Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Service with a southern smile

Our new house is being built in Perquimans (rhymes with "persimmon") County. Local lore tells us that "perquimans" means "the land of the beautiful women" in the language of the Yeopim Indians who once dominated this area. These beautiful Yeopim women and their menfolk were part of the Algonquian nation. Their name lives on in the name of the road on which we are currently living, not to mention one of the huge rivers that water this place.

Perquimans, with an area of 329 square miles, was accommodating 12,856 souls as of July, 2008. Just for comparison's sake, Arlington County, Va., from whence we uprooted ourselves, stuffed 210,000 people into its scant 26 square miles during the same month. You see the sort of expectations we may have of county government.

Our garden shed needed a permit. We thought it didn't, but when the inspector came to look over the foundation of our new house, the shed, which by that time had two walls up, caught his eye. We grimaced at the thought of the impending bureaucratic hassle and asked our builder to take care of it. He punted it back to us, saying the shed would have a "lower profile" if we did it. That made sense, so we bit the bullet and set off for the county seat, Hertford, to take care of business.

We first went to the inspections office, where we were greeted by the same guy who had informed us at the property of the need for the shed permit. He's a friendly type who remembered us and was prepared for our visit, whenever it may be. We happened to arrive around lunch hour on a Friday, so he was alone in the office--the receptionist was out. He looked at the paperwork he had at hand and told us it wasn't enough; we needed something else from the zoning office, which is located in the 1852-vintage courthouse pictured above.

We strolled over to the courthouse, checked the building directory, and then headed up the creaky stairway to the zoning office. On our way there, we passed and nearly knocked over a young man dressed in slacks and polo shirt. He was engrossed in a document he was reading as he walked and we were barging along in our Arlington County way. We apologized, had a friendly chuckle over our clumsiness, and continued on.

When we got to the zoning office, no one was there except an extremely friendly young woman who apologized up and down for her colleague's absence. "I wish I could help you," she said, "but I'm the finance officer." That is, the county CFO. She shares office space with the zoning commissioner. She told us we could probably get everything we needed from the County Manager and directed us to that office, at the opposite end of the hall. It seemed rather outlandish that the County Manager would bother him or herself with such minutiae--a permit for a garden shed--but figured the receptionist would be able to take care of it.

But there was no receptionist. We walked through the open door directly into the County Manager's office, and there at the big mahogany desk sat the same young guy in a polo shirt we'd nearly felled a few minutes earlier. County Manager Bobby Darden looked up at us with a friendly smile and asked how he could help us. We rather sheepishly told him we were directed to his office to take care of a permit for our garden shed. Without further ado, he got up, walked down the hall to a file, extracted the appropriate papers, initialed them, xeroxed them for our convenience (!), and sent us on our way. In the course of about 30 minutes, which encompassed a block's amble from the inspections office to the courthouse and back and talking to a total of three very friendly people (two of whom were top-tier county executives), we had our permit in hand. It cost 25 bucks, and we learned yet another very pleasant lesson about small-town life.


Linda - SE PA said...

The pace of Day's is taking on that of a more leisurely tone. I felt peace and more than a little twinge of envy this morning as I read.

Small town life certainly does have its perks. Glad the shed approval went smoothly.

Hearing the Dan Fogelberg song was a perfect seque for the post. It has been a very long time since I've heard that song. Hearing it again, reminded me of the first time I heard it.

Ralph said...

We keep thinking there has to be some fatal down side Linda--some shoe must drop. But so far so good!

Cuidado said...

I'm loving the music too.

I find a manana attitude a lot with the tradespeople but efficiency with the bureaucracy too. Ah, small town life.

Ralph said...

Cuidado, we haven't had to deal with tradespeople so much because in iur present circumstance they're all contracted to our builer. they're so grateful for the employment they're working hard and are on time.

Yes, there's nothing like a small bureaucracy for personal service and accountability. That's actually something we used to pride ourselves on at the tiny Peace Corps--I know whereof I speak!

Jeff said...

Had to have our sprinkler system repaired yesterday and called a company I hadn't spoken to in several years. Figured I'd have a week's wait - but they ended up coming in same day. The tech was incredibly friendly, repaired what needed to be repaired and took a couple of extra steps to update some of the rotting wire connections.

Why did I find that surprising? :)

There's a quality to small town life that can be frustrating to an urban bred newcomer. But if you slow the pace down, you'll find they're just a bunch of neighbors trying to help you where you want to go.

Good luck, Ralph! I envy you the new adventure!

- J.

Mim said...

Enjoyed your home town permit story.
Sounds like it could have happened here in this small town. Oh but take out the friendly part!
How is the weed whacking and garden shed construction coming in this heat?
Much too hot here and I imagine you are hotter there.

Ralph said...

Mim, as far as "small towns" go, I think your town has Hertford, NC beat by tens of thousands of people, at least. Sorry they're not friendly...

It is hot here, but we do that weed work in the mornings before the worst of the heat sets in. We work for 2-3 hours and are back here at the rental by 1 in the afternoon at the latest. The work on the shed isn't so taxing and Steve can keep at that until he feels like he's done enough...

Looks like we have a series of rainy days headed our way now, so our clearing work will be curtailed, probably, because we can't get the vehicles around in the mud. Shed work Steve will play by ear....we still want to get up to the property to check progress on the house--framing has begin and walls ought to be up soon!

Anonymous said...

Chrissake Ralph, if getting a permit is that easy you should've asked for a liquor license for the garden shed. Serve some beer out the back window instead of Lemonade. Jeeesh!

Ralph said...

LOL. I think t=you got something there, Z&M! That sure would get us an ij with the neighborhood--as long as the HOA approved!