I drove around the block twice, hunting for a parking spot during lunch hour traffic. When I succeeded, I fished through my car’s ashtray for a couple of quarters to feed the meter. I plopped one in and then did an anger-managing breathing exercise when I saw that it rented me only 15 minutes. “What a rip,” I mumbled, kneeling on my passenger seat to sift through more coins. I found two more quarters and squandered them in the meter too -just to get a full hour.
I was on deadline to turn in some forms and pay fees for my company. I decided to take care of it in person at the local city-government office since I was too late for postal mail.
With my hour ticking, I hurried half a block and entered a small office with a capacity for no more than 15 people. The floor was dirty and scuffed. Most of the mismatched chairs were occupied by people who clutched paperwork and didn’t smile. When I entered, they turned to me as if desperate for something new to see in this dim room. I knew they had been there a long time.
Three employees were separated from me and the other “public” by thick, bulletproof glass -the kind you see in banks that have suffered robbery. The glass had some dings and chips gouged out on our side -my imagination ran off with that for a minute.
No less than twenty handwritten and photocopied signs plastered the glass. “Do not approach window without a ticket.” (I found the ticket machine and pulled one.) “$40 fee for returned checks.” “No cell phones.” “Payment must be in Fri before any Monday holiday.” “No Exceptions…” “Fine and Penalty…” The foreboding signs created a mural.
An agitated man standing at the glass got into a debate over a date on his form. The female employee seemed to goad him by repeating, “But that’s what you wrote, sir. But that’s what you wrote, sir.” All the while she examined her fingernails -flaunting the government power she felt behind strong glass.
If ever a place had a bad vibe, this was it. Everything about the environment of this cold room with the paranoid signs was dismal. I wanted to leave.
After ten minutes I heard a new muffled number hollered through the glass. Eight people checked their tickets and seven hands fall to their laps. All were ahead of me. My hour wouldn’t be enough.
I stood up to pace a little. On a side wall I found a rather inconspicuous sign that was too good to be true. It was the happiest sign in the place. It was the sign they should have mounted in neon lights above the front door. “Save time, visit us on the web for forms and payment.”
I bolted, almost running out the door. I pulled out of my parking spot leaving 42 minutes on the meter for some lucky driver.
In this case, technology was not only giving me convenience, but it was about to make a web page form seem warm and cozy -and oh, so fast.