Last Friday, I filed for unemployment for the first time. I’ve earned taxable income since I was an 11-year-old paper boy, so with a large part of my writing work on hiatus until the economy rebounds, I wanted and needed to withdraw some of what I’d paid in over those 44 years.
Two days after I filed, the state denied my claim by saying I “do not have sufficient wages to establish a regular income.” Not true of course, and I have my e-filed 2019 tax paperwork to prove it. But as the taxes I paid in came with the struggle of work, getting some of them back would come with the struggle to remain patient. Knowing the phone queue at the Kentucky Career Center (which manages unemployment insurance) would be long, I began the fun by dialing in at 7 a.m. on April 21. The drill went like this:
The Robo-agent estimated the initial wait for a real agent would be a Domino’s-like promise of 30 minutes or less. When “she” returned 10 minutes later to say, “Average wait time is less than 3 minutes. Thank you for waiting for the next available agent,” I was all, “Yesssss!”
And then “noooo!” About 20 minutes and at least two “3-minute promises later,” the digital dame returned and revised my potential wait time to an airline-like delay of “greater than 2 hours. Press 1 to receive a callback from an agent or press 2 to remain in the queue.”
You bet I pressed 2, hunkered down to wait some more and made a few Facebook posts to kill time. While there, a friend PM’ed me to say she’s been at this wait-and-see with KCC game for a solid month, which wasn’t the news I was hoping for. But then Robo-harpy chimed in to announce, “Average wait time is less than 15 minutes. Press 1 to receive a callback from an agent or press 2 to remain in the queue.”
While this mind-numbing affair is underway, all on hold get to listen to arguably the world’s worst phone-hold song. Notice, I didn’t say “music” because that could be inferred as songs, and since the KCC DJ isn’t that creative, I didn’t want to mislead anyone. To get a sense of how bad said tune is, imagine discount shopping store music. All you need to generate a Kmart in the ‘70s flashback is the aroma of faux-buttered popcorn and the noise of stressed mothers threatening their children “if they don’t put those damn toys down!” You follow me now?
At about the 90-minute mark in the call, “Lee” picks up and asks how he can help. Though he was friendly and eager, he figured out quickly that my dispute was “not something I can handle at tier 1,” which—with no offense toward him directly—likely means he’s doing little more than making address corrections. So, he sends me to “tier 2,” where he’s certain “someone will be able handle your issue.”
Back on hold and listening to that dreadful tune, a ray of hope flashed when Robo-witch broke through to say, “Average wait time is 3 minutes.” Yeah, right Robo-tease, you promised me that at least a dozen times back at tier 1. And then, as if she knew my thoughts, she said 5 minutes later, “Average wait time is greater than 2 hours. Press 1 to receive a callback from an agent or press 2 to remain in the queue.”
Having heard from others that those who press 1 never hear back from an agent, I pressed 2. Again.
While holding, I actually accomplished about 30 minutes of work before Robo-harpy came back to say, “Average wait time is less than 20 minutes. To receive a callback from an agent, press 1. To remain in the queue, press 2.”
I press 2, of course … for what surely is the fiftieth time, before hearing 10 minutes later, “Average wait time is greater than 2 hours. Press 1 to receive a callback from an agent or press 2 to remain in the queue.”
“Well,” I think, “now sounds like a good time for a bathroom break.” But when I get to the bathroom and begin loosening the waist string of my, ahem, athletic pants, Robo-scoundrel returned to say, “Average wait time is less than 3 minutes.” Seriously? You’re in a rush now? Luckily, “she” wasn’t, so I completed my mission and returned to my desk … to wait … and listen to a new song, surely Kmart’s Greatest Hit No. 2, which is a work of some matchbook musician’s faux-Mellotron keyboard musings.
Finally, at the three-hour, 20-minute mark, a human voice comes on to ask, “How can I help you today?” Yeah, no lie, a fully human voice with warmth, inflection, modulation ‘n’ stuff. As I explain my issue, she said—with palpable sympathy—”Oh, hon, I wish I could help you with that, but I’m going to have to give you to a specialist.”
Specialist? This isn’t brain surgery!
“But the last guy who said he was a tier 1 person,” I protested, “said the people at tier 2 could help with this!”
“I promise I’d help you if I could, but they’re working on training us all to do that and it’s taking some time,” she replied. “I have a whole list of people here in front of me, and I’m going to hand you over to Denise King, so hold just a minute, please.”
Then came the silence … that brief interlude I thought signaled my passage around Kmart’s Greatest Hit No. 2 and right to Denise King’s desk phone.
But it wasn’t. Immediately following the silence I heard, “beep, beep, beep” … the dreaded trio of beeps heard when someone hangs up on you.
“No, freaking way!” I thought. “She hung up!” By accident, I’m sure, but it was over. She had no way of getting back to me.
Three hours and 23 minutes’ of waiting. For nothing.
At least when I start this whole mess over tomorrow at 7 a.m., I’ll know to ask for Denise King.
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