Culture, Government, Legal, Marketing, Media

When Your Number Comes Up

You know that funny feeling when the cell phone vibrates in your tight jeans pocket, and you struggle to extract it before the caller hangs up. Sitting in a movie theater is tougher because you know to leave it alone. But, it continues to zing—zing—zing, vibrating like a terrified june bug caught in your pants.

A couple days ago, my phone wouldn’t stop zinging. Starting at 10:30 in the morning, I got a call from San Antonio, TX. I know no one there. It’s hot, dusty, and except for the Alamo and the acclaimed Riverwalk, San Antonio doesn’t figure on my list of destinations, let alone origins. But the phone zings insistently.

It’s an unrecognizable number. Area code 210. I skip it.

A few minutes later, another call. San Antonio again. Flush it.

Two more calls after that, and I decide to pick up.

“This is to inform you that your Social Security Number has been suspended, and that there is a warrant for arrest under your name. Please call back immediately…”

I give high marks for originality on this call. It turns out that so does the caller, because they continue to zing in my pocket until a little after noon. 13 calls in total. 13 spoofs: each number changed, but the origin and area code remained San Antonio, Texas.

Next to our annual plague of stink bugs, I think the robo call is the most obnoxious–and noxious–element in our midwest existence. What amazes me is that nothing much is ever done about it.

The telemarketing channel has been a constant irritant to me, and to probably 99% of the adult American public.  In fact, it was the subject of my very first post in 2013: Let Me Get This Call.

In a typical day, we will receive at least 5 calls.  I am thankful for these, as:

  1.  They force me to get up and walk to the phone, providing necessary joint movement;
  2. They frequently remind me that I am eating dinner when they call;
  3. The calls provide a fleeting moment of excitement thinking a family member is calling.

We’ve nearly reached the tipping point to give up our land line, which was the main robo conduit into our normally quiet existence.  And then the cell phone becomes the new target.  What to do?

I looked up the Do Not Call registry, and confirmed that all three of our phones have been registered since 2005.  Fat lot of good that has done.

Checking the FCC page, I read some business-like claims by the department head that multi-million dollar fines have been handed out recently.  $80 million.  $40 million. Serious money, but the zinging doesn’t stop.

The government site points to the measures that phone companies are taking.  AT&T, my server, offers a Call Protect App for the zinging cell phone.  It’s free, and I install it.  Then quickly and effortlessly the app reports I have had no robo calls in the last 30 days!  What about the last three hours?

A Facebook friend has suggested I take a third party anti-robo app.  I may do so. We’ll see how AT&T performs over the next few weeks.

Surely AT&T wants us to keep all of our phones, right?  But mean time, I have this nagging concern.    AT&T is now HQ-ed in Dallas, Texas, area code 210.

Could it be possible?   No, don’t even think of it.



Bridget, Goodbye

“Hello, this is Bridget.   This is an urgent call about your credit card account….”

Perhaps you’ve had the experience at least once in your life of blowing somebody off, sending them packing, ever so gently, but resolutely, with a well-rehearsed sayonara.

The Library of Congress has a whole wing devoted to archiving songs and scenes written about the countless techniques and art of saying goodbye.    Bogie melts the runway around Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.   Arnold blasts away the T1000 in Terminator 2. Simon & Garfunkel raise the ante with “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”.  The group Train meets that bet with a creative assembly of exits in “50 Ways To Say Goodbye”.

I am happy to reveal #51–  “Press 3”.

This is the specific and business-like instruction I received from Bridget, who has been throwing herself at me for an interminable period.

On the phone, poor girl– she was only trying to alert me about my credit card, urgently, mind you, that there was no emergency, but that I should speak with her immediately about my interest rates.  She did warn that it was my last chance to get in contact.   I could do that by Pressing “1”.

Through years of comprehensive training as a sales professional, I have always practiced the rule after a closing statement, “the first person to speak, loses.”    So, I clammed up.

regretAnd then Bridget caved: “To no longer receive these calls, press 3.”


Just like that, I pounded the 3 button on our receiver, possibly pushing it so far up the line it would pop in Bridget’s ear somewhere in a basement call center in Atlanta.

In my mind’s eye, I saw her wince, blown out of her chair, frantically tearing off the headphone and ear piece.    Supervisors run over to pick her up, gaping at the smoking embers of telecommunications technology as it burns a hole in the carpet.

In the conning tower at the back of the darkened telemarketing center, controllers stare at their screens as the disconnect hits.   Lights dim only for an instant before the backup generators kick in.    Everyone is calm on the mezzanine level.   Down below, hundreds of units continue their work in the dimly lit, air-conditioned office cavern, oblivious.

Controller:   (Bbrzztchzt)  “Ray?  Unit 56 got a 3, Ray.   Can you fix it?”

Ray:  “Got it, C.   Looking it over now.  We’ll be up in a jif.”

Controller:  (Bbrrxwxschh)  “Tell me what you find.   We have a pool running up here.”

Ray:   “C, looks like 56 needs a trip to the shop.  It’s got a fingerprint etched right into its diagnostic display.”

Controller:   (Bbrrtyffszt)  “Hah!  ‘Like I figured.   That totals 235 today, my magic number.  It’s pay-up time everybody!”

Ray:   “C, you want I should shut this booth down?”

Controller:  (Bbrssttadx)   “No way.  Let’s double down, Ray.  Plug in 37, and boot her up.”

Ray:   “Got it.  I am powering it up now.”

The vast room’s gentle murmur resumes among the darkened honeycombs as Ray extinguishes his flashlight and follows the maze of hallways back to the control tower.

Unit 37 digs in for the night.

“Hello, this is Carmen.  This is an urgent call about your credit card account….”