Whatever happened to the “good old days”?

Miss Hawkinson?   An unfamiliar voice inquired over the phone.


 You came to register your vehicle today?


Well, we do not have the paperwork that we need to register your car so I must void the application.

 I brought everything that the dealership gave me and the woman who screens us before we get an appointment with someone to register said that my paperwork was all appropriate and necessary.  The woman who processed my application said that she did not need most of the items and gave them back to me.   I told her that the woman at the front desk told me that I DID need them.  At which point, she asked someone at a neighboring station, who confirmed that they were not necessary.  So she gave them back to me.

Well, I am sorry, but without the documents that we need, I will have to void you application. We need an initial odometer reading and the dealership didn’t sign the title over to you.

 Excuse me, I had a document with the initial odometer reading and your representative said that she did not need it because she would, and she did, check the odometer herself.

 Why don’t you tell me what you paperwork you have?

 Initial odometer reading…I thumbed through the various papers that had been returned to me.

We need that…

 Transfer of ownership…

 We need that too.  You needed  to give those to us.

I tried to.  She said you didn’t need them.  Can I scan them and send them to you?

 No, you’ll have to come back to the office now or I will be forced to void the application.

When do you close? 

 5 p.m.  (It was now 4:20 PM, and the office was 30” drive away.)

Will I have to stand in line again?

 No, just come to the front and ask for Jennifer.

 30 minutes later:

Jennifer told me to tell you to tell her when I arrive.

 Jennifer who?

 I don’t know, she just said to ask for Jennifer….

 “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of respective incompetence.”  (from the internet)

While this tale of governmental incompetence alone seems innocuous enough, it came at the end of a day where every single thing that I tried to do was fouled up in some way due to someone’s inability to do their job.

So… for example,

Hello, someone was supposed to come clean my AC between 3 and 5 today but it is now 4:45 and I haven’t heard from anyone.

Who are you?

Ani Hawkinson.  You scheduled a service for me today?

Uh….. oh…..yes…. (It was obvious from the hesitancy of her voice that she had completely forgotten our conversation the day before and had not put me into the schedule.)

One moment….   (several minutes later)….  Sean will be there in 20 minutes.

 Minutes later a phone call:   Hello, is this Miss Hawkinson?   This is Sean.  I was not told about your request earlier today.  I can still come today but I am over an hour away. 

The woman at your office said you were 20 minute away.

I don’t know why she said that.  I live in —— and it will take me more than an hour to get there.

 Let me speak to the mold remediation person and see if you can come tomorrow.  I will call you back. 

 Another phone call:    Try Sears, they can usually come on short notice….

Some time later, after booking service with Sears…….

Miss Hawkinson, this is Sears, we received your CC authorization form but we do not take American Express…

 But you had American Express listed as an option on the credit card authorization form that you sent me.

 Well, we don’t take American Express…  Do you have another credit card?

 …..Which you want me to take to my neighbor to print, sign, scan and send to me so I can send it to you.    No one seems to understand that when you are in the middle of a mold remediation, you don’t have things like printers and scanners standing at the ready.  It is just you and a completely empty house.

And then there was the interaction earlier in the morning with the person in charge of the mold remediation for the house that led to both of the preceding exchanges …

Did you arrange for the AC ducts to be cleaned?

Aren’t you doing that?   

No, we just do the house, you need to get someone to do the duct work at the time we do the house, and to recheck the AC.   The duct cleaning will be around $800-900.   In addition to the $11,000 you are charging me and whatever another AC company will charge, I thought.

You needed to tell me this sooner so that I could schedule it.

I know, for some reason I thought you had already done it….  Peter (the man who is cleaning my possessions) told me that he didn’t think you’d arranged it. 

 How could I arrange it if I didn’t know that I needed to arrange it?   I muttered to myself, and got back on the telephone.

On a different, but related front,  when I asked the woman who had been managing my property in my absence, and whom I had paid double her monthly rate so she would take extra time to water my plants and clean up an overflow spills she might make, why the grout and tiles were stained clear across the room from where the plants were, she declared

Well, if they overflowed while I was there, I mopped up.  But if it happened after I left, I had no way of knowing….

Now, plant-watering is not rocket science.  If you are being paid to be at the house for an hour, you water the plants when you arrive and any overflowing will easily be completed in the next 20 minutes, during which you would do your other house management duties, such as running the fans, flushing the toilets, leaving you plenty of time to clean up for yourself.   Her carelessness and dismissive attitude made me wonder whether she had been as vigilant as she could have been about the AC.  Probably not…  She has joined my growing mental list of incompetent service providers.

