Schutze Says Something Nice About City Workers. Is it the Flu or Senile Dementia?

Oh, this is going to be painful. I've been trying to prepare myself all weekend by eating a diet of prunes and flax seed, riding a stationary bicycle, doing somewhat Yoga-like stretches according to what I've seen in the movies and giving myself drill-sergeant pep talks in the mirror, also according to what I've seen in the movies. I believe that I am ready.

I am going to say something positive about the city.

First there are some minor caveats and stipulations. This statement does not extend beyond this statement. Nothing here within be it therewithal or wherewithal shall be interpolated, extrapolated or hyperbolized to impinge, impede, impact or otherwise distract from or upon further possible verbal abuse or derogation of City Hall, which you can count on.

They did a bang-up job on my block. Bang-up. Just completed a week ago: new curbs, gutters, driveway aprons, a fair amount of sidewalk and resurfacing of the street itself. The work was done by a contractor but overseen by the Dallas Street Services Department. The city guy shotgunning the whole thing, Michael Gonzalez, was on the spot, on the job, on his P's and Q's all the way through.

I do not know if our block is any more eccentric than any other block. Everybody thinks his own block is crazy, the way everybody thinks his own family is crazy. Usually it's because people don't realize that everybody is crazy. But I can safely say that we threw Gonzalez a couple spitballs, and he cracked every one of them into a nice clean line-drive.

Why was my block singled out -- the only one on our street and one of few in this part of town -- for such favorable treatment? There has been debate among us. Many of us have lived here for a very long time. We know each other well. We have seen each other in action.

My own presence on the block was ruled out early as a possible factor. One neighbor told me the consensus seemed to be that I might have enough influence at City Hall to cause brief suspensions of service but never enough clout to bring in actual hundreds of thousands worth of new concrete and asphalt.

As he put it, "And why would they do that for you of all people?"

Fair enough.

We do have a person on the block who has positive pull at City Hall, and he was very involved in monitoring this work. He says the work was simply happened to be on the schedule in the bond program. It was our turn. All he did was act as a citizen-inspector to make sure we got what the program said we had coming.

Generally speaking, the city just did a great job. I guess city employees like Gonzelez would be the counter-case to my statement about people not realizing that everybody is crazy. They deal with everybody. They know. But he and his deputies just know how to handle it.

Some of the actual work was handled by city workers, not contractors. They were here at the crack of dawn, diligent, hard-working, unfailingly polite. I even tested them a little, just to see.

Right after they finished pouring the new asphalt, as they were rolling it into a gleaming ribbon of black, I picked out a guy in a hard-hat with a shovel. I approached him with my dog on a leash -- the one who flattens her ears and growls like she might take a chunk out of you, because she's thinking about it.

I said, "We wanted green."

He nodded as nonchalantly as if I had asked the time of day. "Green, sir?"

"Green asphalt."

"You would need to talk to my supervisor about that," he said.

Hey. I was doing research, OK? It was my duty. Anyway, he did not take his shovel to my cur or say: "Get away from me, you weird old hippie fool." You know -- the sort of thing I probably deserved. I gave him an A-plus in my mind.

I repeat this story here for two reasons. First, I think I owe it to City Hall to say that when they do show up to do what they do, city employees in Dallas tend to be several cuts above garden variety.

This is not my only instance. I have seen it again and again over the years. They're professional. They know what they're doing. They're not drunk, and they don't ask for bribes. If you think that's a low bar, trying living in a lot of other cities.

And secondly, it's about government. Obviously private enterprise can do this kind of work. The lion's share of the work on my block was carried out by a private company. But it makes a huge difference to have government in the position of ultimate responsibility for projects that are fundamentally communal.

We were lucky we had our guy on the block who knows what calls to make and to whom, but that only works when there is a whom. When's the last time you tried to call AT&T or Verizon about your phone service? I rest my case.

When you get out away from City Hall, into the streets and neighborhoods where the work gets done, City Hall is a vastly more valuable asset to us in our day-to-day lives than you might think if all you did was read Jim Schutze. Then again, if all you did was read Jim Schutze, you'd have other problems.

The city did good. That's it. That's all. All right, I gotta go take a sauna. I feel like I have the flu or something. Hey, could that be it?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze