The Apologizers

The Apologizers

A friend of mine has lived in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the last five years.  For that entire period, the street in front of his house has been under construction. For weeks, the construction zone will be dormant — the cones, the silent back-hoes, the dumpsters, the stacks of ceramic pipe taking up valuable parking spaces and causing a variety of traffic issues.  Then, one day, at six am, the jack-hammers will start up once again as workers rip up the street and side-walk (making little wooden bridges to accommodate pedestrians).  Sometimes the foul stench of burning tar will wake my friend up and he will peer out his window to see the repairs seemingly coming to an end.  False hope.  Weeks will go by and yet another crew will arrive to rip up what has been repaired. It is a cycle of waste, as if the city itself is that rat they found in an Indian ATM gorging itself on taxpayer money to sharpen its ever-growing teeth. As one of those tax-payers, my friend is in the unique position of both witnessing his valuable money being tossed away and the day-to-day inconveniences of this waste. It has led to a slow-burning rage that he fortunately tempers with humor as he documents this state of affairs in near-daily Instagram postings.

This is a common occurrence in New York over the last few decades.  Whole city blocks and swathes of land are under construction or repair for years at a time be it the replacement of rotting water mains in the Lower East Side to whatever the hell they were doing in Union Square for a decade.  It is both an eyesore and a source of great inconvenience to New Yorkers as these zones disrupt both foot and automobile traffic.  Not to mention the fact that they attract rats, puddles of fetid water and stacks of garbage left to rot away.  And that is just city works projects.  The private construction industry is little more than a barbaric hoard that has infested every neighborhood in the city, happily flaunting work-regulations, as they gut-renovate every brownstone without the slightest care to how they disrupt the lives and happiness of their neighbors.

In the weeks before I left New York, I had my basement flooded three times by an incompetent crew gut-renovating the neighboring building (a renovation that displaced the three very nice families who had rented in that building for decades). I also had my car towed by the city, because I failed to notice the signs indicating that Hicks street was going to be dug up and re-paved for the fourth time in two years.   In both cases, I was met with a truly surprising degree of hostility, rudeness and sarcasm when I voiced a protest.  It was one more thing that seemed to be a metaphor for a New York that had no love left for me.

When my family arrived at Narita Airport after a long, grueling flight we took a bus (another 2 hours!) to get home.  On the bus ride, we fell into a traffic jam as a lane was closed for repairs.  Around the site was an animated neon sign depicting a construction worker bowing.  I asked my wife what it meant.  She said, “Oh.  That is the government apologizing to the taxpayers for inconveniencing them.”  It was an amazing bit of information to me.  Someone actually taking responsibility for causing problems! Holy shit!

In the following months I have noted that any type of construction / road repair, be it private or public, is done with great awareness as to the troubles it may cause.  Seemingly, every crew that I have seen includes at least two professional “apologizers”. They bow, they say how they sorry they are and they help guide pedestrians, bicyclists and cars around the work zone. The workers themselves keep their areas clean, they try to keep noise to a minimum and they certainly don’t cat-call women as they eat lunch.  It is a state of affairs that I truly appreciate as it acknowledges that I, as a citizen, am important — that my time is important, my safety is important and my ease-in-movement is important. In New York, sadly, I felt that the City itself was simply telling me to go fuck myself almost every day.

This is not to say that Japan is some sort of idealistic wonderland of citizen appreciation. It is not.  Waste and corruption are rampant in Japan with a dangerous collusion between construction companies, banks and the government that has covered the country in concrete via incredibly expensive, utterly useless and sometimes very ugly public works projects.  It is a situation that is aided and abetted by a largely silent, un-critical and pliant press. That said, I still get a kick out of the apologizers and my day is made just a bit better every time one of them bows to me, says he is sorry, and waves me and my bicycle into a lane that is just a bit less cluttered with the stresses of the life I left behind.


2 Replies to “The Apologizers”

  1. I first walked on Houston st about 25 years ago. Around then they just started tearing up Houston and Bowery. As of last year they made it as far west as 1st ave. Between then there hasn’t been a time I’ve been on that street in that area when a lane wasn’t closed due to construction. At least the subway isnt a microcosm of NYC and NYS gov efficiency.

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