In the April elections in Rockford, voter turnout was at roughly twenty-two percent. This means that of the roughly 153,000 residents, only 33,600 registered voters exercised that right. With all of the negative press Rockford has been receiving of late, this is just beyond unconscionable. And this, also, leads me into my story. A story that, I hope, will encourage you all to reconsider your voice; reconsider voting, and what an amazing right it is to be permitted to do so.
Today, I called my credit card company. More specifically, I called the company who issued my seldom used, back-up credit card. A card that I cancelled last month and – was assured – that everything was closed upon, and back-credited for the weird stuff they had added, which is what had gotten my attention in the first place. I received a ‘past due notice’ in the mail today for one-half of the amount that was supposed to have been credited back based upon my prior conversation with one of their representatives. With statement in hand, I sighed deeply, went to my Zen place, and made the sort of call that I – and probably most of you – hate making. I’d sooner give myself a root canal with a dull icepick, frankly.
I was immediately presented with the ubiquitous tool of Satan himself in the form of the AnswerBot 12000 kajigger whose saccharine robotic voice manages to piss you off in about four seconds flat when you realize that half of the options don’t pertain to you, and the other half sound nonsensical, as you begin to wonder what in the hell they might even mean. Being the >AHEM< ‘patient’ dude that I am, I finger-smashed the magic ‘zero’ button (which is seldom, if ever, an option, but usually makes the human love connection happen much, much faster.)
And… success! A real-live, flesh and blood, probably non-vampire or werewolf, woman answered the phone. Her diction was impeccable, and I heard what I thought was a basal hint of a Jamaican accent. After the scripted ‘pleasantries’ I explained the situation in its banal entirety. Then, I silently rolled my eyes as the scripted hoo-ha continued to roll on. We spoke enough about the problem for her to finally isolate it, and she informed me that she would have to send a message to someone to get permission to fix it, and that it might take upwards of two minutes.
Sweet Lord in heaven, two whole minutes? Fine, I figured, whatever: just get me off this damn phone. The faster, the better.
I don’t even know why I said it, but I spoke the words, “I detect a hint of an accent, but I can’t quite nail it down.”
Suddenly, the robotic phone-minion veil dropped, and she genuinely chuckled, “What you hear is a proud 44-year old Jamaican-American woman, who can’t seem to shake all of her accent.”
I mentioned that Jamaican would have been my guess, but that I hadn’t wanted to be too presumptuous. Then, I said, “So, basically, you still have a slight Jamaican sound, but you don’t go out of your way to say ‘I and I have been in Babylon too long‘.” Not expecting, I’m sure, to hear something so potentially obscure from some white-bread, thirty-something, from the Midwest, she honestly laughed – I could HEAR her smiling.
“Oh, my goodness!” she said, still winding down the laugh, “No – not so much.”
It turned out that her mother had sent her here in 1975 – when she was 14 – to live with relatives. At the time, an immigrant had to remain in the states for five years before applying for citizenship. Her mother would visit when she could and, in fact, had come up with her initially before leaving shortly thereafter to return to Jamaica. Her mother, it turned out, was set on making sure that her little girl did everything ‘Just like a proper American.’
She proceeded to tell me that she was not permitted to speak ‘the patois’ in her mother’s presence until she was eighteen. Then – and only then – after having mastered proper English diction, was she permitted to use this ‘aberration’ in front of her mother.
And her mother’s insistent influence did not only include her speech. She recalled the time that she had sent her mother her first letter back home. She received a response and was excited because, “It was so fat! I thought, ‘There has to be some money in here, because there’s no way this can all be one letter!‘” She was half right. It wasn’t one letter, it was two: her mother’s response, as well as her original letter, completely corrected in red ink.
At this point, I’m laughing, and I’m visually imagining this, and she’s saying how important it was for her mother to know that she was becoming a proper American. I posited that, perhaps, she was a better one than many of them, and that – also perhaps – we were not the world’s best role models.
“Well… ,” she said politely, a smile in her voice. That one word spoke volumes that she was clearly too gracious to expound upon.
“You know,” she then said, as though it had just come back to her, “I remember a time when my mother had come for a visit, and we were having chicken for supper. In Jamaica, we were taught at the British School to clean a chicken bone with a knife and fork. So, we all sat down for supper, and I began to do as I had always done with knife and fork, and my mother was aghast.”
‘What are you doing!’, she said, ‘That’s not what they do in America! They use their fingers, here!’
“I thought this was ridiculous. Who would want to eat something so messy with their fingers? To bring the point home, my mother immediately took away my knife for the rest of the meal, and I did end up having to eat it with my fingers to please her.”
I forget my half of the conversation from here, honestly, as we transitioned into another story. I think that I said something – again – about Americans probably not being the best role models.
“Well, I’ll tell you this: I came here when I was fourteen. When I had been here five years, my mother sent me all the papers that I needed to apply for citizenship. She had them ready for that very day, so it would not be missed. And I was so excited that I would get to vote! I just had to find out where and when I could do so, and I could not wait. And I’ve not missed a single election since then – not one. You know? So many people around me say, ‘What does it matter? It’s only one vote – it doesn’t make a difference!‘ And I get so frustrated, and I say, ‘It does matter! It makes your voice heard! If you don’t vote for what you want, you cannot complain about what you get!’ Even if the person that I want does not win, at least I voted; at least I tried.
“I don’t think a lot of people here understand just how good they’ve got it – they can vote! They can be heard! And still so many do nothing! I don’t understand it.”
And, as quickly as it had begun, our conversation was at an end. The computer spat back the go-ahead, and she jumped back into the script, finishing with, “Is there anything else that I may do for you today?”
Here’s what I said, “You’ve already made me laugh, and told me an amazing story I’ll never forget. You’ve already done more for me than I ever expected. I’m proud to have spoken with you, and I wish more Americans were like you.”
In summation: BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE CALL EVER.
Why can’t we all find common ground and realize that we’re all just people? I will never speak to this amazing woman again, but I will always remember that conversation. And I will forever think of her each and every time that I exercise my right – my privilege – to vote.
Categories: Economy & Government