I’m a firm believer that anyone can achieve anything. It sounds completely altruistic, but I honestly believe that corny little mantra. Given some opportunity, training, some motivation, I think than anyone can be successful at whatever they put their mind to, God help me.

However, the events of this past weekend made me doubt my personal belief.

On August 15, 2008, the wind and rain in New York City was especially hard. There was some warning about a tornado touching down. While no tornado hit the boroughs, there was plenty of flooding and lots of utility lines and trees down. Mercifully, I was in Connecticut when it happened. When I returned home, I found a large branch suspended in the wires above my house.

For those not familiar with the laws of NYC, trees that are on the sidewalk are the property of the city. They means that they are under the city’s care. Residents are not allowed to trim, cut, or plant trees on city property.

When reporting something to the city that is not an emergency, residents are supposed to call 311. The branch suspended in the wires was quite large. If it falls on a car, it would certainly damage. Falling on a person would cause considerably more damage. Seeing that it was suspended, I did my due diligence and called the city.

I don’t envy people that must screen calls. They have to deal with all sorts of characters. Some people are irate, others irrational, and others might just be hard to understand. I imagine that every call screener, whether for a municipality or a private company, must undergo some sort of training. To save some time, I’ll break down the dialog (not verbatim, of course).

“Hi, I’m calling to report a large branch in the wires in front of my house.”
“Is it an emergency?”
“I don’t think it is an immediate emergency. I wouldn’t want you to pull someone off an accident or something, I know there is a lot of activity because of the storm, but the branch is sizable and could injure someone if it falls.”
“…and it’s caught in the utility lines?”
“Is is the telephone or power lines?”
“I don’t really know.”
“OK, hold on.”


“OK, sir. Is this an emergency?”
“Uh… no, not really.”
“Well, sir, since you don’t know which lines, if it is not really an emergency, there is really no place to transfer this call to.”
“If it’s not an emergency, there”s not really anything I can do for you. Since you don’t know which lines, there is no one I can call.”

I’m sure there is a rulebook of some kind that operators follow. Sometimes, some calls may be outside the usual parameters of the rulebook. A little ingenuity may be called for, perhaps a little inventiveness. I would think that in this case, a little creative thinking would be called for, but apparently not. I ended up reporting it as an emergency, just so it would receive some attention. Granted, this is not what I wanted to do, but I had little choice. Sadly, no one came out. It is four days later, and nothing has been done. I’ve called the phone company to see if they will attend to the situation. We’ll see what transpires.

Why didn’t I remove the branch myself? First of all, I don’t own a cherry picker. Second, if I injure myself, I can’t really hold anyone liable. Third, if I knock down a power line in the process of removing the branch, I would be liable for any damages. Paranoid? Maybe, but considering the history of the Bloomberg administration

Back to my original point. Most people would believe that an operator is a skill that most people could master. Some training would be required, but a Masters degree is probably not a prerequisite to obtain the job. Is the training insufficient? Are some people just unable to think creatively?

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Tree upkeep in NYC