This is an excerpt from the latest newsletter. Subscribe here.
Because I spent an extra hour taming my curls for a new drivers’ license photo, I arrived at the DMV Center located behind a semi-deserted mini-mall in Oakland, New Jersey around 9:00 on Wednesday. The line already stretched around the building. At one point, a lady came by and handed out numbers. I was 285. She told everyone after number 300 to go home; they had no hope of getting in the building that day.
So after three hours of waiting outside in the sun, and a slow march on socially distanced orange circles inside the hallway of the unairconditioned mini-mall, I finally entered the industrial office of DMV. A lady took my cellphone number, and I was told to go wait outside in the stale mini-mall hallway next to a closed up nail salon and a gym that still advertised sale rates for college students. They would text me when I could come back in their office.
“What?,” I yelled. “I have to continue to wait?!”
“Yes,” said the bureaucrat lady. “You have to wait for another three hours. At least.”
I didn’t handle this news very well. “What??!!! Are you people on drugs?!” I shouted. Two beefy state policemen who sat in the middle of the room looked up from their phones. There were clearly there to handle people like myself. I went back into the hallway and left phone messages with local political officials and tweeted the governor.
At one point, the lady poked her head out of the office to yell some numbers. “197, 198, 199…” I got up from my spot on the floor and told her that this process was crazy. I pointed to old people waiting there with canes and folding chairs.
She said that it wasn’t her fault. They were backed up after being closed for four months. It was my fault for getting there so late. She said that the line started forming at 3:00am with people sleeping outside the building with pillows and blankets.
I told her that I was using this time to contact my government representatives and media sources. She was pissed. She said, “you think this is bad? You should see Wallington!” I guess other DMV offices around the state were even more crowded.
Seven hours. Seven. That’s how long it took to get my driver’s license that day. By that time that the worker took my photo, my hair was in disarray. I had a sunburn. And my eyes were glassy and crazed. That lovely driver’s license will be in my purse for a decade as a reminder of that morning.
Government is not working right now.
Last night, I spent an hour trying to figure out my high school kid’s complicated school schedule for the fall and then relaying that information to his bus driver. Nobody contacted her to tell her when she had to drive my kid back and forth from school. (It’s every other day, from 7:45 to 12:20.) A couple days before that, I had a zoom call with his guidance counselor to totally rework his schedule, because of new conflicts. I’m trying not to get upset that he won’t be able to take computer programming and that he got put into the “basic” Spanish class, because the regular Spanish wouldn’t fit into his schedule anymore. There’s no point in getting upset, because it will be a miracle if the schools actually open next week.
Jonah’s trying to get a work-study job at his state college for the fall, but nobody in the career offices or financial aid is returning phone calls.
The cleaning protocols of the schools seem excessive, not reflective of the latest science and research, and out of sync with the rest of community behavior. Soccer teams of unmasked seven-year old kids are training at the field around the corner. Our rates are low here, because adults are consistent mask wearers and high-risk businesses were closed. I think if we made education the priority, kids could spend more time in school buildings.
I’m a liberal. I believe in government. We need DMVs and schools and post offices. But these offices are not working well right now. Until we get a vaccine, the chaos, long lines, inequities, and bad services will continue.
Who’s to blame? It depends on who you talk to. One person will point to the unions, while another person might point to the lack of federal support. Because this newsletter is just a fun hobby, I won’t weigh in. I think my job at this time is just to keep the focus on the impact of government’s collapse on the most vulnerable and tell their story. When we rebuild, in year or two down the line, we need to rethink everything.
29 thoughts on “Rethink Everything, Newsletter Excerpt”
Our RMV here in MA was closed for months too, but we did not have nearly the problems that you all did in NJ. Our RMV set up an online appointment system. My husband took our youngest to get his permit (in July – several months after he was eligible in May because they were working through birth months missed for permits), and it took them like a half hour. My friend from Jersey has a son the same age, and she shared her nightmare stories with the Jersey RMV.
