Monday, August 04, 2008

Emergency is in the eye of the beholder

OK, so I admit that we made some mistakes. Well, a critical one: we looked away from our personal property in Central Park. Yes, Central Park, possibly THE most famously feared site of being mugged, or something. You grow up hearing tales of the dangers of big bad New York City, and while obviously crime is down here I suppose I should hang my head a little to have not been vigilant in Central Park of all places, to have been lulled into a sense of complacency now that I live in the Greatest City in the World. But that's not the point.

I've played softball in a bunch of parks around NYC. Not just Central Park, but also Brooklyn's Prospect Park, two different fields on Rooselvelt Island, and some other random fields around the city. The thing is, there's always an opposing team on the bench when you're in the field, and so there's always someone generally keeping an eye on everyone's stuff, just like any other softball game anywhere. Yesterday, however, the opposing team didn't show up so after some batting practice we just arranged a 4-on-4 scrimmage against ourselves (which, in itself, should impress you with our skill and ingenuity and stalwart..uh..stalwartness? is that a word? why yes it is), as softball was never really meant to be four on four. Anyway: that's not the point either.

Nor is it the point that a suspicious-looking character lurked behind the backstop around our bags, and immediately after the following out we headed over to move our bags, now suddenly aware that with no one on the bench they were quite unattended but it was too late and one guy's bag had already been stolen. I feel quite bad for Rich, and that could be the point of another lament, but it is not the point of this one.

Here's the point: so, after our initial sort of "Oh my god! What do we do?" it just so happened that I called the police on my cell phone. So we called 911 and after establishing that we were in Central Park and no one was hurt but there had been a theft, that's when the fun began.

First, the 911 operator wanted to know where in Central Park. I gave her what I thought was a helpful and specific piece of information, that we were on Softball Field #1 on the Great Lawn. It was, in fact, this info that had led us all there to play softball, so it should definitely be enough for the police to come to us. But not this lady. "No, no, no," she chided me, "first I need to know Central Park East or Central Park West." Well, I said, we're not on a street on either side of the park. We're in the middle of the park. Exasperated, she said, "Well then are you on the east side or the west side of the park?" I was kind of conferring with my fellow softball peoples on the side, like, 'Aren't we just in the middle? She's demanding whether we're on the east or west side of the park?'

After a bit of this, and a lot more typing sounds, I again said that we were on softball field #1 on the Great Lawn. She said, "I need a street." There was no street! We were in the middle of the park! One of my softball friends pointed out we were near the Belvedere Castle, so I mentioned that. Now, seriously, two or three minutes had to have gone by. I suggested that any cop on the Central Park beat would definitely know where to find the softball fields on the Great Lawn -- and I had even told her which field! To which she replied, with a healthy dose of attitude, "Well, no, I need to put it in the computer first."

I would like to think that this requirement to "put it in the computer first" before dispatching the police was only necessary because it was not an emergency, but I have my doubts even about that, based largely on the rest of the call. Let's continue. So, along about now amid her typing she appeared to have moved onto another field on her screen and she said, "OK, so you're on the south field #1?" And I said, well, that's softball field #1. And she said, "What kind of field is it? Soccer fields?" Softball! Baseball, I corrected myself. Whatever it took, geez. So then she's like, "Oh, OK." More typing. Meanwhile, I am trying to explain why I am still on this phone call, why no cop who is probably fifty yards from us has been sent to us, and so on.

Then she asked, "OK, now what borough are you in?"

Really? Really?! You can get hired as a 911 operator in New York City (or, frankly, anywhere), to be called on in an emergency, without knowing that Central Park is in Manhattan? And if so, then who on earth thought that nonsense of pinning us down to a street first was a good idea? Wtf?!?!?! Since I had been silenced by my shock at this question, she loudly said, "Ma'am, hellooooo? I said, what borough are you in? Are you in Manhattan, are you in Brooklyn?" and I just sort of mumbled that we were in Manhattan. Yes, that Central Park. The world-freaking-famous one in Manhattan.

Finally, she said, "Now, what happened?" So I repeated that someone had stolen our friend's bag. I did not add that this thief was probably in New Jersey by now. This is the part where I just gave up on her entirely. Had she even heard me already tell her (five minutes earlier) what had happened? What if i had been mugged/chased/stabbed/what have you? What if someone was having a heart attack? What if for the love of god she could have sent out the description we'd given her ten minutes earlier so cops might have seen the guy on the way to the subway?

But, just when you think there's nothing else she could say to shock me, she apparently got to her description of the suspect field because she asked me, "OK, was he black or Hispanic?" If it had been anyone else I would have thought I couldn't possibly have heard her correctly and I might have started thinking about racial profiling or social justice or something. But I swear I just wanted off this phone call. This useless, ridiculous phone call.

A few minutes later, the cops -- a much smarter lot -- showed up. And then another car, and another, plus then the detectives. I am pleased to report that they asked intelligent questions, were capable people, and made sense. And, as I figured they would, they sure knew their way around Central Park, their beat, and their precincts. Not much hope of recovering the bag, of course, but off they went to the police station with victim and a witness or two (I didn't really observe the guy at all; I'm so terrible at that) and the rest of us went on our merry ways.

Bummer. But, really, lady? Really? Thanks for your help. All 7 minutes and 32 seconds of it. I thought I was in a Saturday Night Live sketch or something. But it was just another real-life day in the Greatest City in the World. Goooooo, homeland security!


Kim Diaz said...

I know what borough Central Park is in. I live 3000 miles away. I need a second job. Think they could outsource that gig to California? It's only over the phone anyhow.
I also know which borough Prospect Park is in. (Bonus!)

Amanda said...

Wow. Just wow.