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May 30, 1996

I don't know how many of you accepted Southwestern Bell's offer of free long-distance calls within the 405 area code as a way of satisfying the judgment against them, but I have not talked to anyone in that program who is satisfied with what they're getting.

The process of placing a call is cumbersome enough that it may have been conceived by a student of the Rube Goldberg School of Industrial Design. Just getting into the system is a time-consuming chore. Quite often, when you do raise an operator he or she seems to be speaking in a foreign tongue, or from a bad cellular phone in a barrel somewhere. By now, I have memorized enough portions of their spiel that I no longer have to try to understand everything he/she is saying, even if it is sotto voce. Remember when all telephone operators had that "voice with a smile?" Those were the good old days compared to the New Age of telephoning.

To reach your party, you must dial, press or recite thirty-one numbers, in addition to attempting dialogue with the operator. Occasional computer glitches in the phone system also add little complications, necessitating even longer delays. Often, by the time I reach my party, my temper has grown so short that I am less than cordial to the innocent and unsuspecting person on the other end of the, line. Several times I have given up trying to use the "free" system and reverted to the old, manual mode of placing a long distance call. Much faster and easier on the nerves.

Addressing complaints to Customer Service is of little or no value, except as a pressure escape valve. They're sorry about the problem, whatever it may be, but there really is nothing they can do to provide relief.

All in all, I'll be glad when the last of our "free minutes" has been reached and we can go back to the good old-fashioned normal way of electronic calling. Let the robotic equipment do the, dialing and leave the talking to us. Or better still, bring back our local exchange with the human operators that we could hear and understand, and even engage in a little chit-chat while waiting for our party to answer.

Tuesday's column included an inquiry from Rick Kukuk of Moore about some stories he used to hear from his greatgrandfather, Scott Wakeman. One of those yarns had to do with occasional visits to this area by the fabled Jesse James, the "Robin Hood of the Ozarks." I have no personal knowledge of that particular story, but on Feb. 12, 1936, The Perry Daily Journal had a front page article about a visit here by a man who said he was the real Jesse, James. That would have been 50 years after the widely reported death of the famed bank robber in 1886, so the validity of his claim may be questionable. Does anyone out there have any light to shed on this subject?

Warm weather months are upon us and all the parks and lakes in this area are becoming busier day by day. Family outings, fishing trips, group activities, and all the other pursuits of outdoor fun are beckoning more and more of us to leave the house, inhale some fresh air and enjoy the wonders of nature. We're lucky to have so many nearby great places in this area, particularly our own Perry Lake Park, southeast of town. It is probably the city's most-used park, but the roads there are beginning to show serious signs of age and neglect.

The park's blacktop roads are full of pot holes and some seem to be almost disappearing after several seasons of going, without major repairs. Roads are expensive but it seems a shame to let our beautiful park become rundown and shabby looking. This is not just my observation. A teenager called it to my attention, and it's nice to know that some of the community's young people are concerned about such matters. Maybe the city can find a way to institute a systematic repair and upkeep program in the park.