I am not sure why the Jersey RMV is so disfunctional – on the face of it, our state governments and states are pretty similar. Democratic governments, generally wealthy states, a good deal of government corruption, etc. And our RMV is not known for its efficiency – see the scandal about them not processing license revoking paperwork after a horrible accident killing several motorists.
It’s not that I doubt your assessment about the disfunction of government right now, but the Jersey RMV is some really weird, extreme example of this disfunction, and I am not sure why.
The variations in different state’s implementations are interesting. I wonder how many of the differences in dealing with this upturned world are the result of individuals stepping up versus systemic differences? For example, in our county, the fire department took over the county COVID testing sample collection (at the old sites of car emission testing, which everyone finds amusing). The newspaper story on the effort suggests implementing the site was the brainchild of a particular EMT, who had been trained in swabbing — maybe during SARS? or H1N1 and who suggested the idea and then was put in charge of the program.
Amy has mentioned the reservation system for state parks in Texas and the curbside pickup at their library (neither of which we had). You are reporting an online reservation system for DMV — which makes a lot of sense for everyone, including the DMV employees. Were those individual initiatives (or group initiatives)? Or do they point to systemic differences in the operation of the organizations.
New Jersey is always ranked with RI and LA as among the most corrupt states in the union.
When I went to the DMV (last September) I waited about an hour (which was long for our neck of the woods). But what I really noted was the enhanced drivers license issues. I’d careful searched the DOL web site for what I needed and happened to get lucky that my spouse had saved an old W2 form that had my social security number on it (from 2008, I think). So, I had everything I needed (including two address verification, my passport for proof of citizenship, . . . .). But so many people coming to the site didn’t, from self employed people, to immigrants, to people with disabilities (with caretakers, they were looking for IDs). I’d come without a book and my phone died, so I was forced to do nothing but listen.
Our school just finalized agreements with our school union. All remote, except for students with IEPs that require in person education. I hope they really get it because I was frustrated by the union leader’s understanding that this should be “rare”. I understand determining that it is really necessary, but “rare” implies some form of quota (i.e. is 1% rare? 5%?) which would be wrong.
Remote instruction says 3 50 minutes a day is “live/synchronous” for students, but then suggests that “email, chat, phone” availability qualifies as synchronous. Email is by no definition synchronous. I’m going to try to remain calm and see what education is delivered (and make my backup plans).
I hope your school opens because I think that it is wrong for places with the level of control of the virus you currently have in NJ not to open for those who want in school instruction.
The Institute for Disease Modeling released a simulation of possible school rates of infection based on prevailing coronavirus levels:
(That’s a Seattle Times link — the original report is https://covid.idmod.org/data/Maximizing_education_while_minimizing_COVID_risk.pdf)
They recommend opening schools for younger students first
Good article from the NYTimes today that explained to me some of what is happening in New Jersey: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/28/nyregion/nj-coronavirus-schools-reopening.html
I agree wholeheartedly with a quore from the Education Law Center — ““It is simply inadequate for the state to issue guidance and say, ‘You’re on your own to figure this out,’” he added.”
Urgh also read the article on “District 2” schools in NYC. So much inequity everywhere.
We’ve made two trips to attempt to get my 15-year-old a learners’ permit here in Austin. The first one was in early June–we’d booked the appointment a week before, after they opened up again–and was eerie. We’d just had a weekend of protests which included riots and looting, and the DPS office was barricaded and tense. Someone took our temperatures, and sent us in to an immediate appointment, only to learn that we’d left several necessary documents behind.
A week later, we were able to get an appointment for the middle of August — the next slot available. We walked in, were seen immediately, and walked out with a permit in under half an hour. Only one other person was in the waiting area with us.
I had my 15-year-old read about Laura’s experience to put her own frustration at waiting several weeks for her appointment into perspective.
