Friday, December 17, 2010

Still Life with Robin: A Festivus Story

by Peggy Robin

The Cleveland Park Listserv gets its share of complaints about city services. That’s one of its reasons to exist, to give people a chance to air their grievances. (I’m writing this close to the Seinfeldian holiday of Festivus, December 23rd,  dedicated to the Airing of Grievances, so it’s the appropriate time of year for this subject.)

Here’s my complaint, complete with surprise ending (wait for it). About a week ago I noticed that the deadline for the city to vacuum up the leaves on our block had come and gone. Piles of leaves that the residents (or their paid helpers) had dutifully raked to the treebox strip were still there. DPW leaf crews had been spotted sweeping up very similar piles all along Newark and Ordway Streets, just a block away in each direction, but somehow they had skipped over our block. I decided to report the omission and request the return of the leaf truck.

It should be a simple matter, I thought, to fill out a service request form at, but it was a bit trickier than I thought. On the pull-down menu of problems to report, there was no choice for “uncollected leaf piles.” The closest thing I could find was “uncollected yard waste.” I selected that, but in the free-form comments box I made clear that the leaf truck needed to return to vacuum up the large piles of leaves on the corner; I was not asking for our regular sanitation crew to pick up bagged leaves. I completed all the parts of the online form, submitted it, and in return received a tracking number.

A few days later I received an email from the city with my tracking number, telling me that my service request had been “fulfilled.” I looked out the window and saw that the leaf piles were there, untouched. Fulfilled? How could anyone have said that the request had been fulfilled? I wanted to reply to the email to ask that question but it was marked “no reply.” On top of that, at the end of the email was an invitation to fill out a survey rating the quality of service. Fine, I thought, and got right to it: Was I satisfied with the quality, promptness, and thoroughness of the response? Dissatisfied, dissatisfied, dissatisfied, were the circles I checked. Then I filled out the comments box, explaining that my service request was most certainly not fulfilled: The leaves were still there. I clicked “submit” and waited to see if there would be any follow-up.

A few more days went by, and nothing happened. This time I decided to try my luck with the mayor’s telephone call center, 311. Someone picked up the phone promptly. I explained the problem. A very pleasant-sounding telephone agent told me if I didn’t mind holding, she would call over to DPW right now and convey my request. When she came back on the line, she told me she was in touch someone from DPW and she was going to put me on with him. Suddenly I was speaking directly to someone who knew about leaves! He told me he was going to come over to my street to take a look. Less than an hour later, he called me back. He said he was outside on the street in front of my house looking at the big pile of leaves. He said he’d be back first thing in the morning with the leaf truck and his crew. That morning I drove my daughter to school at 8 a.m. and by the time I was home, there was the leaf truck, with three guys with rakes and one guy with a leaf blower. Less than half an hour later, not only had they vacuumed up the big leaf pile on the corner but they had also gone down the street, neatly raking up smaller piles of stray leaves for the truck to vacuum up. My street was left looking neater than any suburban subdivision I’d ever seen.

I wish I’d taken down the name of the 311 agent who so efficiently arranged this outcome, so that I could thank her by name. I wish she had sent me an online survey that I could check: satisfied, satisfied, satisfied. Let this column be a substitute…and I suppose I'll need to find myself another grievance to air this coming Festivus.

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