Death, wrecking, Immigration & blocking the road

I suffered both the wrecker and passport office in the same day. Wrecking income must soar with each big funeral at a central Port-of-Spain church; I wonder if Traffic Branch canvasses funeral notices. What they and Mayor TimKee ought to institute is temporary parking arrangements with all city houses of prayer—maybe not for weddings—but, good God, for funerals at least. Being towed when there’s no sign prohibiting parking, and ending up at a rudely staffed yard in Sea Lots instead of a cremation or interment is a merciless compounding of grief.

What baffles me is how workers trapped as guardians of an unjust system make choices about responding to its victims. The desk officer at Central Police Station (across the street from where I parked) refused my invitation to step outside and win $5,000 if there was no street sign regulating parking on the western side of the National Library. He repeatedly insisted there was one—something he must know is a lie. Other officers kept asking in what position I parked on the block: is there a secret formula to avoiding wrecking?

I arrived at the Sea Lots impound ready to get gunned down like a Richplain resident. The officer who collected my $500 assuaged me the money was taxes that paid for “all of us”. I pointed out that, unlike him, neither I nor my employer is paid by the state, so it was I who employed him and all his colleagues; suddenly he changed tunes. But in a cash-only system with nothing electronic in sight, I’d bet another $5,000 he could easily be paying himself. I complained there was no sign forbidding parking where I left my car; he explained I was wrong to park in the absence of a sign expressly permitting parking. I noted my driving regulations booklet and exam contained no such lesson, suggesting he have Licensing update their materials. How’s a citizen to know where to park, I moaned. My officer, signing my receipt above “Head of Department”, asked if I had heard of the Freedom of Information Act. File a freedom-of-information request for all parking regulations—that’s how.

I went straight to Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to complain, as the impound directed me. It had moved; but I continued to the passport office two blocks away—where I got a huge shock. Procedures on the Immigration Division website describe “drop off” service for machine-readable passport renewals. That’s a fiction. There is no dropping off. I had to haul my almost-90-year-old relative there in person if she wants to leave the country. With a helper. There’s no parking at Port of Spain government offices. Just getting her out the car I will add more than my fair share to the impassability of the Park/Frederick Sts. intersection. But my fresh sense of the alacrity of the wrecker won’t let me leave the car unattended to get her inside safely.

PSA president Watson Duke's car being wrecked near Industrial Court (Derek Achong, Guardian)
PSA president Watson Duke’s car being wrecked near Industrial Court (Derek Achong, Guardian)

My Kafkaesque shock wasn’t the misleading information, though. That’s life as usual in Trinidad. Like Nigeria, my old professor Funso Aiyejina says—you don’t need imagination to write fiction; real life is something you cannot even make up.

The shock came after I concluded my usual nationbuilding lecture at the information booth clerk, urging her to not just nod and do nothing when I walked away, that she needed to tell someone—pretend, if needed, I had cussed her—interrupted her “can’t” to say how change happened was people taking ownership for fixing things. I was certain nothing would happen.

Then a young woman walked up politely and explained that she and other workers have repeatedly passed on stories like mine to higher-ups, appealed for the website misinformation to be corrected, and showed me the customer guides they had made on office paper as a solution. Watson Duke has given the nation the impression Frederick St. Immigration office workers protecting their health against government negligence are selfish people who just don’t want to work. Instead, I found people eager, unlike the police, to make an unworking system they are trapped in more liveable.

Of course PCA told me they have no authority over wrecking fines: it’s the supervisor of whichever unit (Traffic Branch or City Corporation) towed the car. I’m off to Aranjuez soon.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith reversed the Highways Division’s sudden closure of the Western Main Rd. Cocorite turnaround. Other, poorly communicated changes to initial traffic flows in the Diego Martin Highway expansion contributed to the September death of motorcyclist David Fanan at Four Roads; but media haven’t held government accountable. “Blocking the road and preventing hundreds of other drivers is not the answer”, Griffith lectured. Just what is? Certainly not starving yourself to death. Voting out the last party? Nope. Justice and a speedy trial with alive witnesses? Mm, mm. Go to the Ombudsman? Sorry if you fell off your chair. With Jack Warner gone, I can think of no simpler, more straightforward and effective form of democracy than blocking roads to making the country work. But maybe one Immigration worker has found another.

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