Anger in America

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

-Bill Gates

We have been back for five weeks. It has been wonderful to see how the grandchildren have grown. They acted as if they were happy to see us. I have noticed a quantum leap forward on how they behave. I can persuade them to do things my way, without bribery.

The move was far more traumatic than I expected, despite the excellent service the movers provided. Our new apartment is smaller; just one level; no 18-foot ceilings. What a nice, elderly couple should move to.

We are getting used to the American way of doing things. Show up on time and get done with your work quickly. The absence of angry political tweets around the clock is much welcomed, but we are still concerned about what feels like a nation that has had enough. People drive fast and recklessly. Even though the weather has warmed up, there are very few people walking about. Maybe they work from home now. To me it feels as if we have lost the ability to interact socially in a pleasant way.

I will recount three instances that have unnerved me; enough to make me feel that maybe our institutions are responsible for the alienation we experience.

First: the vaccines. The Missouri governor oversaw assigning how many doses went where. The newspaper printed an article that said that the rural counties were getting many more doses, per capita, than the urban areas. All of us know that the governor is a farmer, and that his support comes mostly from rural counties. The Saint Louis physician in charge of the pandemic response for the city complained, vigorously, during a newspaper interview. The next day the governor bitterly denied that he was acting in bad faith. But the day after he sharply increased the number of vaccine doses allotted to Saint Louis. A week later the paper published reports of thousands of doses assigned to rural counties that had to be thrown away because they were not used, or mishandled.

This muddled vaccine rollout had several consequences. Many people in Saint Louis found empty vaccine slots in rural Missouri and drove long distances to get jabbed. We were two of those people. We drove 100 miles to get our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. We had heard many cries of protest from our liberal friends, saying that we were “stealing” from less privileged neighbors. Once the story of the wasted doses came about, that gripe was shot down, with a huge thud.

We did not want to drive another 100 miles (one way) to get a second dose. We knew that vaccine allotment for the city had nearly doubled. We checked with a local hospital. They had hundreds of open slots for first dose appointments.

I drove to the inoculation center. Why drive? I could not find a phone number to call, and the computer refused to allow me to change the “first dose” tab to “second dose.”

I walked up to the lady at the reception area.

“Have you had any fever, cough, shortness of breath…”

I waved my hands, as if protesting.

I just wanted to ask…

“Any nausea, diarrhea, loss of taste…”

I waved my hands, more vigorously this time. She continued before I could talk.

“Have you had any allergic reaction…”

I had to raise my voice, which made me feel terrible. She looked at me as if I were mentally deficient. Why else was I in the vaccine line?

I explained my problem. I wanted to schedule a second dose, on a day where the Pfizer vaccine was being given.

She gave me another strange look. Her workmate joined in.

“We can give you a number to call.”

I do not want a number. I just want you to go to the computer and put my name in.

“I can’t do that. You need to call this number.”

I took two steps back. I called the number. I explained my situation to the man who answered.

“I cannot schedule you for a second vaccine if you have not had the first one with us.”

This makes no sense. It is the same vaccine. You have dozens of open slots.

“I am sorry. You have to go back to the rural hospital that gave it to you.”

I tried to schedule that visit. They do not have a vaccination site open three weeks from the first one. I want my second dose given on time.

“Call this other number. They can help you. Do you have a pen handy?”

Sure I do. I never leave my house without taking a pen with me. You never know when someone wants to give you a vaccine number to write down.

Here I was, a nice, sedate, admired physician, behaving like an angry caged animal. I stopped the call. I scheduled a vaccine appointment online. I lied; I said that it would be the first one. There were sixty open slots for the site: four days from now.

Politicians worry that people many people may not sign up for the vaccine. They just have not made it clear to all the underlings that it should be EASY to get an appointment.

Second: The change of address forms. One never has any idea of how important it is for the world to know that one has moved. Until one realizes that one needs to get one’s bills on time, and that one needs to vote, and sign up with the county library, and be able to use the communal swimming pool and tennis courts.

I went to my bank first. I asked them to change my address.

“We cannot do that. We need a utility bill, or credit card, or homeowner’s insurance.”

I get all my bills online. I do not own this place; I rent. The utilities, with one exception, are included, and it will be a month before I get a bill from them.

“Sorry. I can’t help you. Bring us a bill.”

I figured that the license bureau was the key. Once you have an updated driver’s license, people tend to accept it as proof of residence. I was lucky: the DMV building is three blocks away. I walked in and took a number. I was asked to go outside to wait. It was a beautiful Spring day. Why not?

The employee came outside.

“You can renew your license now. We can also update your voter registration. If you travel a lot, you may want to apply for the REAL ID license.”

I had heard about REAL ID. After October 1, a plain “old” license will not get you on a plane, or a federal courthouse, or a nuclear power plant.

That is great. I want the REAL ID.

She handed me a sheet of paper. Some documents are required in order to get a REAL ID.

A valid passport

Your Social Security card, or a W2 form

Two current pieces of mail with your address

I have a valid passport, and a SS card (which is 60 years old and looks it). I had a cable TV bill, and the auto insurance company had just updated my address. I was set.

I waited for 2 ½ hours. It takes the clerks twice as long to process these requests. My turn came thirty minutes before closing time. I triumphantly handed my documents over.

She looked at the cable bill. Her nose turned up.

“I cannot take this. It is not a bill.”

But it is. It just says that I owe nothing. But it has my name and address.

“Let me talk to my supervisor.”

She came back two minutes later.

“This is printed from a computer. This is not a bill. I cannot help you.”

Nobody gets bills in the mail anymore. Of course I had to print it!

“I know. We run into this situation a lot. But we still cannot take it. I will take your money. Here is your passport back. When you get a mailed document, I will process you without a wait.”

I was beyond anger. Close to tears. I walked outside. I called Phyllis.

Please go to my computer. Print the last credit card bill. Make sure that you do it in color, not black and white. Please bring it to me.

That she did. I walked back into the license office. I waved the bill. The lady took care of me after she was done with her current customer. She accepted the printed bill without a second thought.

“We are almost done. Please review this information to make sure it is accurate.”

I went over the computer screen. It had my old address.

I have moved. I need the new address in.

“I did not know.”

A huge part of me wants to say Yes you did; we just talked about this; you were going to change my voter registration…

I am sorry. I thought that I had told you.

She changed my address. She handed me my documents back. As I stood up, I asked her:

What do poor people do? They have no documents. They have no credit cards. How are they supposed to manage? Does this mean they cannot enter a courthouse, ever?

She nodded and shrugged her shoulders.

“We run into that a lot.”

I spent three hours in that place. Many people left angry. Probably to get into their cars and try to road rage the first driver they encounter.

Third: the cell phone bill. In Spain we had one cell phone. Unlimited everything for a bit less than $40 a month. We were paying $200 here. I called a different provider. They would save me at least $100 a month.

I called my provider. I wanted to unlock our phones and cancel our service (I later found out all I had to do was unlock the phones, but anyway…). I called the number that I found on Google.

Five-minute wait. Then a transfer to another number. Then they hung up on me as soon as I said, “cancel service.” Another call. Another five minutes. This time the lady said, “I cannot hear you” and hung up. The third try worked well.

There was no place online to allow for stopping service. This is a multibillion-dollar corporation. They know they are being dishonest. They do not care, and they have no government agency forcing them to behave well.

So why is everyone so angry?

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