411 Is a Joke
I ask for Yung's Chinese Carry-Out, the operator gives me a day-care center's number.
If you have a complaint about local 411 directory assistance, chances are you are a) lazy and b) gainfully employed. An industrious person simply grabs the phone book. The self-employed are too cheap to pay the 25 cents that the phone company (in my state, Maryland) charges 411 users after they run through the monthly allotment of six.
Well, I am lazy, and a corporate underwriter paid for my directory assistance calls until quite recently. As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, I dialed 411 whenever I needed a number, even if the directory was literally within arm's length. (My belated apologies to the owners, the Tribune Co. If you're still looking for ways to cut the budget, may I suggest following Reuters' lead? The news agency recently told its employees to give up 411 and use the Internet.)
I began collecting string on 411 misadventures several years ago. It's an anecdotal archive, to be sure, but the problems clearly spiked up in the late '90s, after the local company, C&P Telephone, gave way to Bell Atlantic, which morphed into Verizon.
It's hard to pick a favorite story. A friend's attempt to call Yung's Chinese Carry-Out, which led to a local day-care center, perhaps? But the one that pushed me over the edge from muttering crank to "I-need-to-speak-to-your-supervisor-now" avenger was my request for the number of a health club that was literally next-door.
The operator said there was no Downtown Athletic Club on Baltimore's Centre Street. Had to be, I insisted. It's been there for more than 20 years. Nope. How about Merritt's Downtown Athletic Club, I said. Uh-uh. Frustrated, I kept her on the line, even as I grabbed a phone book and found the number.
"It's in the phone book," I said. "How can you not have the number?"
"We don't have everything in the phone book."
Time to talk to a supervisor. I began: "Where are you?"
"I couldn't possibly tell you where we are," the supervisor said, clearly afraid that I was going to show up on her doorstep.
"I don't want to come there. I just want to know if you're actually in Maryland."
Laura Lippman is the author of 11 crime novels, the most recent of which,No Good Deeds, will be published next month. She lives in Baltimore, Md.