One morning in late March, I drove from my home in Southern Wake County to my office in North Raleigh to pick up some files so I could work from home. As I exited the Beltline onto Six Forks Road, I noticed a deer lying beneath the overpass, the apparent victim of a high-speed impact.
It’s a familiar sight on the side of the road, in urban or rural areas, and I thought little about it at the time. I assumed it would be cleaned up by the next time I drove to my office.
But it wasn’t. I saw it again and again. By mid-April, it occurred to me that with so many folks sheltering at home or otherwise distracted by the COVID-19 crisis, dead animals in public rights-of-way were probably going unreported. So I perused the city’s website, phoned the number I found, and then spent a frustrating half an hour trying to get to the right person after multiple transfers and a couple of dropped calls.
I finally succeeded. I assumed the deer would be gone within days. It wasn’t. Several weeks later, I called the city again, got cut off again, and after some insistence was given the opportunity to report the dead animal a second time.
As of Friday, July 24, the badly decomposed deer was still beneath the overpass, at one of the most-traveled intersections in North Carolina’s capital city, its skull twisted at an extreme angle into what looks like a mocking smile.
At this point, it would be very easy to launch into an extended rant about government inefficiency. It shouldn’t take multiple calls and the navigational skills of Ferdinand Magellan to reach the requisite public employee during a workday. There ought to be some other way to produce a work order. Then it should be acted on.
But as I’ve watched that carcass rot, throughout the spring and into the middle of summer, it has come to represent more than just garden-variety bureaucratic inertia.
Why haven’t I just carried it off myself? I don’t own a pickup truck but I know plenty of friends who do. Alas, private initiative isn’t an option here. The overpass in question is too dangerous, with high-speed traffic during the day and limited visibility at night. Even taking a snapshot of the carcass, as I did Friday morning, proved to be a harrowing experience. At least the right lane of this public highway needs to be blocked off by those duly authorized to exercise public authority, so that what’s left of the deer can be safely removed.
That neither city nor state workers have yet performed this straightforward task is emblematic, it seems to me, of a deeper issue. We are experiencing both a public-health crisis and an economic recession. Hundreds of thousands are out of work. In several of our cities, including Raleigh, heartfelt protests have devolved into destructive riots. North Carolinians feel divided, anxious, and in some cases desperate.
Handling just one of these problems would be challenging. Facing them all at once, interrelated and seemingly intractable, surely feels overwhelming. But we cannot let them overwhelm us — overwhelm our leaders, our governments, our private institutions, our communities, our families.
Becoming distracted, distraught, or distrustful will help no one. We all have critical roles to play and jobs to do. We must be resilient and resolute, giving each other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to motives while also holding each other responsible for results.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that our governments and other social institutions are rotten. They haven’t languished long enough on the metaphorical side of the metaphorical road to reach that condition. But can you truly say you aren’t worried about their future soundness and vitality?
I can’t. And there is a now-putrefied deer in North Carolina’s state capital, at the intersection of Six Forks Road and the Beltline, that reminds me of those worries on a regular basis.