Remember when you could pick up the phone, dial 411 and get a real live person, someone like Ernestine from Laugh-In? Back in those pre-cell phone days. Pre-caller ID. Pre-answering machines. Prehistoric, if you ask today's younger generation.
Sometimes, I would call the operator just to find out the time or even the weather in another state.
And then there was that all important emergency call. When the line was busy for hours at your best friend's house and you just had to tell her about a new song you heard on the radio, you could have the operator cut in with an emergency. Now I know they can still do that, but with call waiting and text messaging, there probably isn't must need for that service. And most people probably don't know it still exists.
But what still does exist, is that need for human contact. I can't tell you how many times I've been stuck in a voicemail loop from hell.
With a cup of coffee at my side, a pen in hand ready to take down the needed information, I call, let's say, the Gas Company. After a few rings the computer voice begins: "Please press one for English, two for Spanish." I press one. The voice then says, "Hola Por favor, escuche con atención." Already, I sense that I'm in trouble.
I start over. I press one. "Hello, please listen carefully as our menu has changed. Press three if you are calling about your account balance. Press four if you are calling to add new services. Six if you'd like to speak to the sales department. Eight if you are experiencing a gas leak." I press three only to end up back at the beginning of the recording. "Please listen carefully as our menu has changed."
This time around I press eight. Obviously a leak warrants a real live person. Apparently not. "There are five callers in front of you. Press one if you'd like to continue holding. Press two if you are getting annoyed. Please press three if have to use the bathroom and are hanging up."
I bang on the "O" until my index finger begs for relief. Until my brain is screaming for a "real" person. "Please listen carefully as our menu has changed."
By the time I get a real person, my coffee is cold and I've forgotten who I was calling and what I was calling about!
Sometimes there just isn't ever a real voice. But those computer voices that repeat back to you what you've just said. Sort of. I say, "Housewares, please."
The voice says "Okay...Mickey Mouse Ears? Is that correct?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't get that."
And I don't get you! Most often I just hang up.
And while I'm at it, I have another pet peeve. Answering machines that sound as if the person is really picking up the phone. "Hi...how're you doing. We...."
I start talking "Hi. I'm good. How are you? I can't wait to see you tonight."
And then I hear the machine voice. "We can't come to phone right now."
So don't I feel like an idiot having just had a heartfelt conversation with an inanimate object?
I don't doubt that some day our answering machines will be programmed to carry on conversations. We can be at a bar in Mexico drinking margaritas while some voice activated computer back at home conducts our business for us.
I just hope that mine understands how frustrating voicemail can be. Press one if you agree with my sentiments.