Permission Slips

The Beast--a substantial hound--overlooks permitting.

As I was gossiping with our project manager at their offices, the designer walked in. She was close to breathless. Her hair was mostly pulled back in a pony tail, except for wisps of hair framing her face. Looking again, it wasn’t just wisps. There were strands and full locks that escaped from her hair tie. Some were almost standing on end, as if she had been electrified.

Looking into her face, electrified seemed to make some sense. Her wide eyes were full of pupil, and she licked her dry lips. Recognizing there was a client in the house, she pulled herself up. But I saw. I could see that she was affected. She had just come back from the front line.

DCRA. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The city building permit office. The place where wait isn’t just another four letter wordThere are other four-letter words used there, too. All to no avail.

Building permits have a legendary status in almost every D.C. resident’s construction journey. I think this is true in other cities, but I can only speak for our own.

There are stories of waiting weeks, stretching into months, for a permit, lengthening construction schedules and forcing the visions of shiny new plumbing fixtures into an indefinite limbo. There isn’t a building professional who can actually watch the entire sloth scene in Zootopia. People who have been at the DMV may laugh and cringe, but for a contractor the super slo-mo stamping and the lethargic slog of unrelated sub-ventures is too real–and too painful.

There are mitigation strategies that are held closely by the successful contractors. Secrets that I have not been cleared to share, but that I have heard tell.  Suffice it to say that there are grovels involved, careful explaining and reexplaining and re-reexplaining of the same issue.

There are questions that are left hanging while someone decides that they need to complete an unrelated task in the middle of your transaction. The staffer disappears behind a wall. You might hear some disagreement, perhaps an upbraiding over who was bringing the cake for the Friday potluck and why wasn’t it being bought at Costco because everyone prefers that cake to the one at the grocery store and so what that the grocery store is more convenient, because this isn’t about you it’s about what everybody in the office likes.

Then there is the moment, the roll of the dice, the spinning of the wheel, the last card turnover to see if you have blackjack or bust. The moment when the person returns. Does she start again from the beginning? She might. Or does she simply stamp and send you on your way? Don’t look exasperated. Don’t seem impatient. Don’t show emotion. Don’t look hopeful, but don’t look bored. You have to show you care, a little.

We signed forms requesting our permits. We signed three different forms for two types of permits, and we authorized a private inspection service to save time that would be lost with the overburdened city inspectors. We don’t have to get the permits. Our designer does.

She had succeeded that day. She was a bit worse for the wear, a touch grimy for no good reason other than the experience causes impurities in one’s skin to surface. She grabbed a bottle of water and went into the design meeting. She was only fifteen minutes late.

The project manager was happy that he didn’t have to go to the design meeting. He was busy talking to a client–me. But I think he was even happier that he wasn’t at the permitting office. Just a guess.

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