Do you answer your phone every time it rings? Or do you consider all the various options at your disposal within microseconds of noticing that someone unknown to you is calling?
Do you pick up? Let it go to voice mail? Just ignore it?
I have to admit I hit the decline button on my cell phone most of the time. Calls come in frequently enough from phone numbers that are either strangely similar to my own, or they’re from locations where I’m quite certain I don’t know anyone. I assume each of them are yet another robocall trying to hustle money out of me.
Sometimes I’m wrong, though. A few weeks ago I declined a call from my own cousin. She called me three times in a row before I finally answered and discovered to my utter embarrassment that she had never been entered in my contacts. I felt so bad about it that I actually paid her the suspicious penalty she claims I owe the IRS. She may be a scammer but she’s family after all.
This week, however, I found myself on the other side of the proverbial fence. A precinct captain of the local Democratic Party office contacted me to ask if I could help call Democrats living in our surrounding neighborhood. I was told to encourage them to get to the polls now during early voting or on election day itself. He sent me a 10 page list containing names of voters along with their addresses, phone numbers, gender, and age.
The last two threw me at first. I couldn’t fathom how I would possibly use someone’s sex or age in motivating them to vote. But it didn’t take long before I began to fancy myself a smooth-talking salesman, tailoring my sales pitch to selected target audiences.
I ruminated over sweet-talking the older ladies, commiserating with the senior gents, being “crisp and brief” to those between 30 and 50, and praying to God that I didn’t say anything too dumb to Millennials and Post-Millennials.
But none of that happened.
My pre-conceived ideas fell victim to the fact that only on TV are people so easily pigeonholed. The first person on my list — a woman, age 74 — politely listened to me for probably ten seconds before interrupting with an energetic voice.
“I mailed in my absentee ballot last week,” she said. “Thanks!” while politely and firmly ending the call.
So it went for the next three hours.
I spoke to both chatty and abrupt seniors, calm and harried professionals, engaging and flippant Generation Y’s, etc, etc.. It was the same hodgepodge of personalities which we consistently find amongst our neighbors, fellow congregants, and bar stool cronies.
Madison Avenue won’t be calling for my expertise anytime soon; I am clearly no Don Draper.
But fortunately for me, because we were all ostensibly on the same team, no one yelled or verbally besmirched my maternal lineage either. And truth be told, I probably only spoke to half of the people on the list anyway.
I left a lot of messages on voice mails and answering machines. Which in fact brings me to the primary reason for this post: there are some awfully funky telephone habits out there!
For one thing, I was surprised by the number of actual telephone answering machines still in use on home land lines. You know it’s most likely an old model when you hear that muffled speaking voice of someone standing six feet away from the machine’s microphone and an air conditioner blower running in the background.
With most people now using voice mail, leaving a message on one of these old machines is a little daunting because I’m never sure if I even hear the beep to begin speaking. Each time I called into one, the goof in me wanted to leave a “vintage” message to announce how imperative it is that we keep Bob Dole out of the White House and re-elect President Clinton!
I didn’t do that. But I really wanted to.
It’s good that I already know I’ll never run for public office. Ever.
And speaking of voice mail, people, will you please delete some of those messages piling up in your mailboxes? I was taken aback by the number of my neighbors whose voice mail boxes are completely full and no longer accepting messages. I suppose this could be a resolute decision on some of their parts; avoiding that annual call from Aunt Ellen about Thanksgiving, or perhaps a credit agency inquiring about an unpaid bill. But honestly, as a caller it’s really infuriating to hear that message. Stop being so lazy and empty your voicemail boxes!
Another surprise was just how many people don’t record their own message greeting and instead opt for the default one, where a generic computer voice reads out your phone number. Whenever I hear that, I always feel as if I’m leaving a message that will be sent permanently into the ether, never to be heard by anyone.
Ironically, while writing this post I checked my own phone’s greeting, and discovered it too had somehow switched to the default option without my knowledge. Oops. So I do recommend that you check your own phone because it could unintentionally happen to you sometime.
Finally, there are also a fair number of people out there, using either land lines or cell phones, who don’t even bother to give callers opportunities to leave a message. It reminds me of earlier days when we phoned someone and kept the line ringing persistently, convinced that someone was otherwise occupied, and just needed a little extra time to come to the phone.
I eventually finished my big list of Democratic voters and made contact with nearly everyone on it. Some numbers were disconnected or no longer in service, and I made notations for them so party admin staff can later update the records.
I now have faint respect for people who earn a living making cold calls, though that sentiment is decidedly thin given the insane number of telemarketing and swindlers who ruin our dinner hour.
So please answer my calls. My election volunteer work is finished, and I won’t do this again for another two years. And do remember to vote in the midterms, especially if you’re a kindred spirit.
Until next time…