But the ultimate example of the Peter Principle concerns the mold infestation itself.

Even after TWO AC companies had pronounced the system running well and, based on this, the house had been completely cleaned, did I discover that, in fact, the system was NOT running as it should have been and, had I not decided to get a Nest thermostat so I could monitor the temp and humidity for overseas and had the first company I scheduled to do the work had not fouled up the appointment (exposing their incompetence before they arrived) forcing me to search for another company, and had the technician for the new company not been competent and committed, I would have gone off to Tajkistan thinking all was well, only to have the mold resurface….. and the $30,000 I spent to restore the house after the first episode would have been spent all for naught.

I found the problem!   Announced Mike, my AC savior, at 10:30 PM on a Sunday night after I called him in a panic because the AC wasn’t working after he had installed a Nest thermostat — a smart thermostat that I can regulate from anywhere in the world via the internet which shows me both the temperature and the humidity in my house in real time.  Interestingly enough, after I had called him, the system had started to cool and was already down to the requisite 72 degrees by the time he arrived.  But he had listened to me, and realized that, despite the temp of the house when he arrived, something was amiss.  So after having rechecked the interior unit, flashlight in hand, he groped his way around to examine the external part of the system.    He handed me a rather unremarkable cylindrical metal tube – the capacitor isn’t functioning.  This is what jumps starts the fan and the compressor; without it, they do not work properly.

THIS is the source of your mold!!!!

 You mean that neither company actually fixed the underlying cause of the mold?  

 No, they didn’t.  In fact, I can’t figure out why the AC was working at all after they serviced it, or why it was working tonight when I arrived.

Encountering incompetence in service settings is not unfamiliar to me, but I have never see SO much incompetence across so many service providers in such a short period of time. I am frightened with the realization that someone’s lack of skill or inattentiveness can so easily and so profoundly affect my physical – your house is uninhabitable — and financial security – mold remediation will cost $30-40,000.   This is the what anyone who has experienced malpractice in a medical setting has discovered.  Skill does matter.  As does pride in doing a good job.   It is clear that the “clinicians” who serviced my AC were incompetent and inattentive to their responsibilities and that this is what created the situation where mold could grow in my home.

You know Florida does not have any licensure for AC technicians, Mike informs me.  This means that anyone can walk off the street, do a week of training by shadowing someone else who probably didn’t have any proper training themselves, and then be released upon the unsuspecting public as a qualified AC repair person.

 So is this a case of AC maintenance negligence?   I ask.

 Of course it is, the company who serviced the AC in May should have tested the —-.  Then Sears, when they came in to check the AC as part of the mold remediation process, should have checked it. 

 Why didn’t you find it when you came yesterday to install the Nest thermostat?

 Because I knew that two other companies had already serviced it and that our maintenance team was scheduled to do another complete service once you signed up for our maintenance plan.  I was just here to install the Nest thermostat…

 He had, in fact, done much much more than that when he came  the day before, on a Saturday afternoon. He spent 2 hours cleaning out all the bacterial growth that the previous two companies had left in the AC unit itself, and  installing a UV light to prevent any future growth before he spent his last hour installing the new thermostat.    We had proudly taken before and after pictures of the bacterial scarring; it was disgusting.

 You were assuming that the other companies were competent?


 I set off for my Department of State orientation in Phoenix, confident that, finally the AC was fixed and I could monitor it from anywhere in the world.

A day later….

Mike, I just checked my thermostat at home and the temp and humidity are rising because the thermostat switched the thermostat to an AWAY mode, and the cooling mode is shut down to conserve energy.  I thought we turned off this function.

Well, there must be something else that we didn’t do.  They keep upgrading the system.  You’ll need to call Nest to find out how to shut off all the auto-functions so you can operate it manually….

Incompetent people and overly smart electronics.  Whatever happened to just living our lives and taking care of ourselves and each other and caring enough to learn how to do our jobs and then to do them well?

One thought on “Whatever happened to the “good old days”?

  1. Everything seems so difficult today. A simple phone call turns into an hour’s hold or you’re told they’ll call back and they don’t. Drive an hour and a half to Dartmouth-Hitchcock to spend 15 minutes with a doctor who can tell you nothing new! Find out another friend has died. Sometimes I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.

    On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 1:06 AM THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED wrote:

    > Ani posted: “Miss Hawkinson? An unfamiliar voice inquired over the > phone. Yes… You came to register your vehicle today? Yes… Well, we do not > have the paperwork that we need to register your car so I must void the > application. I brought everything t” >


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