Press 2 to End This Conversation.

My sister was a long distance telephone operator.  By the time she retired,  the company she worked for had instituted a policy whereby  the operator had to hear the caller’s question, answer it, and finish the call within 22 seconds or so.  There was no “or so” to it; there was a timer in front of  each operator.   My memory, however, isn’t exact, so it could have been 21, could have been 23.    You get the idea.   What we think sounds  like a brusque operator these days–if we’re lucky enough to get a live one–may be a stressed woman trying to keep her job.

I thought about that 22-second rule this weekend when I tried getting a long distance number on my cellphone on a trip from the coast.  I was looking for an 800- number, so I tried the free 800-information directory first, since I always remember that number.   Why is that?  I can tap out  that ten-digit number,  but the three-digit information  number  stumps me.    411? 114? 311? 113? 

It starts with a commercial.  So much for the 22-second rule.  I might  as well have been calling from Russia or India.  The automated systems can never understand me; Southern is not programmed into their system.    This time I was trying to reach a business, first name:  Charlotte, so it should have been simple, right?  I never got beyond the first name because it could not understand me.     Finally,  in frustration,  I handed Dearly Beloved the phone. 

“You tell it,”  I sighed.   DB has lived in nine or so states in the north, south, and midwest.  No one has accused him of  having an accent.   Didn’t matter.  The system couldn’t pick up what he was saying either.  That made me feel a little better.   There are times when misery does love company. . . y’all.  

With  Charlotte, Charlottesville, Chicago, Cheyenne,  and other soft CH’s out there,  you’d think it would be able to sensitive to that first syllable.  Not so much.    Not only did it not understand Dearly Beloved,  it hung up on him.   Didn’t switch him to a human,  didn’t say try again, just disconnected.

By then we were out of range and  had to wait until we reached another patch of cell tower civilization  before I could try the other  directory assistance number.   The cell phone service had pooped out about the time we were driving through a place called Northwest, NC,  an odd name for a community  in the way-down of southeastern NC,  not far from the coast.   Maybe that’s why they don’t have a cell tower;  the installers are looking for them in…oh, let’s guess…the northwestern part of the state?

Just to pull off the road here for a minute,  let’s talk street and town names.  I’d have to think twice about living in some places, just because of the name.    Stinking Creek Road?   Even when I really have to pee,  I’m not tempted to take that exit.  At least the the name tells you something, like Frank’s Cabinet Shop Road.   (Try filling that one in a contest entry blank though, huh?!)   But towns like  Lizard Lick?  Turkey?  Climax?  What were they thinking?  Perhaps one must to be born there to appreciate ’em.  I remember many years ago when the residents of a town called Spray had enough of it and voted to rename themselves.   They decided on  Eden.  Not very original, but after all those years of feeling hosed,  maybe they were thinking green.  

Back to my problem . . . .  I could not make myself understood to  the next directory assistance automaton either, but at least it dumped me out to a real person.    Relief!  I felt like I was in Eden. 

When I gave the human being  the city and state,  she asked, “Did you say Cheyenne, North Dakota?”   Holy crap!  I need to start doing the old Demosthenes bit and practice speaking with pebbles in my mouth.   Wait–that might break a tooth.  Maybe I’ll practice with a mouthful of M&M’s.   The second time  I enunciated oh so carefully,  but did not spell it,  just in case she was under the 22-second rule, too.  She understood  and connected  me, which was a good thing because I can never remember numbers long enough to dial them.  I need one hand on the written number, one on the phone.  No,  I did not wish for them to text the number to my phone, thank you.

At last!  No, make that… ALAS!  An robotic voice told me that the office I was calling had closed for the day and did I wish to leave a message with  their automated system.

Pass the M&M’s.


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