Call centers keep statistics on everything, and there are more stats than baseball. Anything can be quantified by the software, which tallies every keystroke, every detail of every phone call, and records it all for playback if there's a mistake.

Who has the shortest average call? The longest?

Whose bookings have the most errors, or the least?

Whose calls get the most complaints, or the most compliments?

Everything at the call center comes down to statistics, and one of my 'leads', a nice Hawaiian lady named Neon, has thrice called my attention to the leaderboard — a huge computerized tally screen, reminiscent of the tote board at a racing track. All the day's call-takers are arranged in several spreadsheets, with your name in green if you're doing great in any category, red if you're doing shitty, yellow if you're in between great and shitty. "You're in green in blah and blah blah," Neon told me, "and you're number one in blah."

This was intended as encouragement, but I barely understand the categories I'm doing good in, and one of them's plain bullshit — after almost a month on the phone, I'm still at 100% for asking question 7, a confusing waste of time question, which the leaderboard says some call-takers skip asking half the time.

My call times are green, in the top five, which must be a quirk of fate, because I never rush callers, never will, never interrupt and sometimes enjoy it when callers tell meandering stories.

To Neon's compliment I replied, "Well, that's cool, thanks," and pretended to study the leaderboard for a few moments, though mostly it bewilders me.

Being no dummy, I didn't tell her that I don't care about my stats. Let me know, please, when I book a ride to the wrong address or at the wrong time, or anything that matters. Everything else will take care of itself. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Tuesday was a rough day at the office. Had too many too obnoxious callers, but after getting in trouble for once being rude, I've mastered becoming even more polite when callers are nasty — it pisses 'em off more than if I get grumpy.

What pissed me off was, after I'd made a caller's requested changes to their booking, I was told I'd used the wrong method for changing/rebooking the ride.

Turns out that for Vector's statistics about everything, rides are 'owned' by the call-taker who originally made each booking. Therefore, when callers ask us to edit a booking's destination, pickup time, dropoff time, etc, we must never never never use the "edit booking" function. Instead, we're supposed to cancel the booking entirely, and ask all eleven questions again, to create a new booking from scratch. 

Well, two of my 'lead' call-takers took me aside and stood together to sternly lecture me for violating this rule, which I'd never known was a rule. As the scolding went on, I said something clever like, "Who'da thunk there's this button on the screen, 'edit booking', which must never be used to edit bookings?"

That led to several more recitations of, "Don't use 'edit bookings' to edit bookings," and I got sorta testy.

"Telling me once there's a rule is usually enough, and telling me about the rule before I've broken it would be a good idea. Telling me ten times in five minutes that I've broken this rule y'all never told me about is, you know, nine more tellings than I need."

Then I laughed convincingly, so they'd incorrectly know I wasn't feeling psychotic at the moment, and walked back to my desk to resume taking calls.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

After every shift, overnight and even the next morning I'm still exhausted.

I'm developing a nasty cough, not from sickness but from talking for eight hours and 45 minutes every day. In life I'm a quiet guy, a recluse, and frequently go several days without talking to anyone. Talking all day, for me, is ghastly.

And I've never liked phones. My phone's ringer has been off (and so's 'vibrate', and so's 'leave a message') ever since my wife died five years ago — hers were the only phone calls I wanted. Probably 90% of my lifetime's phone usage has been in January of 2024, taking calls for Vector.

Jeez, why did I take this job? 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

At first it was thrilling, like a close basketball game every day — tense, and intense. Most calls and callers are blah, and most of the ones that aren't blah are very nice people being very nice, but then the next caller demands impossible rides ("Get me from Southcenter to Northgate in half an hour, damn it"), or refuses to give information ("Why do you need to know where I'm going?"), or changes their mind about where they're going during the call, after their rides have already been booked...

Callers often want itinerary changes for rides they'd previously booked (but do not use 'edit booking'!), or need emergency itinerary changes when they've missed their bus and they're stranded.

