Sorry, wrong number

Ed Smith
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“’Ello, ’statue?”

You may not remember that classic salutation from the days when telephones were used to talk to people.

The standard response was, “Yis, b’y, stats me. Wa sup?”

One does not speak with another live person in today’s modern telephone system. One pushes buttons. Today I attempted to call the Motor Vehicle Registration office with some questions regarding the licensing of my van. You have no doubt heard similar sad stories before. Here’s another. Nothing exaggerated, nothing added.

I dialed 411, like you would, and asked for Motor Vehicle Registration, Grand Falls-Windsor.

I have to pause here and tell you something completely different. It’s related, because it has to do with the wonderful world of high technology. You two or three who follow this column regularly already know that I use a voice-activated program to print text. Sometimes that text doesn’t accurately print what I say. Sometimes it’s totally out in left field. I don’t know what I actually said two minutes ago, but here’s what appeared on the screen.

“Blot out our sin before she calls she is an assistant to the last Hutcherson.”

If there’s someone out there named Hutcherson, and who regards himself/herself as “the last Hutcherson,” I’d like to know about it. Right now I’m thinking “she” is the Angel of Death. On the other hand, it sounds like a great title for my next book, “The Last Hutcherson.”

The operator gave me an 800 number which I dutifully called and got a disembodied voice in Ottawa or Okinawa or Ohio or somewhere. It gave me a series of buttons to push if I wanted English, and if I wanted to ask about this or that or the other thing, and finally a button to push for the appropriate province.

Pushed button

Newfoundland and Labrador being the appropriate province for me, I pushed that button.

I was given a series of numbers: for Mount Pearl, Carbonear, Clarenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook, Labrador City and several others. It took three tries to remember the number for Grand Falls-Windsor, but finally I got it, thank God, and dialled it. It rang a couple of times and then another disembodied voice broke in.

“This number has been disconnected. Please call your operator.”

So I called the operator and got another voice. I asked for the same office and this time got a different number. Aha, I said, that was the problem. So I dialled the latest number and got another disembodied voice.

“This is the driver examination office. …”

To hell with Grand Falls-Windsor, I thought. I’ll go to the Corner Brook office. Almost as close, anyway. So I begin the process once more. Dial 411, get the 800 number, push all the buttons, choose Newfoundland and Labrador, ask for the motor registration office, get a list of all the numbers and dial the Corner Brook office.

The phone rings a couple of times and I hear another electronic approximation of a human voice.

“This number has been discontinued. Please call your operator.”

It takes a while to recover one’s equilibrium after that, but finally I do and call the operator once more, ask for the Corner Brook number and once again they give me a different number. That must be it! Again, I dial the new number. You get three guesses at what I heard.

“This is the driver examination office. …”

After the air in the room has turned from a royal blue to a pale winter sky blue, I decide to go directly to the source. I grab my $200 and zip past Go (for you Monopoly players), punch 0 and wait. Then I hear it — the lovely sound of a human voice. She listens patiently for 10 minutes while I explain my problem.

“Just a minute,” she says brightly. “Try this one.”

Her voice is so positive that I have no doubt this is the end of my telephone odyssey. I ring the number with rising spirits.

“This,” says a now familiar voice, “is the driver examination office.”

There should be a blank space between that last line and the next one so readers can imagine for themselves those words that should not appear in a family newspaper. Even when one is alone, as I am at this point, one normally runs out of breath after a prolonged rant. No matter how much one wants to continue calling down fire and brimstone on everyone involved in this totally ridiculous snafu, one has to cease and desist after so long, just as one must ultimately and inevitably pass on to another world — hopefully one without telephones.

When the end of the rant comes, one begins to reason again. So I do, but despite my attempt at being reasonable I inexplicably do the totally unreasonable thing. I call the operator again. As usual, it’s a different operator, but one just as bright and just as optimistic. They are all unfailingly polite.

She listens patiently for the 15 minutes it takes for me to tell my story. I swear at the end of it there are tears in her voice. I establish instant rapport with her when she finally responds.

“Something is really screwed up somewhere, isn’t it!”

That’s not something you get from a button, even when you push the right one — which is only about 50 per cent of the time. This lady told me to hang in there while she tried the numbers for me.

“If it doesn’t work for you,” I said, “I haven’t got a prayer.”

“You got that right,” she said.

She tried for several minutes before finally admitting that things were indeed really screwed up and she would report it and try to get it rectified. In the meantime, she suggested in the way of telephone operators the world over that I should try my call again later.

We’ve travelled a long way, baby, from “’Ello, ’statue?” to “For English, press 1.”


Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa Okinawa Ohio Mount Pearl Grand Falls Springdale

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Recent comments

  • Bob Dawe
    March 27, 2011 - 10:54

    Good one, Ed! We've all been there; but you make the frustration humorous. :-)