If Dante could have waited a few centuries to pen his magnum opus, the modern world would have provided him with limitless possibilities for further rings in the inferno. Businesses which (ab)use voice mail definitely deserve a ring all their own, especially businesses which have a monopoly on certain services. The US postal service for instance. This morning, when I should have been doing laundry or educating my children or some such useful endeavor, I instead found myself talking to a computer. Since the phone at my desk is not touch tone, at least I can choose options with the voice activated system. But, if you've ever tried to do this with children in the room, you will know that too much background noise causes the computer confusion. "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Can you repeat it?" told to you by a computer (over and over) is more than aggravating.
My problem was that we had not received mail two times last week and two times this week. I know that it's not possible that there just wasn't any mail for us; the bills are due and I didn't have them in hand. I told this to the first live person I talked with this morning. Since it sounded as though I had interrupted her solitaire game, I didn't have much hope for the whole exchange and I was proved correct. Right after she said, "Hold on just a minute, I need to look something up." the phone clicked and I hear a dial tone. So, I have to go through the whole process again. It is somewhat shortened this time since I know all the answers and the computer doesn't care if you interrupt it. (It also doesn't care if sound highly annoyed. And while one doesn't have to feel guilty about being less than pleasant to a real person, it is not very satisfying either.) I make it back to another human being. I've learned before that the trick is to quickly give all the information I can before allowing myself to be put on hold, so I quickly explain that whole problem and add that this is my second attempt since I was hung-up on the first time. To the USPS's credit, this man was very helpful...and apologetic. He took all my information and promised to work on it. In the meantime, he gave me the number for my local post office. (It's a novel concept, I guess; calling the place that is actually providing service.)
Armed with a phone number that is possibly more difficult to get than a celebrity's, I made another phone call. Miracle of miracles, there was no voice mail, just an operator (who must also have been playing solitaire). I guess it's because they don't expect the public to have their phone number. I was transferred to another live person who looked into my problem. He straightened it out and also apologized. Our rather large collection of mail was delivered an hour later.
On the whole it was a positive encounter with the post office... one problem solved and two apologies. You can bet, though, I'm keeping that phone number.