that way. For one, you can’t have switched insurance carriers recently because they won’t have your new data. Fair enough.

By the way, well worth it to switch. If my old carrier, State Farm, had stayed anywhere close to what I was paying already, I might have continued sending checks and never bothered to shop around. Instead, they went up by 10%. Not cool if you’re on a budget and trying to put a wife through law school. I shopped around and saved over 40% from State Farm’s higher renewal rate. I liked my agent, but not enough to pay that much more to continue doing business with her.

Anyway, my new insurance cards arrived with the wife’s name on them but not mine. I called the new agent to straighten it out, and she did, but the cards are forthcoming. You have to show proof of insurance to renew your registration, so I go online and print out a declarations page showing all the pertinent info. I also bring with me a copy of the policy itself just in case. You probably know where this is heading…

I go to the county clerk’s office closest to my place of employment and grab a number, 21. They call 12 right when I sit down. My turn comes and I go up to the window and spread out my documents. She asks for proof of insurance; I explain why I don’t have the card and give her what I have. It’s not good enough. The policy states that they can only accept an insurance card or a fax from the insurance company.

I show her my new insurance policy, but she won’t budge. Insurance fraud is rampant and she won’t take it. Ugh. I’m getting testy by this point, and she doesn’t want to lose control of things, so she calls the phone number for my agent THAT IS PRINTED ON THE POLICY THAT I PROVIDED HER. Can they fax something to her? Of course, incoming faxes cost another dollar. Yikes. She takes my check and gives me a receipt, along with all my documentation and tells me I can leave with my plates as soon as she receives the fax.

I wait. Ten minutes later, it hasn’t arrived. I call my agent and press her to get it in gear. She tells me that they’re standing at the fax trying to get it to go through, but the other end is busy. Of course it is! They’re making money one dollar at a time! More waiting. The clerk notices me standing there, frustrated, and tells me that nothing has come in yet.

I’m on my lunch break! This episode has taken 45 minutes instead of 15. By now, I’m begging her just to mail the damn plates to me. She says that will cost me another $4. Fine. I whip out my wallet and a full book of stamps. Take them. I want out of here. She tells me that the fax could be here any minute, and that she didn’t want me driving on expired tags. Me neither! That’s why I’m there. I lost it. I asked for the manager on duty, who was conveniently nowhere to be found.

Either common sense or panic set in, because she took the same policy I had half an hour prior, and examined it carefully. See? There’s my name, those are my two cars, there are my coverage limits. Oh look, there’s how much I paid! She makes a copy of this, hands me the plates, and sends me on my way.

WHY WAS MY POLICY NOT GOOD ENOUGH EARLIER?

Let me tell you something…I know that there are people out there, probably including some of you reading this, who are dishonest enough to buy liability coverage for the day that the plates need to be renewed and then cancel it afterwards. I overheard two people discussing doing just that in the county clerk’s office. I also realize that there are people motivated to forge documents in order to avoid paying for insurance.

You people make me sick. Honest people like me have to jump through extraordinary hoops, like the ones I’ve described, and pay higher premiums because irresponsible people like you won’t man up and do what’s right and smart.

Still, the clerk’s office is not off the hook either. Why common sense prevailed only after an hour had elapsed is beyond me. My best hypothesis? GOVERNMENT.

Government has no incentive to serve customers quickly or efficiently. What do they care if their operations hemorrhage money? There’s more where that came from, in my pocket and yours. I swear…there was no sense of urgency in that place whatsoever. Employees were milling about, and there were some with no customers to wait on, but they didn’t actually open their lines to the rest of the peons. They were serving commercial clients and auto dealers, exclusively, no matter how few of them there were to be served. It was unreal.

I worked for Big Brown in multiple functions, including hub operations and finance. That experience taught me how important operational efficiency is. Not mind-numbing robotic precision, but efficiency. Urgency. I could walk in tomorrow to that county clerk’s office, lay off a third of the staff, and improve wait times and quality solely through superior management and attention to detail.

Before you cry about how unfair it is to force people out of work, think about it from my perspective. If you can do a job with 7 people instead of 10, what good are you doing by employing 10 and remaining inefficient? In my example, the government confiscates my money in order to subsidize the employment of people it does not honestly need. AND, somewhere out there, a businessman or woman is looking for three people to work for him or her that cannot be found because they are performing inefficient work for someone else. Having a job is not the same as doing meaningful work.

Yes, I’ve lost a job before. It sucks. You move on.