BB said, “We’ve made two trips to attempt to get my 15-year-old a learners’ permit here in Austin. The first one was in early June–we’d booked the appointment a week before, after they opened up again–and was eerie.”
We have a TX 18-year-old who hasn’t done any driving stuff yet. Under different circumstances, we would have done driver’s education this year, but I guess we’re planning to do it next summer?
There are a lot of things that I’ve delayed. I think family policy now is that we’re doing basic well visits and dental visits, but any of the more exotic or lower-priority medical appointments are getting delayed. We have been able to do telemedicine with one provider and that’s worked surprisingly well.
I kind of suspect/hope that there are going to be some breakthroughs in COVID management this fall.
Quarantine’s reduced travel has made this a perfect time for our teenager to get practice, so there’s no need to wait on your 18-year-old to get their permit. I only wish we’d gotten the permit back in June before traffic picked up.
I’ve been really surprised by how little feel for the car my teenager has. Kids growing up in rural/exurban environments have experience steering go-carts, 4-wheelers, and especially riding lawnmowers. They get a feel for how steering works at different speeds and in different directions that helps out immensely. My 15-year-old is doing fine–she even got a bit of highway driving on the way to a state park southwest of Austin today–but she needs a lot of time behind the wheel.
BB said, “Quarantine’s reduced travel has made this a perfect time for our teenager to get practice, so there’s no need to wait on your 18-year-old to get their permit. I only wish we’d gotten the permit back in June before traffic picked up.”
That does sound good!
We’d been planning to use the local driving school for in-car instruction, so COVID has been a problem. Our 18-year-old has been very nervous about the idea of driving. We may combine some of her theoretical instruction with her 15-year-old brother’s, which may make it a bit more palatable. (We did this mini-school pretty successfully in the summer of 2019 with computer programming.) The 15-year-old has been a lot more interested in and positive about learning to drive.
Laura wrote, “Until we get a vaccine, the chaos, long lines, inequities, and bad services will continue.”
Some of it is just practice. For example, my kids’ private school started out with a 5-block long carpool for the elementary building, but it’s gotten a lot faster over the past week. It’s down to 2-3 blocks now at peak.
Some more notes:
–Our college COVID count is down today, which is nice. The college had been almost single-handedly blowing up the county numbers. Hometown U. has been generating just about exactly half of new cases for the last four days (since classes started).
–My college freshman has been “invited” for a random, mandatory campus COVID test. There are prizes and a drawing!
–College is handing out COVID care packages with a thermometer and various items. Word has it that the line-up for the COVID care packages is itself a COVID hazard…
–One of my husband’s undergraduate contacts jokes that Hometown U. is planning to close after two weeks of class, as that’s when tuition becomes non-refundable.
–We’ve pulled our 10th grader from school PE, as his reports of locker room and weight room conditions were concerning.
Wow, that drivers license experience is beyond incredible. Here in NSW, Australia, all renewals went on line When the offices closed, so I my old photo will still be there for another five years. We have a minister responsible for digitization here, who is constantly looking for forms to eliminate, and things to put on line, which I think has helped.
“Some of it is just practice. For example, my kids’ private school started out with a 5-block long carpool for the elementary building, but it’s gotten a lot faster over the past week. It’s down to 2-3 blocks now at peak. “
“Some of it is just practice. For example, my kids’ private school started out with a 5-block long carpool for the elementary building, but it’s gotten a lot faster over the past week. It’s down to 2-3 blocks now at peak. ”
One of our local primary schools had the bright idea of staggering the finish times for the different age-brackets of kids, in 15 minute increments.
I’m sure you can all see the flaw…. Most parents have more than one kid at the school.
After the end-of-school pickup went on for more than an hour longer than usual – with parents either blocking the drive through – waiting to collect *all* their children, or driving through multiple times, extending the already-dreadful traffic jam in the surrounding streets AND the feedback from parents that this was a really, really stupid idea – they decided to drop the plan and revert to normal day-end for everyone.
