Suffice it to say I crave human interaction.
I take the subway generally because I enjoy watching people. I don’t have EZ pass because I actually like saying hello to toll takers. I go to the same Dunkin Donuts religiously because I like that they know I take a large with two cream and two sugar. Aside from making me look less bald (which is a miracle in itself), I’m seriously attached to Valerie who cuts my hair because I look forward to seeing her new tattoos or what new color her hair she is trying out. And if I see the older Indian gentlemen Saleem working the register at my Price Chopper, he’s so friendly and sincere I’ll stand in line for an extra few minutes just to say hello.
I used to feel much the same way about the 411. You are on the road, you get in a jam and 411 was there to help you out. Just hit those three friendly digits and all your questions could be answered.
Now in most instances the answers are of the automated variety – but over the years, when the computer was stymied by my thick Northeastern drawl, I would end up having quite lovely conversations with Beverley in Oklahoma, Sue in Illinois and Stu in Dallas all directory assistance operators who hooked me up in a time of need.
Operator: How can I help you
Me: How are you today?
Me: Thompson, Lake New York please
Operator: Thompson, Lake New York – Ok
Operator: What listing please?
Me: Some german beer place on the lake?
Operator: Checking german restaurant on Thompson Lake
Me: Maybe it’s Warners Lake
Operator: Checking german restaurant on Warner Lake
Operator: Do you have any more information?
Me: I promise you its the ONLY German sounding place in the whole area.
Operator: I have a Scholz-Zwicklbauer Hofbrau in East Berne
Me: Yes, Yes, Yes
Me: What’s your name?
Operator: Sue. Will that be all? I’ll connect you!
Me: Yes, Thank you Sue, you made my day.
The 411 operator was a life line. They were a human connection in an increasingly automated and de-personalized world. I’m sad to pass along the news there is no more 411 operator.
If you tried to find Zwicklbauer today you would be out of luck – and not just because it closed. (A tragedy for another day)
It seems 411 no longer has the default to a live operator. Which means if the program doesn’t understand your request, you are just screwed, abandoned to that smart ass Siri.
How do I know this – True Story.
Ding, dong, do
Computer: ATT Directory Assistance, name a city and state please
Me: Albany, New York
Me: The New York State Department of Transportation
Computer: The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.
Me: The NEW YOOORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSSSPOORTAAATION
Computer: Sorry not finding New York State Department of Transportation
Me: Ok, THHHHHE NEW YORK DEEE OH TEEE
Computer: New York State Department of Licensing and Real Estate
Me: NO NO NO
Me: Operator please
Computer: Sorry, goodbye.
I repeated this transaction several times, over and over with the same outcome.
Frustrated, befuddled I wondered what’s wrong? In the past when we ran into these roadblocks Sue, Stu and Beverly were there to ride to my rescue. Now I’m just being unceremoniously dropped with no recourse!!! And by the way, its not like I’m looking for a foreign sounding Zwicklbaur, I’m looking for the damn DOT – any DOT in the state would have actually sufficed.
So I was on the road and thought I would use my driving time to get to the bottom of this mystery. At first, I was flummoxed because normally my journey of inquiry would start with 411, but clearly that’s off the table. Leading me to wonder, “how do you find out what happened to 411 without 411”? I was now feeling like I was in an episode of Mr. Robot. Do I call 911? I’m tempted to do this because this truly feels like an emergency to me. The fact that I can’t talk to a person is disorienting. So finally, desperate, I land on my last resort 611. Anyone who has ever called 611, which is everyone who owns a mobile phone, knows you are in for the treatment. Call at your own risk and be prepared to be kept on hold, dropped, transferred and misunderstood — it’s pure torture — but I was on a mission.
I call 611, connect with a customer service representative and proceed to explain my dire circumstance and deep desire to speak with management. For the life of them, the 611 operators couldn’t grasp my issue. They were completely zwicklbauerd by this existential dilemma. Their primary training is to give you your money back for the lack of a proper connection on 411. I thank them and explain nicely, that this isn’t about the money, which didn’t quite compute for most of them. Fueled by my fear of a world without 411 operators I pushed on.
Finally, after three drops, two wrong connections and probably close to an hour on the phone I end up with a young man named Carlo. Nirvana! Carlo actually understands my issue and says “that’s news to me, I’m going to need to look it up.” A few minutes later he’s back on the line and say’s – “you are right!” (Thank God I think, at least I’m not crazy.) Apparently, in April, ATT (or whoever actually provides the info service) did away with Bev, Stu, Sue and the rest of my friends at 411. I ask Carlo to make a note to his boss that this is “bogus” and that I intend to “file a complaint” with everyone I can from the PSC to my elected officials. I then of course throw in the obligatory “and by the way it’s not like the cost of my cell service has gone down.”
Most importantly, I thank Carlo profusely for having finally provided me with the 411 on directory assistance. It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but it was an answer apparently only a human could provide.
And that’s where we’re are today. I’ll write my obligatory letters, file my impotent complaints secure in the knowledge that they will be ignored — chalked up to the price of progress. While I feel better that thanks to Carlo I got the 411 on the 411, I’m still wistful for the good old days of directory assistance and for Stu, Bev and Sue – the humans on the other end of the line.
Update: Since this post was shared, I’ve learned that Verizon still has live customer service operators. “Can you hear me now?” just took on a new meaning!