It seemed a simple request: “I’d like to add a new landline phone number at my house.” 

We’ve had one landline number for more than 30 years. I wanted a separate one for my mediation business because cell service in our area is spotty. I don’t want to miss a call that might be my next case.

I dialed 6-1-1, which forwarded me to an 800 number. I asked about the new landline, beginning a 90-minute telephonic tour of AT&T: sales, service, loyalty, Western region, and at least three offices on other continents. Only the last customer service representative understood that I was asking for a wired residential phone line, not an AT&T cell number (we have one), DirecTV (ditto), or U-Verse internet service — which AT&T’s technicians have tried to install three times, only to discover that our area isn’t wired for it, though the sales reps had promised each time that it had become available in our area.

Having plenty of time to wait while listening to “hold” music or yet another recorded offer of U-Verse service, I imagined my call being transferred through time to March 10, 1876. Through a scratchy, faint connection I heard a man with a distinct Scottish brogue say, “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.”

“There is no Mr. Watson here,” I replied.

“What have you done with him!” the voice insisted. “This ‘telephone,’ as I call it, is wired to only one other room, and he’s supposed to be there. Who are you, anyway?”

“You have a wired phone line? That’s great! Can you help me get one? I’m Louie, by the way. May I have your name?”

“I’m Alexander. Are you in the next room with Watson?”

“No, I’m at home. Are you with AT&T?”

“Never heard of it.” 

The connection dropped, and I was again listening to the recorded U-Verse sales pitch. I eventually got the land-line ordered. 

“What utility company could do worse with phone service?” I wondered. Just then the phone rang. It was an 800 number.

“This is PG&E calling about the Public Safety Power Shut-down that will happen later today. For precise information about when you will lose power, text us with this code, which I will say rapidly, without giving you time to get a pencil, and with several sloppy pronunciations: F, 5, AT, 7, C, C, E, ECH, C, BVE, VBE, IVE, Q, 6, SOX, 9, WAH, 3, SAY, 2, DO, ...” notes that in addition to inventing the telephone, a patent unsuccessfully challenged in court many times, A. G. Bell was an early president of the National Geographic Society and founder of Science magazine. He spent many years teaching the deaf. His mother and his wife were deaf. He was a “connector” in many ways. He placed the first transcontinental phone call, a wired call, to Thomas Watson in San Francisco.

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