I sometimes think about her. The robotic voice on the other end of 767-2676. She was the first person everyone would call after a power outage, because she knew what time it was. And not in a “Morris Day” kind of way.
As a kid, the popcorn lady was always a safe phone call you could make to dick around with the phone and not accidentally run up mom’s bill by calling Thailand. For a few unfortunate few, the popcorn lady may have been their only childhood friend. For an even more unfortunate few, their first phone sex.
Most people spend their work day counting the minutes. This lady actually did that and got paid for it. You think it’s a joke, but before the service was automated, some lady actually had to sit there and do the job. In the UK, Ethel Jane Cain did the job for 27 years. And you thought your job was monotonous?
California was one of the last states that still had a speaking clock until they discontinued it in August 2007. At the time I couldn’t help thinking about how that meeting went down.
“Look Jane, we know you’ve been here for about 100 years now. But with cell phones and computers, people just aren’t using you as much anymore and we have to let you go. I’m sure there’s plenty of work out there for women with monotone voices. We are trying to get you a placement with an exploding briefcase company. You have to admit that work could be more exciting. Anyway, as a token of our appreciation for all your years of service we’ve gotten you this engraved watch.”
Her response, “At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be Fuck You.”
Had I known, I would have called a few times on her last day just to see if she was pulling some pranks.
“Good morning, at the tone the time will be whatever your new-fangled cell phone says it is.”
” Good morning, at the tone the time will be ARMAGEDDON!”
“Good afternoon. I’d like to order 450 pizzas to be delivered to AT&T headquarters.”
“Good evening. And now, the end is near. And so I face the final curtain…”
“Good evening. What the hell have I done with my life?”
Maybe if they’d kept the service more relevant it would have kept going. The messages could have been:
“The time is now 4:22 and did you see those pictures of Britney Spears’ vagina on the internet?”
“The time is now 1:35 and you’ve just lost your ass on Time Warner stock. It’s down 35 points.”
“The time is now 8:21 and your boss is sleeping with his secretary.”
“The time is now 11:14 and oooh, it’s so big…. What are you wearing…”
Then again, AT&T has never really been a forward thinking company like that. 🙂