For me, it was the last straw. I had reached my personal "tipping point." It was that moment, according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best-selling book of a similar name, when something becomes unstoppable and inevitable like a flu epidemic. I had reached mine. I was tired of wrestling with bureaucratic, time-wasting phone calls to fix snafus like bank errors and cable malfunctions. I had been pushed to my limits by the prospect of having to clear up even one more petty issue.
As I see it, bureaucracy is draining the very life out of us, robbing us of precious time, stealing joy from our lives. How much time do we spend each day, each week, trying to undo mistakes created by super computers and inept employees? When do we have time to pursue our passion? We dole out our time to seeking justice, protecting our identity and getting our money's worth. I had had it. I was beyond the tipping point, and would savor a return to simpler days. I was tired of grappling with telephone trees to right someone else's wrong.
But these calls had to be made. Several weeks ago I rang up a credit bureau to get a free copy of my credit report. Much to my disbelief, this took only a few minutes to hear that the report was in the mail. But when it arrived, I am dumbfounded to see my name listed as "Barbara Elm." Since I live on Elm Street, I assumed that was a logical error. But the two six-figure mortgage debts on the report sent me into a tail-spin. One mortgage was damage enough. And where in the report was my promised credit score? This meant a second phone call to trace the lost score. Why does everything have to be done twice? Annoyed, I made that call.
My cable company is another point of aggravation. Loud static had been drowning out the audio. I had made one call to CableVista to set up an appointment for a service call. A few days after that, a guy arrived, assessed the situation and whacked both sides of the TV. He said my aging set needed to be replaced. With that suggestion, he took off. That night, the static interrupted Joy Behar again. As instructed, I whacked the set, but the static persisted. I made another call to CableVista and this time a more experienced serviceman showed up. His skills-set went beyond that of beating the side of the TV. He examined the connecting wires and cable box, and replaced the old box for a new model. So far, the static has gone elsewhere.
Also on my to-call list had been my health insurance company, which took a drug I used off their "formulary." I had hoped a phone call would clear this up. After studying ten pages of fine print about requesting a "formulary exception," I rang up the insurer.
"We have changed our policy. That drug is no longer available, period," the customer service rep said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Too many people are abusing it."
"I've been taking that drug for 10 years and I don't abuse it or sell it on the street," I said.
"You can file for an exemption," she suggested, and gave me another number to call.
Before I picked up the phone, I again poured over the fine print about seeking an exemption. I wasn't prepared for what I was told after I explained my request to the second account rep.
"The exception you want is not a valid exception," she said.
"You mean there are exceptions to the exceptions?"
"That is correct."
"Why have a `formulary exception' if there are exceptions?" I asked, dumbfounded.
"We try to keep our customers happy by giving them hope," she said.
Annoyed by this Byzantine conversation, I accepted defeat and hung up.
The Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., was also on my list. I needed to report a deadbeat neighbor also named Smith, who had stolen my identity. He had used my address and phone number to make expensive purchases from upscale catalogues, and left town with bills unpaid. For months, I had been received harassing calls from dozens of collection agencies badgering me for payment. I needed to report this un-neighborly behavior to the FCC to find out how I could get these abusive collectors off my back.
As you can see, I'd had enough. I had become "tipped out." I needed to escape to real life, and hope that nothing else would break down, change policy or get lost in transit.
Barbara L. Smith is a published playwright and corporate speechwriter. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.