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'Thank you for holding. Please stay on' (click)

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001

Last month a neighbor on my block had a bench stolen from in front of her house. She didn't think it was a big deal. She didn't want a police officer sent over, but she thought it was a good idea to report it, so that the police would know and to ask if this kind of thing is going around. (It isn't.)

So she dialed the number for Minor Offense (Officer not needed at the location).

A disembodied voice introduced itself, determined that she wished to speak English, not Spanish, that she didn't have a rotary phone and that she was, in fact, reporting a crime that occurred within city limits. Then:

Please choose one of the following options or remain on the line for the next available agent:

If you are calling to report the loss or theft of a cellular telephone, press 1.

If you are reporting the theft of a motor vehicle, press 2.

If you are reporting a lost or stolen motor vehicle tag, press 3.

If you are reporting that someone is using your name or identity to steal from you or someone else, press 4.

If you are reporting a runaway juvenile or missing person, press 5.

If you are reporting an insufficient fund or account closed check, press 6.

If you are reporting a burglary, press 7.

Press 8 for general info.

Press 9 to leave a voice mail message which the unit would strive to answer within three business hours.

None of the above fit.

So she punched "burglary," not really accurate, since there was no break-in. She was put on hold but given the option to file her report by fax or e-mail. She chose e-mail and was called back the next day -- all in all a positive experience, once she got to an actual person. But she'd felt like an idiot. "I have a master's degree!" she said, laughing.

Plus, she came to a new realization about crime in the big city.

"It's clear that I am clueless about society in general," she said. She'd have never guessed the options.

But, in this world of Voicemail Menu Hell, what's next?

Actually, the cops are about the only people you can reach by phone anymore. The number for "non-emergency dispatch" was answered immediately when I called last week, and by a real person. By the way -- and this is not a joke -- that number has been changed. It's now (813) 231-6130. And the times I've called 911 -- sorry! -- when it wasn't a real emergency, like the time I thought someone had broken into my house because the back door was left wide open, I've gotten help at once.

I wish I could say the same for people with a lot more resources than the TPD.

Last week I was on hold with AT&T Customer Service for 32 minutes. This is a telephone company! During that 32 minutes I was told the usual things. Thank you for your patience. I was, in fact, thinking about switching to MCI.

Due to high customer demand there may be a delay in speaking with an AT&T representative.

Please. The reason there is no one to take my call is that AT&T does not choose to hire enough people to answer their phones.

We value you as an AT&T customer.

Prove it.

And then there's the music. AT&T is running some awful fusion stuff -- faux Benoit?

The other day I called our mail-away drug prescription plan's customer service number, was put on hold but quickly informed that my estimated wait time was under three minutes. In a couple of minutes a real guy's voice came on the phone. "Hi. My name's Nick, and if you give me some information someone will call you back within 48 hours."

"Are you kidding?" I asked.

The music was Greensleeves. I'd guess Enya.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears occasionally.

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