Never again.

It is commonly held as my responsibility in my current job to answer phones.  I don’t like phones- I don’t like talking on them, I don’t like other people talking on them, and I really really wish we could throw them all away and forget they ever existed.  Sometimes as a part of my job I have to answer other people’s phones, which is particularly annoying.  Answering Corina’s phone in particular has often embroiled me in some interesting situations (no, sir I do not know where your pension has gone, let me transfer you.  No, we do not make statements to the press – let me transfer you to our news office).  But the one I got this afternoon takes the cake.

A gentleman called from Scotland trying to get in touch with a member of a twelve-man delegation.  At first, I thought his connection to Corina’s phone was entirely accidental.  The automated operater’s number at MIT is notoriously bad here at the Oven Glove.  You would think some of our technology could go towards fixing those issues, but oh no.  Besides, when you have peons to directly handle the matter, why bother?  Anyway, I thought at first that he was speaking to me due to one of the quirks of that system.  He did, after all, have an accent – Autovoice no doubt misunderstood him.

Alas, I was mistaken – it would not be such a simple immediate transfer to another department.  The gentleman in question had no idea who he wanted to talk to.  Though he did have an emergency on his hands, he had no names of anyone at the Oven Glove who the group might be visiting.  He wasn’t even all that clear as to the reason for their visit.  Of course, the man was distraught from his emergency, but he also wasn’t thinking to clearly.  No, there was not some magical overlord who kept track of all the Scots who happened to be in Cambridge at a particular time.  No, transferring him to a dean was not going to help the situation – unless he could maybe tell me WHICH dean I could transfer him to, possibly the dean of the department the group might be visiting?

To be fair, he did know some things about the visit.  He knew the group worked in ‘development’.  He knew which dates they were travelling and the flight information for that travel.  He did not have the name of their hotel, but there couldn’t be that many hotels in Cambridge, right?  Ok, so now we just triangulate which hotel in a 5 block radius it could be by taking into account when the flight got in and when they called from the hotel…Unfortunately, I left my triangulation software in the OTHER computer.

Thankfully, I did manage to weasel out a few gems from the situation.  I found out that yes, there was a research and development conference on campus yesterday and today.  I even found out where it was being held and which office was involved.  I should have just transfered the man at that point against his will.  However, I made the mistake of asking him to write down a number in case we got disconnected.  No, he really didn’t want to talk to someone on campus, he just wanted the hotel where they were staying.  As he said, we weren’t really sure this was even the right conference anyway.  And if he calls all the hotels in Cambridge, eventually something will work.  So, after all that, I gave him the names of several hotels in the area and sent him on his merry way.  I do wish him luck.  But, as in many cases, I think he and I both would’ve been better served if we’d taken a deep breath and really examined the realities of the situation.  He would discover that a group of 12 people in a city of 7.13 square miles are generally hard to pick out.  I would discover that it’s generally hard to reason with people who are legitimately worried and frustrated.  Alas, maybe next time.

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