Anecdotal Evidence: Tax Night '96

Around 11:50PM, Tax Night, Jimmy and I were walking to to watch the last-minute tax filers. We were supposed to meet some friends there, and were running late. So we were walking fast. "I got my taxes done a couple of weeks ago," I said, "so that I wouldn't find myself hurrying to the post office at a little before midnight April 15. And now look at me."

We arrived, sat on the Post Office steps with our friends, and observed the goings on. There were a number of Postals on the curb in front of the Office. They were holding bins. On the corner, another Postal had a couple of flags. He directed cars. The idea was that batches of cars would drive up, batches of people would hand over their tax forms, and batches of cars would drive off.

Some Filers got it, and some didn't.

The system would work or wouldn't in the same way that a bunch of people boarding a bus can take a short time or a long time to get seated. If the first person boarding a bus decides to sit in the first seat available, then the second person is stuck waiting a bit as the first person sits. If the first person boarding a bus walks to the back before sitting, and the second person walks most of the way to the back, and so on, then everyone can board the bus a bit quicker.

The difference in this situation is that there were cars instead of bus passengers and Postals holding bins instead of bus seats. Plus, if it takes an extra minute for everyone to board a bus, no-one's going to have to pay any late fees to the IRS.

So the people who stopped their cars by the first Postal they saw on the curb--these people didn't understand the system. This was probably their first time filing this late. They were not the pros.

But there were pros. These people could pull up to their proper spot on the curb, rolling down the passenger side window, licking an envelope, and maintaining an air of nonchalance. Hand out the form and drive off. A van pulled up with a dog sticking its head out the passenger-side door, tax forms in its mouth. When a Postal took the forms away, the dog grinned. The van drove off.

Midnight came. After a couple of minutes, the Postals had had enough. Those with bins jogged over to the Van. The Van that would take all of the collected mail over to the big Postal building in West Oakland. Once the Van had left, that was it. Too late to file your taxes in Berkeley. Time to fax your forms to a friend in Hawaii. Or something. Drastic measures.

The Van's headlights turned on. The Van's driver started counting seconds. The audience counted along. And it was time for the Van to go. When suddenly a gray luxury car drove and stopped in front of the Van, blocking the way out of the driveway. A cheer went up. Here was a feat of daring.

I couldn't see through the crowd. I don't know exactly what happened. I figure the car's driver dropped off their tax form. Anyhow, the car drove off to applause. The Van drove off, to further applause.

As my friends and I gathered up our stuff to go, cars drove up. Newbies would leave their tax forms with the Postal who was inside the office. More cynical newbies asked if taxes turned in then and there would get the all-important postmark, and got to hear about the significance of the van's having left.

The pros drove or walked up and looked for the van--that's how you knew they were pros. Their shoulders would slump when they realized that they'd missed the van. Some of them quietly put envelopes in mailboxes. Others drove off at high speed, presumably in search of some other place to turn in forms.

One station wagon came driving up at high speed, and screeched to a stop at the head of the driveway. It was a few minutes late. After a couple of seconds, probably just enough time to confirm that the van was gone, the wagon peeled out (yes, a station wagon peeled out) into the street and took off at high speed. I imagined it hurtling down streets of the East Bay, trying to overtake the Van.


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