“After the end-of-school pickup went on for more than an hour longer than usual – with parents either blocking the drive through – waiting to collect *all* their children, or driving through multiple times, extending the already-dreadful traffic jam in the surrounding streets AND the feedback from parents that this was a really, really stupid idea – they decided to drop the plan and revert to normal day-end for everyone.”
Wow, I feel bad just reading that.
In other kid news, I’m in the process of trying to discourage the inner city parish that does our kids’ religious education from doing the in-person mandatory parent meeting that they have planned for this weekend. These parent meetings normally involve at least 100 people. The religious education program for the kids is going to be digital-plus-physical-packets (with optional in-person monthly meetings for the teens) which I think is just about perfect, but for some reason, they’re additionally planning on doing mandatory monthly in-person parent meetings. I just left a message with the office, stating my concern about the public health implications, as well as asking what special arrangements they were making to improve safety. (If they are using a big enough room–for example, the cavernous church sanctuary–I’ll be fine with it.)
Our MO as a family this fall is that while we have a lot of group exposure via a kid in in-person 2nd grade, a kid in in-person 10th grade, a college freshman living at home and my husband teaching in-person, we are trying to avoid group contact beyond that. The younger kids are in their third week of in-person school now. Weirdly, while Hometown U. is kind of blowing up, the number of COVID cases in the hospital is probably the lowest that it’s been in months. Either things are going to catch up soonish or alternately, the college kid cases are exceptionally mild.
A pretty good example of unintended consequences. As someone with only one kid in local school now (who would drive himself), I thought, “well that sounds like a good idea”. But, hah, it’s pretty bad.
“Our MO as a family this fall is that while we have a lot of group exposure via a kid in in-person 2nd grade, a kid in in-person 10th grade, a college freshman living at home and my husband teaching in-person, we are trying to avoid group contact beyond that. ”
As the NYTimes article recommended — that it is worthwhile to limit your overall exposure risk even if some exposure risk (in person education) has been accepted. The graphic showed too linked doors, where opening one closed the other. The article said people, psychologically, want to do the opposite, to say “I’m going to the restaurant, I might as well visit friends and go to the bar, too”. This is a view I have difficulty explaining to others sometimes, that they’ll say if I’m doing A, why can’t I do B, which is pretty much the same thing. But its total exposure that matters.
Cases look like they aren’t increasing, at least, nationally (and maybe in the south, though I don’t completely trust Florida’s numbers). Still way too high, but better than continuing to rise. The MidWest looks to be a problem now, though. I’m hopeful about WA.
When you work with radioactivity, you wear a wrist bracelet that examines your overall exposure. In the old days, you wore it all the time, so that your cumulative exposure (say, if you flew, or otherwise encountered areas emitting radiation) was measured. Then, it would be checked periodically.
We (that is my firm) are encouraged to think about it like a “risk budget.” That is, if you do one risky thing, cut back on others. They don’t want anyone sick if it can be avoided.
In our personal lives. For work, we’re forbidden to travel, have meetings in person, or go into the office without permission.
bj said, “As the NYTimes article recommended — that it is worthwhile to limit your overall exposure risk even if some exposure risk (in person education) has been accepted. The graphic showed too linked doors, where opening one closed the other. The article said people, psychologically, want to do the opposite, to say “I’m going to the restaurant, I might as well visit friends and go to the bar, too”.”
Related–now that my kids are all doing stuff outside the house during the day, I’ve been doing outings that I hadn’t done since March. I’ve been to the new downtown independent bookstore that I want to keep alive, Carter’s and Home Depot. These are the first non-grocery “shopping” outings I’ve done in 5.5 months. I’ve got a list I’m working through…This is not necessary, but all of these places are a lot less crowded than the grocery store.
I see that a couple of major stores are opening at 12 (!) on weekdays now. That’s pretty bad. I also saw that a number of smaller retail stores now have customer occupancy limits on the door.
