First off, I came from Mexico. So every so often I hear from people about Mexico’s corruption at all levels. You know, bribe the cops…money under the table to get a project going. The ever so popular grease the wheels. We Americans are very good at seeing this issue in other people’s cultures. Hell, as a historian of Mexico I can even point where it started (deep in the colonial period), and why (the conflict between the Penisulares and the Criollos for simplicity sake) it’s persisted in the place I was born and raised.
However, what we are very bad at is pointing out the corruption in our midst. On Friday, October 25 we had an excellent example of this just outside my window.
First a few facts.
* This happened in the middle of critical fire weather.
* The fire road temporarily blocked gives access to the river for the Fire Department
* Fires have occurred in that river bed in the past…and we have Arundo, an invasive grass that burns hot, all over that river.
* Those fires have been close enough that I considered donning fire clothes while taking photos, or evacuating. (We are reporters, after all, we own fire clothes and cameras)
* If any of us blocked that gate, we could have our vehicle impounded and the fine would be spectacular…as it should.
So the YMCA, which gives donations to local politicians, and holds events the city considers beneficial, had a safe Halloween event for the kids. Fine. It’s good. However, one of their bouncy houses was tied down to the gate that leads to the river. This is a fire road used by the department for access often.
The owner of the bouncy house tied it to the closed gate that clearly states do not block. The winds could be bad, even this close to the coast. We proceeded to walk over and speak to the low-level employees. As usual, the manager for the full Y was off the property. It’s funny how they always disappear. We pointed to them the issue of blocking the road. Of course, they listened and proceeded to blow our concerns off.
So we called the Mayor’s office, the Council member That represents the district, the Fire Department non-emergency line and both curb enforcement, it’s a fire lane they blocked and the police non-emergency line. This is in the midst of a red flag warning, that the national weather service describes as critical fire weather. (It expired in the midst of the actual event.) we also contacted local media, not that they would cover this as a story. But if we had a fire, they would have a reason for a delayed response. Correction, I was contacted by a local station on Monday morning.
The Fire Department apparently sent somebody, who was ok with the blocking. Why? It was temporary. If any of us regular joes and janes did that, we would be towed and fined.
All I could think of was how corrupt this was. It is exactly what happens in Mexico, where nobody denies the pattern of corruption. Who you know, and what palms you grease, matters. This is precisely how unequal, corrupt societies function. Rules and regulations are written in blood, in particular, this kind. We knew though that if a fire started, we would have recorded the delayed repones. And if the fire went into residences in the area, both the city and the YMCA would be liable. Yes, we kept copies of emails and the city recorded the calls. Thankfully, like most of the time, nothing happened. But if it did…
A car, they will run the hoses through. In this case, they will push it out of the way. Any damage, the insurance will not cover that. A bouncy house needs to be de deflated to be safely driven over. That will also delay a response. As a former first responder, this is a pet peeve. Why? Delays cost lives and property.
But it is also one hell of a symptom of a society that is corrupt. Next time somebody points to other nations and their corruption, I invite you to consider the myriad of ways ours is, and how it is once again deepening. We have had periods when it was in the open. It once again is. If you want examples of the past…New York City in the 1880s. Do you want others? Many areas of the South to this day it depends on who you know. Small towns where officers do take bribes. Construction fines that become donations to local politicians. Reporters often joke of downtown mafias, involving developers. The examples abound. This is just one more.
When I travel to Mexico to visit family and people tell me that there is no corruption in the US I laugh. We exported, successfully, that myth. The problem is we believe it. And this helps the stain to spread. As I usually say, ours just happens at different levels. Well, maybe not any longer. This is the equivalent of the beat cop taking a bribe.