State employee hears thousands of cranky calls
Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010 8:01 pm
NASHVILLE (AP) — Amanda Tidwell has a Smiley Face sticker on her computer at work. For sure, she needs to be in good humor.
Tidwell is the employee at the Tennessee Department of Transportation who listens to public comments on TDOT’s toll-free Record-A-Comment line. Or, more accurately, the Record-A-Complaint line.
Think you have a depressing, thankless job? She spends up to four hours daily listening to cranky calls about traffic tieups, potholes, the ever present orange cones and so forth on Tennessee’s lengthy interstate system and other roads. They are not just an inquisitive “Are we there yet?” from a little voice in the back seat.
“It’s just my job,” she said good naturedly about the abuse she endures. “I laugh at it.”
Calls into 1-877-SmartWay go into a computer and Tidwell plays every one back on a Windows Media Player, summarizes each in writing and forwards them to others in the department.
TDOT officials say callers can expect a response in five to seven days if they leave their names and phone numbers.
Diligently, day-after-day, she hears calls like this:
“You are useless state workers; (profanity) worthless!”
“Your road conditions is pretty worthless … You are being typical state workers and I about ran over like 100 people.”
For the record, Tidwell has listened to as many as 4,700 calls since January 2006.
Is she thick skinned?
“You have to be or it drives you up the wall.”
Tennessee has more than 1,100 miles of interstate highway. Interstates 75, 65 and 24 are main routes between much of the Midwest and points south of the state; I-40 is an east-west route connecting the two coasts.
That’s a lot of miles producing a lot of griping.
And how about the imposing steep grade around Monteagle on I-24? And fighting thousands of other impatient travelers trying to get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from I-40 on a busy weekend?
Tidwell hears it all when she clicks on her computer in her seventh floor office in downtown Nashville. Co-workers describe her as quiet, a bit bashful, efficient and rarely exasperated.
Some callers get creative. One two-minute call was comments about TDOT set to the song “Layla.”
“It was pretty funny,” Tidwell recalled.
A few — precious few — are complimentary.
Dr. David Clarke, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, says Tidwell’s job is enough to drive you crazy, so to speak.
“I’d say you need a lot of patience, and to some extent a good sense of humor. And skin that is very thick,” he said.
Irate drivers may not realize it, but Tennessee roads actually get high marks.
Over-the-road truckers have voted I-40 in the state the best stretch of highway in the country for four straight years. Additionally, Tennessee roads overall were rated third best in the country in the survey by Overdrive Magazine.
Tidwell herself commutes an hour each way to work. And yes, she gets delayed some times.
“It’s just part of driving,” she said.
When she gets home, it’s a different atmosphere than work.
“We don’t yell at our house.”
Published in The Messenger 6.11.10