I don’t know if you’ve tried to dial 411 lately. If you’re reading this in the sanctity of your own home, chances are you haven’t. If, on the other hand, you’re resting comfortably in some psychiatric ward, I have no doubt but that you have tried to find a number using that process, and suffered the fate worse than death.
Most people looking for a telephone number either rifle through the pages of a telephone directory or access an operator through that universal information number 555-5544. My fingers don’t work at all, so when that takes up more time than I have to give it, there is this beautiful 411.
411 is a shortcut to direct information. For people like me, it’s an absolute godsend. I can’t access a phone directory to get numbers, so all I need to do is hit 411 with one of my knuckles, get connected to a friendly operator and Bob’s your uncle.
Unfortunately, Bob isn’t your uncle anymore. Even if he is, that number is now doing nothing except ensuring your permanent residence with Lucifer and all his hot little buddies.
Attempting to find a number using 411 will cause angels and archangels to curse and swear, saints dead and alive to fall from grace, crackies to howl from Water Street to Cowan Heights and old ladies to drop stitches.
Bell Aliant has turned the whole thing into a schmozzle so frustrating, so exasperating and so completely without common sense or logic that you need to have your own psychiatrist standing by to help you with the inevitable result of trying to get a number.
It’s more than 99 per cent of us can manage on our own.
It used to be that this lovely universal female voice that answers callers from Nunavut to Cape Town would come on and ask what name you want and what area, and immediately you would be connected.
That was it. But not anymore. Now she wants to know if you want a residential number. If you say yes, she wants to know the last name. Just the last name, mind you. So, if you’re looking for Bob Smith in one of the numerous little communities around this province that are fortunate enough to have a dozen families of Smiths, the last name isn’t much help.
Aha, they have the solution to that. On what street do they live? If you’re trying to find Bob Smith in Waterloo, or in one of the numerous little communities that don’t have street names, oops. Even if they live in a larger community and you don’t know a street address, you are still crap out of luck.
But wait a minute! All is not lost. The Voice tells you to hang on (not in those words, of course) and an operator will be with you shortly. Sure enough, shortly, this voice emerges from a very long distance and asks for exactly the information you were trying to give The Voice a few moments before.
At least you assume that’s what she’s asking. Really, there’s no way to know for sure. She could be asking if you’d recommend Kibbles and Bits the next time you have your in-laws over for dinner. The accent is so thick there’s just no telling.
But you try.
Me: “I’m looking for a number for the town office in Springdale.”
She: “How do you spell it?”
She (breaking in): “We don’t have a listing for the town office in Springdale, British Columbia.” At least you think that’s what she said.
Me: “But it isn’t in British Columbia, it’s in Newfoundland.”
She: “What street is that on?”
Me: “What street is what on?”
Me: “Newfoundland isn’t an office, it’s a province in Canada.” Exasperation beginning to set in.
She: “Where in Canada is Newfoundland?” Exasperation sets in solid.
Me: “Can you tell me where you’re speaking to me from?”
She: “The Philippines.”
Now, before you go airy -fairy liberal on me and accuse me of being prejudiced against Filipinos and anyone who speaks on the phone to me in a foreign accent, allow me to protest in the strongest possible terms that such is not the case.
I just expect that the person on the other end of the line will be capable of understanding that Newfoundland is not a street in Calcutta.
Anyway, I try again and again and again. I finally give it up as a lost cause. The poor woman doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. So I hang up and dial information one more time.
Lo and behold, what do I get but another Filipino operator.
But this one seems marginally better. I had to repeat myself only three or four times to get her to understand that I needed to speak to the town office in Springdale, Newfoundland. She didn’t ask what street Newfoundland was on, which I thought was a giant step forward.
When finally she had it all correct, she came back to me and said that there was no such place in Newfoundland as Springdale.
I assured her that there was and stated my argument so strongly and cogently that finally she found it. And then she informed me there was no such place as a town office in Springdale, something of which the mayor, the council members and the citizens were totally unaware.
People like me used to rely on the 411 system to find numbers that we would have great difficulty finding any other way. Bell Aliant has so screwed up that system that unless I can find someone immediately available to look through a directory for me, I find it almost impossible to make a phone call when I need to.
And it’s not many households that have telephone directories for every town and city in Canada. The situation with the English as a second language speaking operators isn’t the exception; it’s almost the rule.
The telephone has now become almost totally inaccessible for me.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.