Monthly Archives: August 2005

The bureaucracy delivers

If you’re going to criticize the bureaucracy when it is slow and obstructionist, you should praise it when it delivers, as it did yesterday in my case. I received the certified divorce decree from the State of Tennessee’s Department of Health, the Vital Records division, and I received a notice from the SSA of my scheduled appointment for September 12th. Color me impressed.



To those of you who have written to offer your congratulations on my retirement and to offer your best wishes or to share your own experience and advice, let me say “thank you.” I appreciate hearing from you for a couple of reasons. One is that your good wishes and advice are valued and appreciated, and another is that it means you are visiting here occasionally and checking in on me. It’s about as close as one can come nowadays to living in a small town where friends and neighbors check in on you to make sure you are still around and kicking. For all of the disadvantages associated with “nosy neighbors” knowing your business in a small town, there was, and I suppose in some cases still is, a certain sense of comfort in knowing that someone else cares enough to pay attention to you and your activities.

Someone asked yesterday “how it feels” being retired. My answer was it felt like any other Monday morning before I left for work. It’ll take a while I suppose before I realize that I don’t have a scheduled time to be somewhere or an obligation to be ready to answer the phone at a scheduled hour.

My first encounter with the Social Security Administration’s bureaucracy was not unexpected, but it only served to reinforce the stereotypical views. I looked in the phone book for an address for the SSA office here in Knoxville, but none was listed. The only thing available to me was an 800 number (800 772 1213), which I called. I had hoped to get the address of the local SSA office. So rather than encountering a person (people don’t answer official telephones these days, only IVRs do), I began listening to the long-winded IVR message for a recognizable option that would lead to the answer to my question, and to my amazement, there was one! It said something like “For information about the hours of operation and the address of the Social Security office near you, press 2.” Though surprised to find what I was looking for, I happily pressed 2. When I complied with the instructions to enter my zip code on the telephone keypad, I heard the message, “we’re sorry but locator service is not provided for the zip code you entered.” Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I, being an old fart, entered a non-existent zip code, I’d like to reassure you that I’ve just gone through the same procedure again paying particularly close attention to make sure to get the zip code right, only to get the same outcome. I didn’t mis-key the zip code. Apparently I live in too remote a location for the SSA to acknowledge that I/we exist!

Frustrated by my first attempt to navigate the 800#-IVR swamp, I looked further down the page under the SSA listing and found a listing for “retirement,” which offered some hope of relief. I called that number and reached a human being named Sheila. Ah, I thought, salvation at last. When I told Sheila that all I needed was the location of the local SS office, she asked was I a TVA employee to which I, of course, answered “no.” She said that unfortunately the yellow pages had their number listed under the SSA listing, and that her office had nothing to do with the SSA. However, because she had received a number of such calls she offered to give me the correct number. It was, you guessed it, 800 772 1213. Sound familiar?

I plunged back into the swamp from which I had come. And this time I listened to more of the IVR commercial and went beyond that obvious choice (#2) on to option 6, “For additional services or to speak with a representative, press 6.” After a wait, a human being, whom I’ll call Joyce (I have actually forgotten her name), came on the line. I told her I’d like the address of the local SS office, and she gave it to me, 8530 Kingston Pike, but she told me, “you can’t just go there without an appointment.” (What was I thinking??!!) So she asked whether I’d like to schedule an appointment. “Well, yes,” I said. She informed me that the first available appointment would be on September 12th at 10:30 AM. I said, “I’ll take it.” I learned I’ll have to have a certified copy of my birth certificate (which I had expected and have available) and a copy of my W-2 from 2004 (which I have), but to my surprise, she also said I’d have to have a certified copy of my divorce decree (which I hadn’t anticipated and don’t have). She gave me a number to call where I can obtain a copy.

Off once again to a new IVR swamp, the Tennessee office of the Department of Health, the Vital Records section. There I found that their “representative” (notice the singular noun) was busy, but I was given a web site where I could make application for a copy of my divorce decree. Now here I quote accurately what the IVR gave as that address “” If you type in that address to your web browser, you’ll learn, as I did, that the “Page is not found.”

Being a veteran user of the Internet and growing more determined by the minute, I turned, as I often do, to Google and entered the search term, “State of Tennessee.” There I found a link to the Tennessee Department of Health and clicked on it. Under it, I found a link to “Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records.” The address, it turns out, was actually, If you’ll notice, there are 3 “w’s” not 2. Once there, I was able to apply online for the divorce decree which will cost me $31.00, $12.00 for the search of the records, a $9.00 fee (“Please be advised that there is a $9.00 fee for using this service in addition to certificate costs and delivery options.”) and $10.00 to have it sent by FedEx to make sure it arrives before my now-precious appointment on September 12, 2005 at 10:30 am.