Mass. thinks they can regulate pods:
Here’s the good part:
“State education officials announced Friday that families can form small remote-learning co-ops, after-school programs can operate during typical school hours, and churches and community centers can host students who might otherwise be unsupervised when out of school this fall.”
“Licensed child-care providers will automatically be allowed to serve older children during the school day, in addition to before, after, and out-of-school time.
“The state is also expediting licensing so that child-care providers can tap additional space to expand capacity to serve older children. Some day-care centers, for instance, aim to open kindergarten rooms to accommodate the siblings of younger children already in their care.”
“Group sizes will be limited to the state’s limits on crowds: 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors.”
That’s maybe not so great.
Here’s the “regulating pods” bit:
“Learning pods, or groups convened by up to five families, will be able to operate without licenses, as long as a parent is on-site at all times. Payments are not allowed, and exchanges of funds are limited to compensation for food and materials.”
–Would it be OK for the families to individually pay a teacher/tutor or teachers/tutors, assuming that there’s always one parent on-site and no compensation goes directly to the host? If not, why not? Why can’t this be framed as a co-op babysitting situation with bonus paid teacher?
–The five family cap is weird, because a pod could potentially contain anywhere from 5 to who-knows-how-many kids.
–If a pod runs afoul of the pod regulations–what is the penalty? What penalty could possibly be both legal and big enough to discourage parents from making a decision that makes the most sense for their families? If one is well-heeled enough, it makes sense to do a pod and ask forgiveness later (or go to court later). Does the justice system have the resources to deal with pod prosecution at this time?
–It’s rather to easy to imagine that the big legal daycares might be bigger COVID risks than small “illegal” pods.
–Is there a reasonable path for pods to become licensed?
The “illegal pod” would be classed as an unlicensed daycare or an unlicensed school. There is bureaucracy to regulate both already. Payment would be an issue under daycare licensing, but under the table childcare has always existed, so I don’t know when regulators would move in. Probably most likely if someone complained, a pod member or a excluded neighbor, or a nosy neighbor.
The state rules on homeschooling vary (and I don’t it is homeschooling if they are doing remote school). In WA, you can hire a tutor but not a coordinator. Coop babysitting without exchanging money is what coop means. But, nanny shares, babysitter shares, but they are implying others could not pay the onsite parent, who would then be running an unlicensed daycare.
Husband and I saw a rather sweet tableau on our evening walk.
Our student neighbors had their garage door up and there was a small, well-distanced gathering with a handful of kids hanging out in the garage (they have a sofa in there) and grilling out on the driveway. It looked fun and safe.
Good job, kids!
Meanwhile, things are going to Hell across the river: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/08/28/mayor-bill-de-blasio-plans-22000-layoffs-as-people-flee-new-york-city-in-droves/amp/
As I have noted, middle-class New Yorkers have a disturbing tendency to vote Republican–we had twenty years of Giuliani and Bloomberg–and DeBlasio intends to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
You would think that with the police defunded, the selective schools destroyed, and taxes raised, suburban liberals would be flocking back to NYC, but somehow they don’t seem to be doing that.
Pre-pandemic, our family used to eat at the dining halls almost every night when they were open. For obvious reasons, that hasn’t been true for a while, although we’ve had our share of boxed dining hall meals.
Tonight we finally worked up the nerve to go as a family and eat in one of the air-conditioned “dining tents” that the college has erected on green space in order to help space out diners. It was a large tent, with lots of large plastic shields erected between tables. Nobody was there except us. Each round table had a clear shield on it, dividing the table into 4 wedges and producing a sort of dining carrel. You could see your companions, but communication was seriously muffled. The experience felt really weird and dystopian, but I suppose it’s a fix for the problem of how to eat safely in a group when everybody has to take their mask off to eat.
But these tents are seriously underused.
Elsewhere on campus, there’s a dorm with two floors of COVID freshmen. I guess they won’t be lonely.
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