With government, the little things matter, too
Return of watch colors my perceptions
When a T worker notices that something is “off,” and acts quickly to save a vision impaired rider from getting hit by a train, or when a State Trooper helps deliver an impatient baby by the side of the Turnpike, we applaud them heartily, as we should. And when a municipal tax collector embezzles the public’s money, or an elected official influences a public procurement in favor of a campaign donor, we condemn them, and expect prosecution when a crime has been committed. These kinds of things are newsworthy and reported in the media, and shape our opinions about government, the taxes we pay, and public employees. But the little things matter, too.
Several years ago, on a sultry summer weekend, I decided to drive to southeastern Connecticut to visit an old friend who lives there in a house with a shaded deck and a cool, kidney shaped pool. Really, this is the kind of friend you want to have if you live in Boston when it’s hot and humid. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the first person to think that it might be a good weekend to “get out of Dodge” and, as I approached the Allston/Brighton tolls, the crush of traffic was, um, confusing. Without a transponder, I found myself being carried along by the traffic toward the wrong booth. I have lived in Boston for 20 years, but I still find Bostonians’ ability to aggressively ignore each other an impressive talent. Eventually, the father of a young family in an old, beat up car acknowledged my plight and waved me in front of them. The least I can do, I thought, is pay the toll for them. So I told the toll collector that I was paying for myself and the car behind me. As I pulled away from the plaza, I watched in my rear view mirror as the collector charged them the toll and pocketed what I had paid for them. Ugh.
Fast forward to last weekend, a beautiful summer Sunday, and I decided to take the commuter rail to Singing Beach for a few hours. It’s always a nice experience – everyone is going to the beach, or to ride their bike around Cape Ann, or to explore Salem or Rockport, and the train has a festive mood. I pulled on my backpack as the train slowed to a stop in Manchester-by-the-Sea and hopped off, heading first to the market to order a sandwich to take with me to the beach. Glancing at my wrist to check the time I realized my watch was gone. Remembering that I had struggled to get the strap of my backpack over the watch, I knew right away that’s when it had come off. It’s not a valuable watch, just something I picked up years ago at the Fossil outlet in Wrentham. But it’s such a standby that I had recently replaced its rubber wristband, the original one having finally worn out from use. I thought about asking the conductor on the way back if she had seen it, but it wasn’t the same crew as I had on the way up and I decided not to bother.
By Monday I was really missing what I had now decided was my favorite watch, and I placed a call to commuter rail lost and found at North Station to find out if anyone had turned in a Fossil watch with a blue dial and a rubber band. Bingo, the woman on the other end of the line had just one watch and that was it. When I went to retrieve it, I asked if they knew who had turned it in. The answer: it was one of the crew.
Peter O’Connor, a lawyer and development consultant in Boston, is a former Deputy Secretary of Transportation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.