So now, I await my appointment date to make application for my Social Security. I can only hope that the date arrives before the Social Security funds run out!

My advice to any of you who may be facing this task is a variation of that given to voters in Chicago, “Apply early and often.”

Bookworms Corner

Bookworms Corner: “Welcome to my weblog.”

This initial post, by Gwen Kegley, on August 27th signals her beginning to experiment with blogging.

Congratulations, Gwen! I hope you have a lot of fun with this and enjoy learning to use this tool to make your voice heard on the Internet.

The first day of the rest of my life …

Over the weekend, I initiated my retirement, so once again I can say “Thank God. It’s Monday!,” but this time for a different reason. This is the first day of the week that begins “the rest of my life.”

Why now, some of you may ask.

My answer would be, “The time has come, and I am ready.” My dad retired when he was 62, and unfortunately in 1978 at 67 he died. Although his health and habits were different than mine, the fact that he survived for only 5 years after his retirement has always had an impact on my thinking. In November of this year I turn 64, so if I should only live as long as my dad did, that would mean I had only about 3 more years to enjoy and achieve the things I want in my life. That’s a sobering thought.

This morning, the first day of the rest of my life, I got up a bit after 5 AM and began my daily exercise, walking around my neighborhood, before the rains come. Thundershowers are expected throughout the day, so I wanted to make sure that I got in my exercise before they came. So far, I haven’t missed a day since I began my exercise back on July 13th.

I’m out this morning to visit the local representatives of the Social Security Administration, and I look forward to seeing how complicated the process of getting my Social Security check is. That’ll give me something to talk about here at my blog, and maybe my experience will prove beneficial to someone else. Also this morning I need to visit the local retail store for U. S. Cellular to initiate my cellphone plan. Fortunately, I at least know what plan I want because of my experience working as a customer service representative with them.

Life will be different, I’m sure, being retired. Friends who have retired have said to me that they can hardly believe how busy they are, now that they’ve retired, and I can believe it. I am hopeful that my own experience will provide me the time to do a few of the things I want to do without becoming overwhelmed by a “to do” list that only stresses me. I intend to enjoy my retirement, and that’s the only objective I am willing to accept as a “gotta do.”

Getting faster

A couple of days ago, I received a notice on my Comcast digital set-top box that there was a message waiting. This isn’t too unusual since this is the means that Comcast uses to promote some of its programming and to announce changes in channel lineups. However, this notification was certainly welcomed news.

Comcast has increased the download speed of its Internet access to 6 Mbps, which is up from 4 Mbps. This increase means that web pages load faster and downloads are completed faster. And in case you haven’t yet noticed it, speed is addictive. Once you’ve had a chance to use the Internet with a broadband connection, it is oh so difficult to go back to a slower connection as I routinely discover when I visit my son’s home where they must use a dial up connection because they don’t have access to broadband.

I’m pleased. Thank you Comcast.

Happy Birthday, David Steele

David Steele
Originally uploaded by CaptQuirk.

Today is David Steele’s birthday.

David and I met back in 1988 or 1989 when he was in charge of training for the Customer Services group at Citizens Gas and Coke Utility of Indianapolis, IN. While looking for vendors who had something to offer the employees for whom he was responsible, he contacted the company I worked for, Vernine and Associates, and spoke with me. He arranged a visit for me to Indianapolis to present what we had to offer, and from that somewhat formal and official beginning we began an acquaintance that evolved through the years into a friendship that has persisted until today.

And speaking of today, today is David’s birthday. So I thought I’d take this occasion to send a birthday wish to him via my blog.

I hope you have a great time today, David, and that you do something uniquely enjoyable to celebrate. I’m thankful for our friendship, and I wish you many more years of success in your work life and happiness in your personal life.

How newspapers are changing

The venerable newspaper is changing.

As we have all gotten more connected and become accustomed to being able to talk back to each other over the Internet and as newspapers have tended to lose circulation because more and more people turn to online sources for news, the newspapers themselves have begun to change. This link leads to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website listing all the RSS feeds that it now provides. With the aid of a news aggregator, you can have news delivered to your desktop each day. (Think of it as the virtual version of a paper boy.)

I’m pleased that the AJC recently (on August 16th) made its sports blogs free to the public instead of hiding them being a paid-content wall, because that decision permits me to subscribe to those that contain discussions about the fortunes of the Atlanta Braves, like this entry about Jeff Francoeur for instance.

More and more, I suspect we’ll see an increasing number of information sources of all kinds making their content accessible in this way so that we can get and react to the information easily. This kind of change will make other things change too, it always does, but on the whole I think it is a positive move that will benefit society.