The 20th Century, it can be argued, was the worker’s shining moment. Not so the 21st! Our notions about hard work and a good life have disconnected.

I worry about the economy. Will our lost jobs come back? Probably not.

The bad economy is one reason jobs have left–but it’s not the only reason. There just aren’t as many reasons to employ people when you can get machines or even the customer himself to do the work for you.

Look at all the jobs that used to exist but no longer do. There are the obvious customer service agents replaced by voice prompts and recognition. Checkouts at the supermarket and hardware store now self serve. The gas station too. Monday, my co-worker Ann Nyberg showed me a photo of a ‘helpless’ Dunkin’ Donuts inside a grocery store.

No one wants employees if they can avoid them us. We are a pain in the ass. We are expensive, temperamental and prone to break down. We form unions. We kvetch. We need to be managed.

Businesses like Google where the cashflow overwhelms the staffing requirements are the goal.

When was the last time you heard an entrepreneur with a business model that was labor intensive? It’s been a long time.

What was a department store is now Wal*Mart, Target or BJs. There’s a fraction of the staff. And we’re only seeing the front of the store. Every economy of scale is a reason for fewer people.

The 20th Century might have been the century of the employee, a time when the worker did well. The 20th Century, it can be argued, was the worker’s shining moment.

Not so the 21st! Our notions about hard work and a good life have disconnected.

In the past as labor saving devices came on line workers and their bosses benefited. Now only companies benefit from increased productivity. And, the job market is so unbalanced there is no leverage for most workers. It’s tough to see the playing field evened for a long time to come.

No Credit Where Credit Is Due – Southwest VISA Again

Yesterday I got a call from a woman at Chase Bank. They’re the folks who provide my one and only credit card. She was calling because my complaint to the Comptroller of the Currency hit their doorstep.

She didn’t call to offer a solution or explain what was going on. She just called to say they had gotten the complaint and would respond in 7-14 days.

This is probably a legal requirement. No extra points for customer service here.

My Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa has been the topic of many posts here, because it has been such a frustrating experience. Here’s a link to my last screed.

Like I said, I got so upset I wrote the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that controls banks with “NA” at the end of their name.

So, yesterday I get their call and tonight… tonight they turn down the credit card again!

What a suspicious purchase. I was buying gas at a gas station I go to three or four times a month. I was using a Mobil Speedpass which is tied to the card.

I called the number on the back of the credit card and listened as an automated voice asked me if I recognized purchases, some going back two months, without giving me the name of the merchant… only the type of store in “credit cardese.”

Among the purchases they queried was Steffie’s Ipod. Whoa! That’s another purchase they turned down and had me call on in June. Good going. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

And, if there was a question about a June purchase, why not ask me in… June? The fact that I’ve already paid for that purchase without question never entered into their equation.

Oh, the gas station I was at – they had previously declined my card there too!

My account is perfect. My reputation is soiled.

As I walked into the gas station, the clerk addressed me by my first name and then told me they had refused the charge. Will he go home and tell people about Geoff Fox the deadbeat? I hope not, but it’s possible.

What if this would have happened in Birmingham last week?

Earlier this evening I wrote about Southwest Airlines’ policy change for frequent flier miles. I really don’t want to change my airline/credit card allegiance. I know tonight’s problem is 100% the bank and not Southwest. Still, it’s very frustrating.

My sense is, no one at the bank really cares. The sad truth is, in 2005 it’s too expensive to worry about customers on an individual basis. I’m much less of a problem when viewed in the aggregate.

Cherry Hill and Back

We had to make a rush trip to Cherry Hill, NJ earlier today. Google’s new maps program says the round trip was about 354 miles. That seems right. It’s about the limit for driving and getting anything accomplished before heading home.

Luckily for us traffic wasn’t too bad. We missed morning rush going into New York City and afternoon drive coming home. The only real snag on the trip was here in Connecticut, around 6:30 PM, traveling through Fairfield County.

I have no idea why went went slowly… but it did. It was worse than anything we saw on the Cross Bronx Expressway, if you can believe that.