It may seem like I’m picking on government here, but there is waste in private industry too, though the profit motive keeps careful managers on the lookout for it. I worked in a department for Big Brown once where we could have cut 25% of staff and not noticed a difference. We aggressively pursued customers who didn’t pay on time, but we didn’t have the same attitude about internal waste. We kept people around long after their skills diminished or their jobs were automated, often for fear of being sued for something or other.

If you still think I’m being insensitive, here’s the bottom line in our economy: lifetime employment is a thing of the past. Nobody owes you a job or a living. Am I loyal to my company? Somewhat. I want it to succeed so that I make money to satisfy my needs. Do I think for a second that if the time comes for them to replace me or eliminate my job that they are going to waste time thinking about it? Nope.

Rant over. Now contrast my customer service experience at the county clerk’s office with this one. On the way back to the office, I stop by the Golden Arches for a Happy Meal. From the time I place my order at the speaker box until I drive away, grub in hand, maybe 60 seconds elapsed. Wow. Profit motive is a powerful thing. Private business will always innovate, design, and manage things better than government, because there’s money to be made and lost.

Football Thoughts
College football is why I write this blog, so don’t worry about me suddenly diverging into political or social commentary. There are more important things to discuss, like last night’s Tennessee-LSU game in Baton Rouge!

Where to begin…let’s start with the logistical headaches of staging a game in a hurricane evacuation zone. Yikes. No hotels available anytime soon, and traffic has become a nightmare. Baton Rouge is busting at the seams with new residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The game wound up being postponed two days because a followup hurricane, Rita, passed through on Saturday. With the lack of hotel rooms, UT wound up having to fly in on game day and out immediately after the game. Stuff happens, and you deal with it. They did. They also whined about it quite a bit, even suggesting that they were willing to forfeit had SEC commissioner Mike Slive not browbeaten LSU into postponing the game. Histrionics aside, the game was moved to last night.

LSU fans were clearly jacked up for this game and it came across pretty well on TV. According to reports I’ve read, they even rocked Tennessee’s buses upon arrival at the stadium and pelted them with garbage. Sheesh. Come on, Tiger fans. This is NOT the Big Ten, and you do not live in East Lansing, Madison, or Columbus. Hooliganism is not cool, no matter how much you’ve had to drink.

The game itself was a dandy between two loaded teams on a national stage. Play was sloppy, pockmarked by turnovers, penalties, and loads of dropped passes. LSU went up 21-0 in the first half, aided by UT turnovers and the complete meltdown of UT quarterback Erik Ainge. LSU also failed to convert a field goal in the waning seconds of the first half because they couldn’t get the play off. New head coach Les Miles might be a fantastic motivator, but he’s an awful game manager. This would come into play later.

LSU led 24-7 at the end of the third quarter before the wheels came off and they stopped playing to win. After Tennessee scored to make it 24-14, LSU QB JaMarcus Russell, a gigantic signal caller with a rocket arm, threw a pick that gave the Vols the possession deep in Tiger territory. They marched in for the touchdown with about seven minutes to play and down only 24-21 with all the momentum in the world.

They would get the tying field goal with two minutes left to play. Then, LSU head coach Les Miles cemented his status as the SEC’s new Ron Zook, the former Florida coach maligned for introducing a once-proud program to newfound mediocrity. He called two running plays in a row, chewing valuable clock time and signaling to everyone watching that he was playing for overtime, and NOT the win in regulation. Football rewards the aggressive and the confident. It came as no surprise to this observer that Tennessee wound up winning in overtime, 30-27.

Tiger fans…let’s hope that the emotion of last night’s game and his first outing in Baton Rouge caused some of the stupid brain farts made by Les Miles. If not, you’re in for a couple of seasons of mediocrity where all the talent in the world is wasted with bush-league coaching. I smell a new Zooker down on the bayou.

Tonight’s match-up
Toledo at Fresno State (-12.5). Rotund coach Tom Amstutz and QB whiz Bruce Gradkowski travel to Fresno to take on Sheriff Pat Hill and his posse. Watch Toledo put up a valiant effort before giving way at the end. I like Fresno State to make a statement in this game, something like "We build our reputation on the backs of the Toledos of the world, before folding against the better competition." It’s not 2001 anymore, but it’s enough.

Vandy notes
Our game against LSU on October 8 has been picked up by ESPN2. Wow! By my count, this marks the first time since 1999 that Vandy has played on national TV. If I'm wrong on this, please advise.

Final thought
Is it kosher to tell my wife, upon her asking me how my day went, to read this blog? It can't hurt…we all know it would double my readership.

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