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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

"Your Call Is Being Recorded…"

When robots tell you that "your call is being recorded for quality assurance," does that recording start then?  Does anyone hear me shouting that I want to talk to a person?  This is typical with most businesses these days, but the current target of my ire is the USF Credit Union.  I've had an account there since 1972 (!), but I spent a full hour trying to straighten out the most recent error. 


Soon into her message, the robot said "if you know your party's extension, you can dial it now."  Turns out that the guy I wanted had retired, and when I finally got someone else, she said she wasn't management yet and therefore did not have an extension number.  She nonetheless asked me to call her back, and I went through the same madness before giving up.  I'm planning to drive the ten miles there and camp out.


I did get an actual person at CVS, probably because I called around midnight, but after I explained the problem that the robot had created, he put me on hold and disappeared, never to return.  The robot had insisted that this routine medicine that I've taken for decades had to be authorized by my physician, even though the empty bottle clearly says that I can have three refills prior to next April.  I guess I'll trouble my doctor with a message through his website.  It wastes his time, but it may take a revolution of doctors to create common sense at pharmacies.


Please understand that I see this as bigger than just my trivial complaints.  I'm sure that our increase in public anger and mental illness is caused in part by robots who increasingly replace humans.  At the bottom, just like the new "supply chain" problem, it demonstrates a trend of indifferent and incompetent management that pays no attention until the media reports a crisis.  Businesses record their customers, but seem never to listen to what their customers say.  This data could easily be retrieved.  Wouldn't it be nice to get a call from someone at the drug store or the credit union who says, "I hear you; how can I help?"




These recordings, I think, are not actually a tool to improve customer service; instead, they are intended to intimidate employees.  The result of such outdated schoolmaster treatment of employees, where every human motion is timed, seems to be a resurgence of strikes.  As you doubtless know, the pandemic has caused many people to rethink how they want to live their lives – and it is not at a soul-killing job.  American businesses should join the rest of the industrialized world by encouraging the government to create greater employee security with assured health care and pensions -- and much more time off. 


We have less vacation time than any other industrialized nation, you know.  A month is the standard in Europe, and Iceland, a prosperous nation worthy of emulation, has adopted a four-day week.  Economists know that a better balance of work and family creates not only a happier society, but also a better economy.  Every bit of research shows that models works:  with more time off, workers will spend money that benefits other workers, especially in leisure businesses such as we have here in Florida.  Think there's any chance that our Republican governor and legislature will think about that?


But back to the current strikes.  The most interesting thing is that they are concentrated in the traditionally anti-union South.  Just a sample of many includes Exxon-Mobil employees in the heavily industrial Gulf Coast town of Beaumont, Texas, and John Deere employees in Georgia, as well as other states.  In Memphis, workers are walking out of Kellogg's – a company that once was known for its charitable foundation.  And Alabama's failed Amazon strike seems not to have intimidated its miners, as they are climbing up from their below-earth workplace.


Part of this doubtless is a reaction to the pandemic, as owners insist that workers produce more with less.  But I think there's another factor at play, too:  the president of the AFL-CIO is Liz Shuler, the first woman in its history.  More than men, women see that life should not be simply toil, and time for families is necessary to a worthwhile future.  Our lives are a balance between time and money, and I'm glad that more people are opting for more time.




Speaking (or not speaking) of visionary business skills, I want to tell you about a friend in Arkansas.  She is a longtime painter and retired art teacher who inherited an old, vacant store.  She has created a vibrant workplace there by renting 6x6 spaces, defined by lines on the floor, to other artists.  They have their easels, paints, and other tools handy when they want to work, and the concept has played out amazingly well.  She has 24 renters – as many as the space will hold.  The key is keys:  she gives each renter a key to the building so they can work when the spirit moves them. 


One is a physician who comes in before dawn; he finds painting to be relaxing prior to starting his rounds.  Others paint in the middle of the night, while many prefer the daytime and the conviviality of working at the same time as their peers.  Paintings for sale are displayed gallery style, and she leads occasional "art walks" with art for sale up and down the street.  With music and food trucks, these connect a bookstore, museum, cafes, and a park.  It's an innovative business model that is renewing a depressed area, and it is working because of human connections.  I don't think there's a robocaller within miles.


And speaking of the stupidity of many non-human connections, let's talk about Inbox Dollars.  I've been doing these online consumer surveys for years, mostly because I enjoy seeing what's new.  It's been months, though, since I've been able to take a survey.  The first question is the month of birth, but I'm unable to go beyond that.  Whether I flip the arrow up or down, the only choices are January through June.  My birth month is in September, and I can't move forward.  Apparently no one at the receiving end has noticed that half of their potential responders are not responding, another example of what is wrong with businesses.  Btw, astrologists believe that September's Virgo personalities are logical and methodological.  I can't argue with that.




I was sorry to see the passing of Harriet Lenfensty.  She spent decades making our town a better place.  With Barbara Romano, Hatty opened Tampa's first art museum in the 1960s – and yes, we were late compared with other cities of our size.  Thanks to her and others – especially former Mayor Pam Iorio – we now have a string of museums, but back then, anyone interested in art had to cross the bay to St. Petersburg.  Hatty was dedicated to this cause, and as her obituary reported, did everything from choosing exhibits to cleaning bathrooms.  


In an era when Tampans resisted racial integration, she arranged for African-American children to see the shows.  Later she became the first woman to head the Tampa Museum of Art, albeit as interim director, and she also was the first Curator of Education at the University of Tampa's Henry Plant Museum.  It was there that I met her.  As you know, Henry Plant's hotel was the jumping-off place for the 1898 Spanish-American War in Cuba, and she wanted to publish a diary by a soldier that the museum owned. 


Desktop publishing wasn't possible then, and her husband, Tom Lenfesty, put us together because we were with the same New York publishing house.  He knew that I know history, while he is an expert in sailing -- and we shared our frustrations with teeny-bopper editors who have little knowledge of authors' fields, but nonetheless see it as their job to correct us.  I see that Tom's Dictionary of Nautical Terms still is available on Amazon.  Hubby liked to sail, too, and he enjoyed Tom's thoughtful approach to this distinct vocabulary.


I was shocked to see an obituary for Judge Debra Behnke, who was a decade younger than I.  She was elected in 1989, when there weren't yet many women on the bench, and served until 2014.  The same page of the (non-print) Tampa Bay Times reported the passing of 102-year-old Walter Romeo, who was the father-in-law of former State Representative Sara Romeo.  Sara once held the North Tampa seat that now belongs to Frentrice Driskell, the first African American woman elected as student body president at Harvard.  We've come a long way since we were a city without an art museum, and time moves on.



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