I would guess a large park of our traffic free passage had to do with the advent of E-ZPass. Having this RFID tag in your car eliminates making the trip unnoticed, but it sure does speed things along.

The toll booths near Meadowlands Stadium were always a choke point. With E-ZPass we breezed through at highway speed. Same thing for the George Washington Bridge.

My only concern was a cryptic message at NJ Turnpike exit 4, when we saw a sign that told us to go – though our tag hadn’t been read. Honest officer, it was on the windshield.

It will be a surprise to find out what the toll actually is. I have no idea. It wasn’t posted anywhere.

This is a trip we used to make all the time while Helaine’s parents were alive.

I remember stopping on the Jersey Turnpike, driving our Mazda 929. When Steffie was an infant, the 929’s trunk made the perfect open air changing table.

The rest areas are still named after famous New Jersey residents like Joyce Kilmer, Vince Lombardi, Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Edison.

Is Grover Cleveland’s family proud to know that this former president’s most conspicuous achievement in the 21st century is having people mention his name when they need to make a pit stop&#185? It would probably be defensible if he were still on the $1000 bill.

Speaking of the rest areas, it looks like they’ve been rebuilt, adding additional outward ugliness to what were ugly buildings to begin with. There are flowers near the sink (and loud music) in the mens room. The restaurant section is a medley of your favorite fast food joints in a food court arrangement.

New Jersey continues to lead the nation in “Full Service” gas stations. From a National Review commentary:

It is illegal to self-pump in New Jersey. You must have a gas-station professional pump your gas and ring up your purchase. This might have made some sense in 1949 when the law was passed and when most of the population still smoked and stupidity could conceivably kill at the gas station. But times have changed and pumping gas is a safe activity that almost everyone but the handicapped can perform with the greatest of ease. Pay-at-the-pump technology is standard at gas stations coast to coast. Motorists fly through stations with the breathtaking efficiency only Americans can take for granted. That is, except in New Jersey and Oregon

I’m Upset With First USA Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa

I am upset, again, at the way my credit card account is handled. This afternoon the card was denied for a purchase. Of course the credit card is totally current and has never been late&#185.

The battery on my car died last week (a story in itself). After six years it’s probably given me all I could ask for, so I had Steve at the Exxon station get me a new one. He installed it today and I gave him my First USA Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards VISA to pay. Perfect. No problem. Right through.

We stood around and schmoozed for a while and then, before leaving, I realized I might as well fill the car with gas. So I drove it to the pump, ran the card and… nothing. In fact we tried it three times and then tried running it through the reader in the gas station’s office. DENIED.

You tell me, what impression would you have of someone who handed you a credit card that had been stopped?

This time (this is not the first, second or third time this has happened) I had the presence of mind to pick up my cellphone and call First USA. After entering the account number, part of my mother’s maiden name and a bit of my Social Security number, a computer started reading off our recent purchases – asking me if I recognized them.

I did recognize most, but this is an account used by both Helaine and me. I had some idea what she had bought recently, but didn’t specifically recognize one purchase that was probably OK.

The problem in dealing with a machine like this is there are no gray areas. I couldn’t ask for more information on purchase 4. It was either yea or nay. I said yea.

It turns out going through this purchasing quiz was enough to restart the card, but First USA didn’t tell me that! I had to speak to an operator to make that discovery. She also told me this hold was caused by my unusual pattern of purchases.

I see their point. What could be more suspicious than buying a battery and gasoline at a gas station that I have gone to at least once or twice a week for more than a decade? How could I have been so foolish?

Astute readers might remember me kvetching about this card in the past. Then why, you might ask, am I still with it… it’s not like there’s a shortage of VISA issuers. The answer is Southwest Airlines and their mileage program. This might be the best free flight program around, and I’ve became a major Southwest fan.

However, if Southwest decided to move their business to a different card issuer tomorrow, I would shed no tears.

&#185 – With Helaine running the finances we haven’t gotten a late notice for anything… anything… in well over 20 years. When I was single and ran my own financial life… well, it just wasn’t pretty.