Getting The 411 On The Situation

, , , | | Working | July 6, 2019

(This happened in the 1980s, at which time phone numbers were only available through phone books or through directory assistance — 411. By this time, 411 calls were no longer completely free. Instead, one got maybe five free 411 calls per month, and could request two phone number on each call. After that, you were charged for each 411 call. I was trying to arrange certain outdoor activities, and was, therefore, seeking the phone numbers of various facilities, such as state parks, YMCA camps, etc. When one looks at a street map — as this was well before the likes of Google Maps — one can’t necessarily tell what town such a facility is located in. The typical 411 calls went something like so:)

Operator: “Directory Assistance. For what town, please?

Me: “I need the phone number of [Facility] which is near [Nearest Town].”

Operator: “Sir, I will need the name of the town that is in.”

Me: “I don’t know the town, but the closest town on the map to it is [Nearest Town].”

Operator: “Sir, I cannot look up the phone number without the name of the town.”

Me: “Don’t be silly. Directories in this state are by county, not town. [Nearest Town] is in [County] County, and that’s all you need to look it up.”

Operator: “Sir, I need the exact name of the town it’s in!”

Me: “Fine. Give me the phone number of [Facility] which is in [Nearest Town].”

Operator: “That number is [phone number].”

(Then, the operator HANGS UP without letting me ask another phone number! After a few such calls, all pretty much with the same conversation, I get pissed because I am going to have to PAY for 411 calls when I should get two numbers on each call. So, I contacted the Board of Public Utilities with FULL details of what has transpired on these calls. It turns out my state has a very effective BPU. Within a few days, I get a phone call from a phone company manager that goes something like this:)

Manager: “Hello, Mr. [My Name]?

Me: “Yes?”

Manager: “I’m calling about your recent complaint to the BPU. I’ve investigated your claims and found you to be completely correct. The same thing happened to me several times when I called Directory Assistance and tried getting such phone numbers. I will reverse any 411 charges to your account and [Phone Company] will be retraining our directory assistance operators so this doesn’t happen again!”

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