by J.L. Sloss

Have you noticed lately that it can be extremely difficult to reach out and touch someone by phone? I wanted to call my local post office. Sounds simple enough … right? Ha! I couldn’t find any post offices listed in my ever-shrinking Verizon phone book. No problem. I called information. Ding, ding, ding … “AT&T 411 Info – say a city and state, or say other services.” I say the city. I say the state.

The robo voice says, “OK. What listing?” I say, “U. S. Post Office.” Immediately I hear, “Alright, please hold for an operator.” Nope, maybe I did that wrong. So, I call back – and this time I say, “Other services.” I’m offered several “other services” – residential search – buildings – reverse lookup … huh?? So I call 411 one more time and go through the city and state thing all over again, then start the process of being connected to “an operator”.

As I sit in the bottomless hold-queue, I hear all about the if-it-fits-it-ships services and how important my call is and that my patience is … so appreciated. Finally help arrives. She can’t find the local post office’s number either, just a toll-free “800” number. Fine. Ring, ring … automated voice. What a surprise. I was offered a litany of options — but no local post office phone listings. So, if I didn’t want to know about postal rates, priority shipping, address changes or stopping my mail to go on vacation … I was out of luck.

At this point I thought it would perhaps be faster to get in my car and drive to the local post office to ask my question. Somehow (and, I truly don’t remember how) I got a live person. Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere! Not really. The live “representative” proceeded to grill me like a homicide detective on “Law and Order.”

Why did I need to call the local post office? What was my current mailing address? Was there some way that she could help me? “No,” I said, trying not to sound like I was talking through clenched teeth. “I simply want to know if they have any available postal boxes. I don’t think that’s information YOU would have.”

“Well,” she replied haughtily, “if you’d hold for a moment, I’ll contact that branch and ask.” “Why can’t you just give me the number?!” I pleaded. “I may have other questions. Why complicate this?” “One moment … I’ll get my supervisor,” she said in that all-too-familiar robotic monotone.

Same scenario calling my local bank to speak with Joanne the teller. An “800” number — only number available. Again, an “option smorgasbord” — open an account, get my balance, make a loan payment … Arghhhh! Only after nearly getting carpal tunnel finger from pushing buttons did I finally reach a more-or-less real person. She insisted on knowing my account number, my address, my mother’s maiden name … Oh, come on!!!

By this time my brain was in park, my nervous system had begun to short-circuit, and I was teetering between tears and hysterical laughter. By the way, all I wanted to know was if Joanne still wanted to borrow my ‘Charlie Chaplin” DVD that we’d talked about when I made a deposit last week.

Why are these people all trying to hide? Is this some kind of “Homeland Security” thing making it impossible to contact these local businesses directly by phone — for fear of … what?! Let me just say that if I were planning on sabotaging a post office or robbing a bank … I wouldn’t call ahead!!!

I was told that banks don’t list branch phone numbers because “there are too many of them.” So I guess that’s a cost-saving thing. But what about post offices? As far as we know, the U.S. Postal Service has just one location per zip code — not multiple branches per neighborhood. And if all this telephonic challenge really is for the sake of cost-savings … how come postal rates and bank fees keep going … up?

Ah, technological progress … it provides us with many things … not the least of which are frustration, stress and acid reflux disease. Welcome to the oh-so-complicated future!

J. L. Sloss, who lives in Wyndmoor, is a writer of short stories and topical articles. She’s also a songwriter/performer and does commercial and corporate voice-overs.