The Texan

Back when I was working at the call center, my job was to call people to ask them if they got their phone books.

Yellow Pages would distribute their phone books for free, as they made their money selling listings and ad space (this business model would later be replicated to great success by Google and nearly every other website on the Internet). They would contract out the delivery. My job was to follow up after the delivery drivers to make sure that they delivered the Yellow Pages properly and didn’t, for example, chuck them off a cliff, say they delivered them, and call it a day.

Apparently that’s a thing that actually happened. Hence, my job.

In any case, my shift started at 3, and I’d call all across the US. One day I’d get a sheet of phone numbers in South Carolina, and the next I’d get one from California (since my shift ended at 11, I would almost always be calling the West coast by the time I finished up).

South Carolina was always interesting. One day I got a complaint from a guy about the man delivering the phone books. Specifically, that he was “one of those Africans.” The man was very concerned, because there’d been “some trouble” with “those folk” in the past. I suggested to him that perhaps the delivery driver was not, in fact, up to no good and rather was just trying to earn a buck delivering phone books. The South Carolinian on the other end of the line started to get a bit agitated, so I bid him adieu and marked him down as “do not deliver.” I hadn’t encountered much overt racism growing up so it stood out to me as bizarre, and sometimes I wonder if there was anything I could have done other than inflicting the mild annoyance of ensuring he didn’t get a phone book the next year.

The other particularly memorable call was in Texas.

When we started calling into a new area, we were given a photocopy of the cover for that area’s phone book. Sometimes we would reach someone who was a bit foggy on whether or not they had in fact received the item in question and would ask us to describe it, and it sounded suspicious when the person calling to ask about a phone book had no idea what this oh-so-important phone book actually looked like.

Although I usually called into residences, one particular number connected me to some sort of small business (as I recall it was an auto repair shop, or an auto parts shop…something to do with vehicles anyway). The person who answered the phone put the manager on. I asked him if he got the phone book.

Him: “Hmm, I think so. That’s the one with the B-1 B on the cover?”
Me, looking at the photocopy of the cover: “Uhh, it should have like an airplane on it?”
Him, after a short pause: “B-1 B stands for B-1 Bomber, son.”
Me: “Oh, well…uh…guess you got it then. Thanks.” *click*

(I was supposed to ask a couple of follow-up questions, but at that point I think we had mutually decided the conversation was over.)

If I could have bottled and stored the condescension in his voice, I could have had several years’ supply. I told my co-worker Dave about the wannabe cowboy who was offended I didn’t recognize the aircraft on the cover of his phone book and we had a hearty laugh over it.

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