A Tale of Levity Misplaced
By Katherine Johnson, administrative assistant, Office of Development and University Relations
Recently my husband and I set out from our home in Tacoma to drive to Corvallis, Ore., to be with our daughter who was due to deliver a baby, momentarily. As my husband worked his way through the heavy southbound Interstate 5 traffic, passing Fort Lewis, I read the morning paper. Long concerned about the waste of taxpayers' money, I was greatly encouraged to read of one citizen who took her civic responsibilities seriously and wrote to inform of a flagrant violation by public servants.
In "Letters to the Editor" this outraged citizen wrote angrily of the misuse of tax dollars she had observed. It seems that in a state vehicle on the freeway she saw two men laughing! The irresponsibility of it all, she wrote, joking around on state time in a state vehicle.
"This is terrible," I said to my husband as we descended the long hill toward the Nisqually Delta. "We can't waste even a minute of this trip. We need to be good citizens and watch for misuse of public funds. I'll get out a note pad and pen so I can record the license number of any vehicle where public employees are misbehaving."
So, busily arming myself for vigilance, I forgot to watch for a bald eagle soaring over the delta. While scanning every vehicle closely for evidence of state ownership and then alert to the behavior of the occupants, I took only a quick glance at the gray dome of the capitol building keeping watch above the Olympia landscape.
Between attentive stares at public conveyances, I caught just a glimpse of the showy golden leaves north of Centralia, offset by dark green fir branches heavy with ripe cones. Yellow leaves and tiny seeds drifted down to litter the ground.
Later, my husband interrupted my mission of observance to call my attention to the unusually clear view of Mount St. Helens. Deflated in shame since spewing massive debris into the atmosphere, a fresh white layer of new snow covered her disgrace.
Fortunately for taxpayers, my notebook remained blank as our tires hummed their way across the Columbia River into Oregon. We had spotted no Washington state employees laughing, or betraying the public trust in any way.
Mount Hood pointed majestically to the sky while I continued my horizontal attentiveness. As the highway sliced its way through dormant fields south of Portland, we found ourselves behind a boxy blue van clearly marked as Oregon property. From a window on the left side an orange missile came flying at us-a fast food container. Litter! From a state van! As we started to pass the offending vehicle, the lettering on the side identified it as belonging to the "Oregon Parks and Recreation Department."
"Of all departments, they should know better," I fumed, as I quickly noted the license number, punctuated by a blip when my husband hit the brakes for slowing traffic.
When we arrived in Corvallis at our daughter's home where baby was still safely tucked away, I warned my son-in-law, an Oregon state employee, that the citizen's patrol had arrived. He had better be on his best behavior, and certainly no laughter.
"But Mom," he said. "I'm not on state time when I'm home."
"Oh, that's right," I replied. "Perhaps I got a little carried away. I guess an occasional chuckle can be permitted."
Now my husband and I are planning a cross-country trip by car. This is fair warning to all public servants. I plan to keep my notebook and pen handy to record any lapses of decorum on taxpayer time.