Roy Blount Jr. tells the story.
There was a kitchen fire. The lady of the house called the fire department.
“Hello, I’ve got a fire out here in my house.”
“Okay, where is it?”
“It’s in the kitchen.”
“I mean, how do we get to it?”
“Well, you come in off the back porch or through the living room, either one.”
“No, I mean, how do we get from where we are to where you are?”
“Ain’t you got one of them big red trucks?”
Well, I can do Blount one better.
A while back, while living in a different state, we discovered our phone (now it would be called a landline) was full of static. So my wife called the phone company and talked to a computer that asked a lot of questions, then told her they would fix it by Thursday.
Thursday came and the phone was still full of static.
She called again and talked to a computer that told her that a technician would come out on Saturday.
On Saturday no technician appeared.
So, she handed me the phone.
And being a dutiful husband, I called the phone company and talked to a computer that told me they would have it fixed by Tuesday.
And I hung up.
It was then that a voice within me said, “fight back.”
And I did.
I called the phone company.
The computer came on the line and asked: “What is the nature of your problem?”
I did not answer.
Then the computer said: “I did not understand your answer.”
I did not respond.
Then the computer said: “Would you speak more slowly?”
I did not speak at all.
I could tell the computer was getting frustrated. It is pretty hard on a voice-activated machine when there is no voice to activate it.
Then, as if by magic, a REAL PERSON came on the line.
I explained the static and that a technician was supposed to have come, but didn’t. Then I asked, polite as could be, “Could you give me the number of the technical center in my area so I can talk with someone, close by, who can send someone out to fix my phone?”
And the real person replied: “There is no one in your area you can talk with.”
And I asked: “Isn’t there someone who sends out the technicians?”
And the real person replied: “I send the work order to the technicians.”
And innocently I asked: “Will you please tell the technician who is supposed to fix my phone to call me?”
Phone company lady: “The technicians have no way to call you.”
And today, somewhere in the files of one of our great public utilities, among the conversations we are told were being “recorded for quality assurance and control,” is my voice saying: “No way to call me? Ain’t they got one of them little telephony things?”
They next day a technician appeared and when he left, he took the static with him.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.