I spent more than six hours yesterday in the hallways of the lobby of New Orleans' City Hall, all to ask two questions.
As many of you may have had to do as well, I had to visit the Assessor’s office to re-fill out a Homestead Exemption and to ask a question as to how my home had been assessed. When I left the office at 3 p.m., there were as many people still waiting to be seen as had been in line all day.
I don’t bring this up to use my blog as a platform for arguing for or against City Hall and its procedures – trust me, there’s enough of that going on in its halls right now. What I want to point out is how well New Orleanians handle the most ridiculous of circumstances.
While standing against a marble wall, more than 400 people waited to walk up one side and down the other, just for the chance of crossing a lobby to get to do so again – this time in an farcical adult version of musical chairs – only to ride the elevator up three floors, get a new number and sit in a new chair.
That act took me 5.5 hours.
At 2 p.m. they brought us bottles of water. And instead of lashing out, instead of yelling at the officers and others with badges on, the gentleman next to me laughingly asked when dinner would be served.
When someone in the surrounding group of about 20 or so people that orbited the hallways with me would get up to purchase something to munch on, they would offer whatever they had to all of us; one woman even passed around the warm scarfs she knitted (three in that time) to those of us who were shivering.
Up on the fourth floor things started to get a little punch-drunk. After waiting that long, we were all telling jokes, some more tasteful than others, and laughing together at the absurdity of it all. When someone fell asleep and missed their number being called, the people around him would gently wake him and help him gather his paperwork instead of jumping the line.
The woman who helped me was kind, had a great smile and had answers for all of my questions. I asked what time she thought she’d be done that night, and she answered, “Probably 9.” “9 p.m.?”
She had arrived before 8 a.m. and was planning on working 11 hours – she had worked the same the Friday before and came in for extra hours that Saturday, just to make certain everyone who came was heard.
We talked together about how well everyone was taking the wait. There were some bad apples (she told me that they had only had to call the cops to take someone away that first day) and some that just like to bitch and moan, but mostly the New Orleanians she came in contact with wanted to change our city for the better and, thanks to our circumstances and our history, we’ve learned that change comes from the roots up.
So, make your roots count and do something for your city by doing something for your neighbor, neighborhood and the people around you. Or maybe just offer to wait in line.