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 “ww2.state.tn.us/health/vr.” 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, http://www2.state.tn.us/health/vr/index.htm. 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.”