Some callers are angry about yesterday's ride where something went wrong, or wondering where today's bus is, and several times daily there are catastrophe calls, like, "The driver dropped me off at the wrong address, and I'm blind and don't even know where I am."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Boss tells me I'm great with callers, that I sound friendly and competent. Inside, though, I'm sweaty and anxious and a wreck by the end of my shift. If there are two difficult calls in a row, I'll be triple-uptight for the rest of the afternoon.

It's adrenaline and a racing heartbeat, all day every day. There are tiny ten-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon — 'breaks' so short they're not relaxing at all, and I'd honestly prefer to keep taking calls. At lunch I'm too keyed up to eat, but the office is in Chinatown, so I usually walk to an Asian grocery and buy something Asiany for dinner.

Like I said, the job was thrilling when I started, and a month later it's still thrilling. I'd hoped it would eventually become routine, but instead it seems to get more thrilling, the longer I do it.

I don't want a job that's thrilling, every day, for months, years, maybe the rest of my life (since I'll never be able to retire). Don't want to have a fatal heart attack while dealing with one of our repeat-asswipe callers.

So I gave two weeks' notice last Monday.

The Boss tried to talk me out of it, said she'd started as a call-taker and knew the horrors well, and promised that soon it gets better.

Thing is, the only way it could get better for me is if I stop giving a damn about the callers. "Thank you for calling Vector. This is Doug. Fuck off." A few of my co-workers are like that, but that's not going to be me, so next Sunday will be my last day at this job… if I survive it that long.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Next comes some decompression time. I won't be looking for work immediately. 

Vector pays fairly well and I live cheap, so March's rent is already in the bank, and by the time I'm unemployed I'll have April's rent, maybe May's. 

Accidentally, this seems to be my new strategy — instead of steady work, I decide I don't like job after job, quit and sit in the recliner for a while. First I quit driving the bus, then the Post Office, then the insurance company, now Vector

With no big expenses and no health issues, I might be able to survive working six months out of the year. Call it 'semi-retirement'.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I'm deep in my sixties, though, so my ongoing lack of health insurance will probably be the death of me. The state won't let me on Medicaid unless I fill out a stack of forms and verify every detail of my poverty, an invasion of privacy and pain in the arse I'm refusing to endure until it becomes medically necessary.

All my life, I have rarely been a responsible adult about most things, and I'm not about to start.



  1. Doug, I last looked for a job before we entered the Information Economy, so I'm not sure how resumes work these days. Peeps like me aren't doing much hiring now, so your next potential employer might not look at four professional jobs in a year as a plus. Hell, I'd interview you just for the stories, but a hiring manager or HR department might wonder about the job jumping.

    You might want to have a story ready just in case. The best I could do would be, "I was doing a story for Life Magazine about job hopping, and they went broke before I did." Hell, you're a writer -- you can do better than that, but I'm wondering if there's a way to leave one or two of those jobs off the next resume.

    Just thinking ahead.


    1. My résumé says my last job was with the insurance company, in Wisconsin, not on Mercer Island. Only one place has asaped about my two years of unemployment, easily explained away with "I had savings." Nobody's pushed back on that yet.

  2. Sorry to hear that you're quitting, but it does sound kinda crazy working there, now that you've provided more details.

    - Zeke Krahlin

    1. I am *so very much* looking forward to the job being finished.

  3. You could work even less if you sell your plasma. Don't know if you've ever done it or not, but it's only a mildly uncomfortable procedure, and you can make several hundred dollars a month. BONUS: Plasma Donation Centers are filled with wonderful oddballs, great source material for stories/blog entries, etc.

    1. Googled it, and was told I'll need "Proof of Social Security (Example: Social Security card)", which I do not have, and also "Proof of residency/current lease, which I also do not have.

  4. While you're at it, why not sell your left testicle and that part of your brain that determines whether a batted ball is fair or foul. Unless your legal team can come up with some kind of rental agreement.


    1. Out of all three, though, the left one's my favorite testicle.


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