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Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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Seniors FIRST, please…

Dear Editor,
In late December, 2015, my wife and I stood in the crowded United Airlines customer service room at the George Bush International Airport in Houston. A winter storm, so large it was called “Goliath,” had closed airports across the southern USA. Snow blocked runways and highways for days, flights were cancelled and freezing rain downed power lines. Beleaguered passengers waited for updates and hopefully, a connecting flight out.

“Come back in the morning,” they were told instead.

They, like us, had joined the long lines from the day before. Small talk helped to while the hours away.

Then the bubble burst. Rather, the dam of pent-up anger, frustration and annoyance broke. Delayed too long in their return Christmas travel, the harried travelers had become restive and found a soft target in the airline’s queue for, “Seniors and the Handicapped.” An Afro-American woman was wheeled up to that counter. The talking suddenly stopped. In the quiet that followed, a white man drawled, “Hey! Do I have to be black, old and crippled to get some notice around here?”

Others grunted their support of the speaker, and began harassing the clerks.

I remember that incident because of a recent release from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) having to do with special needs voters during the upcoming general elections. I detect many parallels between the United Airlines C/S kerfuffle and what could happen on November 11. Nothing to do with ice, closed roads and cancelled flights. Rather, at our polling stations, with Goliath-scale COVID-19 abroad, the flash points will be frazzled nerves, tired feet, impatience, selfishness, and a feeling of being one-upped.

We, like the rest of the world, are growing less cooperative in allowing others to “go first.” Unfortunately it appears that the EBC is not of that view. Here’s the guideline:

“Priority will be given to the disabled, elderly and pregnant women [who are] to be allowed to go to the front of the line.” (Italics and underline mine)

PING! PING! PING! Lots of problems there. First, the “line”; next, the easy-to-circumvent “…be allowed to…;” then, the “elderly” —who are they?; and lastly, will the EBC which has been behind the policy mandate be there to see that it’s done?

We are not very clever at implementing a SENIORS FIRST protocol in Belize. At a bank where I do business, there is a line for seniors. But the sign above that window says it’s for a specialized banking function! I only found out about its connectivity to seniors because one busy Friday afternoon a helpful security guard, seeing my white pate, I suppose, came up and asked my age. I hesitated, not knowing what he was up to, and aware that other patrons were listening. That flustered him. I gave in and provided the info.

“Then you can go to that window when the customer is finished,” he said, pointing awkwardly. It worked!

At a local utility company’s office, they actually have a sign. It is on a wall and not at any cashier’s cage. The line that day was short, so only one cashier worked. Pointing to the sign, I asked:

“Couldn’t I have just come up to the front?”

“Only when there’s more than one cashier,” he rebuffed me.

So, a pregnancy or disablement can be readily detected—crutches, wheelchairs, plaster casts and white canes are telling optics. But not all elderly people look “old.” A 70-year-old lady who walks regularly and is fresh from the hairdresser’s might not! Nor would a healthy, 80-year-old army vet with a firm step, strong voice and steady eyes. And so here’s where those raw instincts that caused that Texan to crash the party, might T-bone this one: someone who has been in the line for two hours and needs to get home, or to the bank or to the utility company sees the vet come in and go to the head of the line. He even greets an acquaintance or two on the way. How do you think that waiting voter will react? Exactly!
There are some devils lying camouflaged in this EBC’s release. Let’s flush them out before 11/11/20. We can do that by just opening a line for the special needs folks, making their preferred status mandatory, and stationing someone there to ensure no one breaks the rules.

Hart Tillett
Belmopan.

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