Wait Times

So I heard some one yell about wait times the other day. And I thought, "…really? That talking point? Still?"

Every time I've tried to make an appointment with a doctor in the past decade, I've had to wait at least a week and more often up to a few months. And specialists? Please. I had a dermatologist tell me that it'd be six months before they could get me in. 

It's not so much the oddness of the long wait times—though it is that as well—as the total disconnect between the reality I've observed and the stuff I've heard spewed. Which is what I thought when I read this from James Fallows, an Atlantic Monthly writer who just returned to the States after three years living in China. 

I think the US consumer economy would still be in free-fall if we hadn't come back. We show up from China needing new of everything. Clothes. Camera. Two computers, plus monitors and backup drives. Housewares. Shoes. At least one fridge, probably a stove. Radios/sound system. TVs. You name the item, and the version we have is road-worn, obsolete, broken, or gone. (Sadly for Detroit, not cars: Our two, vintage 1999 and 2000 respectively and stored with friends, still seem just fine. Sorry!) Our house needs to be repainted– and re-roofed, and re-drivewayed, and its trees trimmed. That's just a start. Good thing we saved up in those days of 20RMB noodle/dumpling dinners. And, yes, many of the items we're getting were made in China. You just can't buy them there.

Here's the surprise: We call to get service appointments, and people show up right away. Air conditioning not working in 90-degree DC swelter? We make a call one evening, and the next day it's all fixed. Plumbing clogged and leaky? A few hours later, it's not. Need the car looked at, after three years in the shed? Call the service place and the only question is: do I want to bring it in this afternoon? Or wait till tomorrow? On a Sunday, we see that a tree is dying in the back yard. By Monday afternoon, it is converted into neatly stacked wood.

These are all people and services we'd dealt with before, but in those days we learned to plan weeks in advance for service calls. America still looks incredibly rich and lush. But this little indicator suggests lots of slack in anything considered a discretionary purchase. Not startling in principle, but impressive to encounter first-hand.

Only exception: I call to get an appointment for a physical exam with our doctor — a good but "normal" doctor, not some fancy physician to the stars. First available slot, mid-November. I have no theory for this anomaly.

So. We have wait times. It's similar to the way folks are still using the "if you like the post office, just wait until the goverment takes over all health care!" line. Because apparently polls show people really like the postal service. 

And with good reason. It's cheap and efficient and reliable. And the tunes? Fugheddabout!


About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
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