Murphy's Law

Reach out and touch the phone company

When I was younger, I could never understand why my mom hated moving. We seemed to move every two to three years, and every time, she complained bitterly.

But I was young then, I never had to call the phone company to change the address of our phone number. This time around, my mom wanted ME to call.

The office hours of Southern Bell are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I figured I would call right when they opened so it would be quicker.

At 9:01 a.m., the phone was answered, after about 20 rings.

“I am sorry, but all out represenatives are busy right now ignoring your call,” said the computer that answered. All ready, it was busy at Southern Bell. The computer droned on, “If this is an emergency, please call 1-800-555-0666, where you will also be plased on hold while some other represenatives of Southern Bell ignore your call. Please hold.”

I then proceeded to wait while I listened to a Musak version of Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the U.S.A.” done by Frank Sinatra. Every so often, the computer would break in and say something like “Please continue to hold. Our represenatives are ignoring other customers calls as fast as possible, and will soon be around to ignore you also. Thank you.”

Then I heard Tiffiny's version of the Beatle's song “I Saw Her Standing There” as done by Sammy Davis, Jr. I had no idea what was worse: being on hold for half an hour, or listening to this elevader music.

“Hello, I'm your Southern Bell represenative, how may I help you?” said a larthargic voice on the phone.

“Yes, can I ask you why I was on hold for half an hour?” I asked.

“To see if you really needed some form of our service and not calling up to waste our valuable time, as you are doing right now asking stupid questions,” said the lathargic voice.

“Wait! Before you hang up—”


“I am moving, and would like my phone number to be transferred to the new place,” I said.

“Sorry, call back later, all our computers are down right now.”

“Wait! Your computer answered my call and put me on hold.”

“Yes, but it slipped into a coma when it accidentally listened to the elevader music we play to people on ignore … oops, on hold,” said the voice. “Please call back later,” and the Southern Bell represenative hung up.

So, I did as the Southern Bell represenative said, and called back. This time I was on hold for about two hours.

“Hello, I'm your Southern Bell represenative, how may I help you?” said the same larthargic voice.

“It's you!” I screamed into the phone. “Another minute of the musak version of ‘Send in the Clowns’ and I would have slipped into a coma.”

“If this is a crank call, I will be forced to hang up.”

“No! I want to switch my phone number to a new address,” I said.

“Okay, but first I have to ask you a few questions,” said the lathargic voice.

“Yes, go ahead.”

Well, a few questions turned out to be 300. Stuff like new address, old address, name, age, occupation, social security number, blood type, parents blood type, grandparents blood type, sexual preference, number of bathrooms in the house and other seemingly pointless questions. Eventually, it was over.

“Now, when will the phones be working?” I asked.

“In about two weeks.”

“We're moving next week. Why so long?”

“So you won't be able to call us about how lousy our service is,” said the Southern Bell represenative, and hung up. Then the line went immediately dead.

And that was just for the phone service. There's still the magazine subcriptions, Selective Service, driver's licence (that one should be real fun) and FAU (that one should be a scream!) I have to notify.

No wonder why my mom hates moving so much.


Well, that was in '88, it's now '97 and Southern Bell is just as bad. Like Lily Tomlin used to say, “We're the Phone Company; we don't have to care!” Sigh.

Only now it's 2003 and the telephone industry is in the middle of an implosion from building out too much during the DotCom Bubble, conflicting regulations and to what they can and can't do—it's a real mess …