The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Calling directory assistance

Gianetta PalmerFor someone my age, mid 40s-ish and up, calling directory assistance was something you only did in cases of extreme emergency.

For starters, making a long distance phone call was not done on an everyday or anytime occasion. At my house we had one telephone and it hung on the wall in the kitchen. It must have had at least 50 feet of cord attached to it because you could take it outside, across the porch and almost to the end of the sidewalk. That was your only chance for privacy — at the end of that long cord. Of course, calls were never uninterrupted because someone was always running in and out the door or you were being yelled at to get off the phone because there was work to be done.

When mom was going to make a long distance call, we all gathered around and tried to pick up any good tidbits of information such as who was coming to visit, where we were going on the family vacation or who had gotten sick and died. Long distance was for important and emergency calls only — plus, it was downright expensive. And you never called the operator for any reason other than to ask what time it was after a long power outage.

My, how times have changed.

Nowadays, when I need to find a number, I normally use Whitepages.com — and usually with mixed results. You have to be careful what you click on, though, because a wrong click can send you on a search for every pervert within the tri-state area or even worse — a site where all of the Republican presidential candidates are playing “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the biggest bore of all?” (Everyone’s a winner!)

Through trial and lots of error I can usually find the number that I’m looking for, but this wasn’t the case recently. I finally decided — as a last resort — that I would call directory assistance. I remembered the number — it’s 1-the area code-555-1212; in my case it was 1-706-555-1212.

The following is my conversation:

Nationwide Directory Assistance (DA): “If this is a police or fire emergency, hang up and call 911. Say your city and state, like San Francisco, California or Chicago, Illinois.”

Middle-Aged Fat Woman (MAFW): “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Please say your city and state like San Francisco, California or Chicago, Illinois.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “Okay, did you say Augusta, Georgia?” (Um, no — it’s on the opposite side of the state.)

MAFW: (Yelling loudly into the phone) “NO! ROME, GEORGIA.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry; your call cannot be completed at this time. Goodbye.”

Now, I know I’ve acquired a Southern twang these last 30 or so years that I have lived south of the sweet tea line (Kentucky/Ohio border for those that don’t know). but it doesn’t have THAT much twang. I didn’t have a cold so I didn’t sound nasally; I decided to try it again and this time I used my radio voice and e-nun-ci-a-ted ev-er-y darn syl-la-ble.

It was the exact same results: The automated voice wanted to connect me to Augusta, Georgia. I don’t know, maybe it had a Caesar complex or something.

Not one to give up, I changed tactics and decided to call the operator directly. This I did reluctantly because somewhere in the back of my mind I could still see my mom holding the phone bill and shaking her head yelling: “Who’s been making long distance calls?” and “Who called the operator?” while all of us kids scattered to the far corners of the property.

The following is my conversation with the operator:

Operator: “Hello? Operator.”

MAFW: “Hi, I’ve been trying to get a number at directory assistance and it doesn’t seem to be working.”

Operator: “I’m sorry about that. It’s fully automated.”

MAFW: “I know. I kept asking for Rome, Georgia, and it kept giving me Augusta, Georgia. Those towns are on opposite sides of the state.”

Operator: “I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Did you hang up and try again?”

MAFW: “I tried several times, so that’s why I’m calling you.”

Operator: “It’s fully automated.” (For the third time.)

MAFW: “I see. Can you connect me to the number?”

Operator: “No, ma’am. It’s fully automated. Make sure when you get your bill that you weren’t charged for the attempt.”

MAFW: “What?” (Realization finally beginning to sink in.)

Operator: “Directory Assistance is fully automated. We no longer give out numbers.”

MAFW: “Even for a fee?”

Operator: “Not even for a fee. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

MAFW: “I need a number in Rome, Georgia.”

Operator: “I’m sorry. Have you tried Whitepages.com?”

— Gianetta Palmer

Gianetta Palmer lives in the North Georgia Mountains and is the author of Reflections On A Middle-Aged Fat Woman and Scrunchie-Fried. She recently finished her first novel and blogs regularly on her popular website. Visit her at www.middleagedfatwoman.com. Or on Twitter @mafatwoman.

Reflections of Erma