Friday, February 22, 2008

We Are All People Every Day

There I was, sitting in a cab again.

I have been taking cabs a lot lately...which is starting to run up my costs. It's more than a $20 cab ride to work, because it's so far away from where I live. That means that in essence, for part of my shift, I'm working for free.

I try to catch the bus but our bus system is probably the worst on this planet. You have to go right downtown if you want to be sure to catch the bus. If you try to catch it along one of its routes you never know when it will come. There are numbers on the signs that you can call that are supposed to give you time estimates based on the GPS systems in the buses of when the next bus will come. You punch in the bus stop code and then an automated voice is supposed to tell you when the next bus is coming by. It's a good idea in theory but the automated service only lasted about a week before the GPS systems in the buses stopped giving the system accurate times and the automated voice went haywire. It sounds like someone melted the voice machine tape (I realize most machines are digital these days. The voice became all garbled and incoherent. I called it once and it told me the next bus was in 72 minutes. Disheartened, I walked a little off only to see the bus whiz straight past me. On the other hand, when the bus is on time, sometimes it's full so all the bus driver can do is wave as they go by, and that's no fun for anybody (well, maybe it is for the bus driver).

So there I was this morning, sitting in an exceptional position: on the bus downtown. I was so impressed with myself that I had showered, shaved, made myself breakfast (it's usually just 50 cent coffee from the machine) walked downtown and made it on time. My day was going to be perfect, I thought, I was set for work. Then the bus pulled away, did a three sixty and headed in the opposite direction from that which I intended. So there I was morning, sitting on the WRONG bus. I pulled the cord to be let off and dialed the familiar taxi number.

Despite my best intentions and strongest resistance, there I was, at the whim of Red Top Taxi. The worst part is: I couldn't blame the buses. It was I that failed to read the outside of the bus before onloading. At least I wouldn't be late considering the taxi takes a mere 10 minutes compared to the bus' 45.

When I got to work one of my first calls lasted not the usual minute or so, but ten minutes! This is a sample of the caller's concerns:

"My question is I study in George Brown college for a year and a half, and I pay $85 for the application, I paid already, I pay thousands of dollars for school and now they ask me to take English assessment test. I am not beginner. I take many courses in English, all my courses in college in English. What is the reason for this? I pay $8 for my transcript, what is the reason? Now my transcript is not worth anything? Who protects us, that is my question. Who protects us? I think maybe I talk to this person, I talk to that person, it's all for make money. My question is why? Why is my question. You understand I already take college. I am not beginner. Why Centennial college ask me for English test?"

Her voice inflected up and down like a wild rollercoaster, and the questions all flooded my ears before she would give me a chance to respond. She went on and on. I explained that in order for the colleges not to request an assessment test, they need to see the grade 12 English mark, for which they need a high school transcript submitted. The caller obviously didn't want to submit the transcript on moral grounds, arguing that it would be impossible to get into college anyway without high school and therefore that the college should assume applicants like her had grade 12 English if they had submitted college transcripts. When I explained that the application process doesn't work that way; that the college needs to see the transcript as proof, the applicant's response was: "That is no good. I think that answer is no good" and started at the very beginning again. Eventually, I asked them if they would like me to have someone else give them the same answer that I did and they said "Yes". So that's what happened.

Reassuringly, the next applicant was a young man with a medical degree from Iraq who had provided all of his documents, including a landed immigrant card and his transcripts. I was proud to tell him that his international assessment of academic credentials was complete and that all he had to do now was wait for a response from the colleges. He was anxious to get online and check whether they had accepted him or not, right away.

People all come from different walks of life and this is what I see on a daily basis. There are those who argue with the system and seem to get nowhere, take me nowhere, make me feel nothing but frustration. There are others who through hard work and empathy, inspire me with their determination and excitement for new opportunities.

Diversity is what keeps me going though. I know that not every caller is going to be a treat to deal with, but we're all just people and the most I can do is make a consistent effort to do my best. I tell everyone to have a great day at the end of the call, no matter whether it started with them shouting at me or not. That way there's always the hope of improvement. So here's wishing you improve too. Hopefully your day turns out better than mine started. We are all everyday people. I'll credit the Smarties commercial for that. It's brilliant!


Blogger Phronk said...

That GPS system would be great if it worked. Better than the system here..."the bus will be there at 8:00, plus or minus 20 minutes. Then it will be there every 20 minutes. Plus or minus 20 minutes."

12:10 a.m.  
Blogger Devil Mood said...

If I didn't know better, I'd say you lived in Portugal. The buses here are crazy too. There's also a GPS system but you have to text a number with the code for the bus and it replies to your mobile. It worked but not always, so eventually I gave up.
Getting the wrong bus reminded me of a day I wanted to get home quickly because there was a HUGE football match on tv (the hugest of all time!) and I wanted to get home so badly I misread the bus number, ended up somewhere else, had to walk, get another bus, bah! :P

Your job sounds like my idea of hell, even though I recognize some advantages to it.

11:05 a.m.  
Blogger madamerouge said...

Wow, I had read some good things about Guelph's GPS-enabled transit system -- at least in comparison to the sad (but improving) state of the TTC's GPS initiatives. (Vehicles here are getting automated next-stop-announcements through GPS. I plan a blog post on it shortly.)

Oh, and I love that Smarties commercial.

10:39 p.m.  

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