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Orange County | DANA PARSONS

'. . . and Press 4 if You Require a Tranquilizer'

July 13, 2001|DANA PARSONS

I love stories like Bob Mitchell's, because they reinforce the notion we're all doomed to inhabit an increasingly impersonal world where human contact is devalued.

For some reason, that always peps me up.

Mitchell is 51, lives in Orange, sells insurance and likes to play golf.

If that doesn't make him Everyman, I don't know what does.

Not long ago, as a birthday present for a friend, he decided to call for a tee time at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club. He must be a thoughtful guy, because I always make my friends handle that duty.

So, Mitchell made the call . . . and as Rod Serling might have said, he had no way of knowing he was dialing direct to the Twilight Zone.

Mitchell picks up the story: "My call was answered with a message that the line had been disconnected or was no longer in service. I checked the phone book and called information and verified I was calling the right number."

At that point, I would have given up. Mitchell, however, dialed 0 for an operator and got a person on the line. She told him to dial 611 for repairs.

Mitchell complied and was greeted by a "charming recorded voice" that welcomed him and made reference to a Pacific Bell Web site. He stayed with the voice, which asked if he wanted English or Spanish.

He chose English. He says he was then greeted with five other choices, in which the phone company "gives us the chance to learn about other Pac Bell products." Mitchell grouses that that wasn't the reason he was calling the repairs line.

He made a selection and went on to the next round. That, he says, presented him with five more choices. One of those was to report a problem with someone else's phone line.

With his "good-deed mission" nearing an end, Mitchell says, he pushed choice 3 to report trouble with another number. He says he got this advice: If the number is busy or if there's no answer, wait a while and call it later.

Or, the advice continued, if he needed immediate assistance, he should call the operator. Failing that, the recording said, call the number you're having a problem with "and tell them to report the problem."

Mitchell must have the self-control of a tightrope walker. Had it been me, something would have gone flying across the room.

The smoke coming out of Mitchell's ears eventually dissipated. He's now able to chuckle at the memory.

He says he has come to expect getting lost in the woods when calling other companies "and you're put on this magical route of 'Dial 6 and then 5 and 4, press in your mother's maiden name, what year did you graduate and were you in the top 20 of your class . . . ' "

Still, he didn't expect to end up in the telephone wilderness when calling the phone company.

I'm not here to castigate Pac Bell, because Mitchell's travails are hardly unique to that utility. More than once, I've gotten confused just trying to use The Times' phone system to change my recorded message.

The fact is that many of us are fated in the years ahead to wander aimlessly through recorded-phone sequences, whether in government offices or private companies. I've heard many a story like Mitchell's and always tell people the same thing: Sorry, can't help.

We had better get used to depending on recorded voices or computers to find our way. Already they're giving us the movie schedules over the phone or the best driving route from Point A to Point B. The services are great, unless you have a follow-up question.

In Mitchell's case, he never got his tee time at Tustin Ranch. He learned sometime later that the course's phones were being switched over but that the work wasn't coordinated with the cancellation of the old number.

Mitchell wanted to let golf course officials know they were having phone problems, so he did a very weird thing in this electronic era: He wrote them a letter.


Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to

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