Alex Taylor Column December 14, 2008

Brewing economic troubles bring Third World manners

Boy, if 2009 isn’t as completely weird as 2008, I’m going to have withdrawal. Every month brings more and more changes and I’ve begun to wonder if I can even remember what the world used to be like.

Some of the biggest changes I’ve noticed have happened since the October market crash. It seems that many people from all walks of life have just abandoned their posts as members of decent society. Companies have cut back in ways that have affected the basic services we all got used to during the “fat times.” I guess it’s hard to realize how lucky we all are until things start going bad. It almost feels like parts of the country have slipped into the Third World.

Last week’s arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was a perfect example. I know it’s a long-standing tradition for many Illinois politicians to be crooks, but this was perhaps the most egregious example I am aware of.

The governor was taped over the phone saying that the Senate seat he had to fill in the wake of Barack Obama’s departure wasn’t going to be cheap. He said he needed some cash before he’d appoint the next U.S. senator. You could almost imagine him complaining in the FBI affidavit — “Don’t you people realize my portfolio has lost 40 percent of its value since Labor Day? I need some cash or I’m going to need a federal bailout.”

Here’s another example of how the world around us has started resembling the Third World:

Last weekend I was at the airport picking up some friends who were visiting. Their plane was on time, and they even saw that their bags made it as they were deplaning. Phew. But an hour later as we were still waiting in baggage claim for the carousel to start moving, I wondered what was going on.

I asked the security lady if she could check. She walked off and never came back. That’s kind of like what happens in small towns in Mexico or Botswana — not Grand Junction. So I asked someone from another airline. Here’s what I was told:

The bags haven’t come out yet because the person who carries the bags off the plane is also the ticketing agent who checks in passengers and gives out boarding passes. That same person also checks passengers in at the gate and turns the gate around for disembarking passengers. That person also answers the phones.

I thought to myself, “Well did that same person also pilot the flight that just left for Phoenix, because no one is bringing our bags out and it’s been over an hour.”

At this point dozens of people were standing behind me offering moral support for my complaining. So, the nice lady went up and found the single-employee dynamo who apologized and went to get the bags. I asked her if she literally performed every function for her company absent actually flying the plane. She said there have been cutbacks and agreed it seems a little Third World-ish.

Then there’s the story of a gentleman who did landscape work for me — I’ll call him Mr X.

Before the market meltdown he worked hard — in fact, he had quite a bit of work from us and others. He built us an outdoor fire pit, but around September it started cracking.

“No problem sir,” said Mr. X. “I guarantee all my work and I’ll be right over to fix it.”

Then the market collapsed. I never heard from Mr. X again. I know he’s here. His cell phone
still works. His e-mail works. He just doesn’t work. I guess in light of the market collapse, his personal guarantee doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Also, there is a business acquaintance of mine who recently had a corporate customer default on a lease agreement. (Last week, the same company was sued for reportedly failing to complete a project.)

When my friend went to the company headquarters in Fruita to ask why they weren’t paying, the CEO had a muscle man throw him out! My friend asked the muscle man if he was busy these days handling all the people his boss didn’t want to see. The guy laughed and nodded.

I could tell a year ago that the economy was going to turn things nasty, but I never imagined how bad it would get. I never thought it would change people’s basic human decency, but I guess in some cases it does. It’s been amazing for me to watch.

The economists say things will get better this spring. Let’s hope so, because vacationing in the Third World is fun, but it’s always nice to return home.


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