Talk can be cheap, but it’s not always easy

“Long distance information,
Give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find a party
That tried to get in touch with me.”
—“Memphis” song lyrics by Chuck Berry

Phones have come a long way since the days of talking to an operator to place a call. Now, you just talk to Siri.

Our first home phone was simple, black and utilized a rotary dial to reach out and touch others for talking, provided they had one, too. It was also the days of party lines. If you picked up while another party was using the line, you just had to hang up and wait for them to finish talking. Or, if you were mischevious, just pick up on it every couple of minutes to irritate them.

Phones were amazing then, but it sure could be frustrating when I had to wait for someone on the party line in order to talk to my friends.

When I entered the workforce a few years later, the simple, black devices for talking gained a row of buttons across the bottom allowing for more lines. That must have been the system our Dallas newsprint supplier used in the early 1980s when I was the publisher at the Center, Texas, Light and Champion. The young lady who took my call for an order just before 5:00 one afternoon said, “Please hold one second. I have someone on the other line.” A click followed and immediately she was back with me. “I have to go,” she said, “can we get together later for a drink and talk?”

Recognizing what she had done, I calmly replied, “Absolutely, but can you take my order first?” A moment of silence preceded, “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry. I hit the wrong button. I am so sorry.”

“That’s all right, I laughed. “It would take me three hours to get there anyway unless you wanted to meet me half way.”

The trip would have been more than halfway last week when Valerie Cosby at KTBS TV in Shreveport called. She wanted to show me what their marketing programs could do for Bird and Crawford Forestry Monday at 3:00 p.m.

Appointment made, the “goodbyes” had started when I said, “I think I know you.” I was the marketing director at Portacool a few years ago, and we talked about advertising. Your reporter Rick Rowe did a feature story on the company.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I remember, and I remember you. So how did you wind up in Shreveport?”

“I’m not in Shreveport,” I replied, I’m still in Center.”

Silence followed. Then she said, “I called your number in Shreveport and was told I was being transferred to you.”

“And, you were,” I said. “We also have an office in Houston. Would you like to talk to someone there … I can transfer you?” After explaining how the phones in our offices in Center, Shreveport and Houston were all one system, she laughed and said, ” I’m glad we didn’t hang up before I learned that, otherwise I would have been at your Shreveport office Monday afternoon.”

Phones are still amazing. I don’t have to wait on party lines. Offices can be seamlessly connected between any number of cities as one. Phones have assumed the function of many everyday things like cameras, watches, calculators and more, all while connecting you to the outside world.

Yet with all of the advancements, I still ask myself when I stand in a chair on my patio trying to reach out and touch a cell phone signal: “How long will it be before the major phone company that can do these amazing things learn how to provide Center, Texas, with a decent cell phone signal past the second bush on the left side of Main Street?”

Long distance information? Operator? Siri? Anyone … hello?

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