You CAN Still Get There from Here

(But it’s a long way around)



Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

“Progress might have been all right once,” the comic-poet Ogden Nash observed, “but it has gone on too long.” There has been a lot of progress in the communications industry since Mr. Nash left this vale of tears in 1971, and innovations in telephone technology are now so advanced that if you dial the number for your local hardware store, you can be listening to a recorded message in Pittsburgh, Pakistan or Bangladesh in no time, with the possibility of having no more than a 15-minute wait before a customer service representative will be “right with you.” Because “your call is important to us.”

Some years ago, I had occasion to call a public relations executive with the telephone company, whose executive offices were about two good Tiger Woods tee shots from where I sat. When I finally got to speak to a “live” receptionist in “real time,” I learned that to speak with Mr. X I would first to talk to Mr. Y, who was at a different corporate office. “And where is that?’  I asked. “King of Prussia, Pennsylvania?”

“No, it’s actually in New Jersey.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “We’re both in Manchester, New Hampshire. His office is less than half a mile from where I am and in order to get in touch with him, I have to start in New Jersey?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“And you guys are in the communications business.”

“Certainly.”

Well, I guess that’s progress. Or something.

Way back in the last century  —  around 1990 or thereabouts  — I used to walk over to Public Service Company of New Hampshire, then located in Hampshire Plaza, aka The Black Tower, on Elm Street in Manchester. PSNH back then had an office on the ground floor where, if you wanted to save the time or the price of a stamp, you could pay your electric bill in person. They even permitted me to pay in cash, which, as Yogi Berra said, is just as good as money. At least it was back then, in the 20th century.

"And you guys are in the communications business?"

More than half of the company’s customers now pay their bills in cyberspace and PSNH, like a lot of companies, decided it would be better to outsource the “snail mail” collections. So in May they began the transition by shipping the mail out to a company called Trans Centra in Dallas, Texas, where the payments are collected, processed, posted and whatever else they do with them. But as many as 10,000 of the mailings didn’t get there because, well, the Post Office, which used to be able to deliver mail with nothing more than a name, address and postage paid on it is now so technologically advanced that it requires a bar code so it can move the mail faster. Or not at all, it seems. Someone at the Manchester Post Office told the Union Leader that the mix-up occurred because the company used the wrong bar code “or something like that.”    

The benefit to the customers from all these improvements should be obvious. For the same 45 cents, our payments go farther and see places where they’ve never been before. And if, like Charlie on the MTA, they neither reach their destination nor return, well …

Progress happens.

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