RIGHT OFF I HAVE to tell you that they beat me. I called and I called and I got switched and I got transferred and I even went down to the construction site where the people were what you would have to call hostile. I asked them if they had a permit for what they were doing. I asked them to be specific, if they had a permit to close down one lane of K Street so that they could put another hole in the road. They told me to drop dead.
No, that's not exactly right. That's not precisely what they said. There was this man down there at 1990 K St. NW who worked for Pepco and introduced himself as something called the line manager. He confirmed that he was responsibile for the hole in the road and that the hole in the road was somehow connected to the construction of the building at 1990 K st., NW and that he had a permit from the city to close off the one lane off K Street. I asked to see the permit. He would not show it to me.
"I don't see how it's any of your business," he said. "It's none of your business. You want to check with the police. Why don't you check with the police?" With that he drove off in the pickup truck he was sitting in, effectively concluding my interview.
But he had a point. In fact, that was the very point I had in mind when I decided for once in my life to find out how come someone is allowed to dig a hole in the street and no one does anything about it. This hole on K Street yesterday blocked one lane of the street and if you were coming from Virginia, from say, the Whitehurst Freeway, and you got behind a car making a left-hand turn you did not move. One lane held a turning car, the other lane was a hole in the ground and traffic was backed up maybe a quarter of a mile.
I was in a cab and the cab had already entered that dip into the K Street underpass and all of a sudden there was nothing ahead but the red lights of stationary car. Nothing moved and when it did it moved slowly, creeping. You know you've been there. So we crept up, with me and the driver wondering what was going on, and then we passed the construction site, the driver cursing in some foreign language, me burning, the men in the hole working away, which is what they are paid to do.
It was then that I thought of Jack Marlin. Jack was the owner of the luncheonette where I once worked and he used to say that he would love to be a cop for a day. He said that he'd either be the richest man in the world, or there would be no one left driving cars. You have to understand that Jack was speaking allegorically - that what he really meant was that your job is a gift that comes to you. If you're a doctor you should heal and if you're a lawyer you should search for justice and if you're a reporter you should not pass a hole in the road and wonder about it like everyone else - you should do something.
So when I got to the office I called the Department of Transportation and asked them how one got to dig a hole in the road that effectively closed down one lane of Washington busiest steet at 10:30 in the morning. This is what I asked. I talked to a lot a people and I even wound up filing a complaint. I found out that you have to get a permit to dig a hole and close off lanes to traffic. Someone finally found the permit and told me that one lane of 20th Street could be closed off, but not the lane of K Street. It was then that I filed my complaint and was transferred to the enforcement section where a woman said that an inspector would be sent to the site. I went there myself.
I got over there and walked around and then I climbed the stairs and walked along a wooden gang plank and wound up talking to the project supervisor, who told me that the hole in the road was Pepco's baby. He was cool, but he was polite. I went down to the street and there I found the Pepco man and I asked him if he had a permit and he said yes. And then, as I said in the beginning, he more or less told me to drop dead.
Now it turns out that Pepco does have a permit to close off some of the street and it turns out that everything is on the file and legitimate. I frankly could care less. I still want to know how it is that people come along and dig a hole in the street and no one say boo. I want to know because the people who own the building are making money and Pepco, you bet your life, is making money, and all those people can make you sit in traffic while they pursue their profit.
I want to know some other things. I want to know how come there can't be a cop to direct traffic in a situation like this and I want to know how come they can't dig a night or on the weekends or, for all I care, Christmas Eve when there is very little traffic. Let someone pay for the cop and the night work and the overtime - some one other than you or me. We're not getting a piece of the building anyway.
I said all these things to someone at the Department of Transportation and he told me the difficulties - the overtime, the dangers of night work, the lack of public transportation, how it was hard to see down the hole at night. By the time he had finished I had learned what I somehow knew all along - it's easier to inconvenience the driver than anyone else. Anyway the man was very nice and he had some advice for me. He said that they're going to be paving K Street and he recommended I avoid it.
I told you at the outset that they beat me.