Way back when I was still fairly fresh out of college and was still working at a new job a big snowstorm hit Nashville. It shut down most of the city but my wife and I had a Jeep with four-wheel drive and somehow we made it to work. In case it’s not already clear this was well before cell phones were common, and we hadn’t even gotten e-mail yet, although we did have an electronic interoffice messaging system that, whenever you sent someone a message, would cause everything on their screen to freeze, a brilliant design feature that was conceived by a guy who I’m pretty sure went on to create Windows Vista, but that’s another story. I was especially concerned about getting to work because I was still on probation and thought it might be a crime if I couldn’t do the time, although it turned out I was only one of three people who did make it in that day which I think earned me some bonus points.
I was working away steadily, or maybe steadily sweeping some mines, when the phone in my boss’s cubicle rang. At the time we had a simple phone system that allowed anyone in the office to pick up a call on anyone else’s phone simply by dialing *8, something we can’t do with our new advanced office phones that were designed by the same guy who was responsible for Windows Vista, so I answered. I could tell from the double ring that this was an outside call so I said the department name and added, “How may I help you?” There was a click and a dial tone. Then the phone in my boss’s assistant’s cubicle rang, again an outside call. I picked up again. Click and a dial tone again. Then another phone rang. And another. Every phone rang and each time I picked up and spoke, only to get a click and a dial tone. Finally my own phone rang and a voice I recognized as the head of another department snapped, “Is anyone working there?”
A lot of sarcastic answers, ranging from, “What am I, chopped liver?” to “No, I’m robbing the place and answered the phone just for fun,” to the really off the wall “Bula Vinaka, beachside!” came to mind but instead I just politely said that I was working and asked if I could do anything to help.
“Well everybody else better be in tomorrow!” yelled the department head who had no power over anyone in my office and who, I realized, must have been calling from home and was only calling in to be a jerk.
It’s funny to me to think about that now with Nashville is under a winter storm warning with a predicted two to six inches of snow, which could mean anything from nothing to a foot and a half, but it doesn’t matter if I can’t make it in. I’ve been working from home for eleven months now, and it’s amazing to think how much has changed. The building where I work is open now but the number of people who can come in is limited to three at a time, but, in a sense, we’re all still there. And that department head retired long ago but after that I’d sometimes hear a phone in an empty cubicle ring and I’d wonder who was calling. And I’d just let it go.
People of a certain age will remember this commercial that taught a generation how to say “Hello!” in Fijian.