April 07, 2006

Call Waiting Sucks

How would you feel in this following scenario? Suppose you are having a face to face conversation with someone, and someone else comes up and horns in on your conversation. He starts talking to the person who you were talking with, without asking your permission, and the person you are talking with says to you "give me just a minute with this guy," and then spends 20 minutes with the interruptor while you stand there.

My call waiting experiences are often the electronic equivalent of this scene. I'm going to go on a short rant, but it has been brewing for a while. I do not have call waiting on my home phone. I do have call waiting on my cell phone, and I've probably been guilty of the following behavior once in a while myself, so I do not exonerate myself from my own wrath. However, I find it singularly inappropriate and sometimes rude how people use call waiting on their private line.

Of course, putting people on hold has been a tool for businesses and the bane of callers for some time. We all know how frustrating it can be when we are put on hold, especially when we are trying to conduct some business and we are in a hurry.

So why is it that we do the same thing to our friends?

At least when I call my doctor or dentist and they put me on hold, I know that I am on hold because either a) a person called ahead of me and they are finishing up with them or b) there is an emergency going on and they will get to me after it is over.

Of course, not always are things this easy, but as a general rule, businesses usually take care of the first person who calls, whether it is a small local business or a large faceless corporation -- many times their message as you're holding is something on the order of "your call will be answered in the order in which it was received."

However, us private citizens have it backwards. Often, when I call someone who has call waiting, and I'm talking to them, they will suddenly say "Oh, can you hold on a minute?" I usually say "Sure." I am then parked in electronic limbo, while that person then spends 10 or 15 minutes talking to whomever called on the other line. It doesn't matter that I called first. It doesn't matter that I may take offense to waiting on the line for that long. In the backwards reality of private home usage, I must wait while the second caller gets an uninterrupted phone call. Occasionally, if the call is going to go on for longer, the person might say "Oh, can I call you back? Mike's been sitting on the other line." However, by this time I have most likely been gnashing my teeth in fury, and maybe I have even hung up.

Why do we do this to people, especially our friends? It used to be that if a person called, they would get a busy signal if the person they were calling was on the other line. The busy signal meant, for the second caller, that the person they were calling was busy and that they should wait a little while and call back when the person was, hopefully, free.

I know that call waiting is important in some ways. In the old days, the only way that a caller could notify a person of an emergency if the person they were calling was already on the phone was to have an operator break into the call, terminating the first call and connecting the second caller. Today, if there is an emergency, call waiting can make it possible for the emergency to be communicated quickly without an extra step.

Or if the caller is expecting an important phone call...perhaps Ed McMahon is going to call with news that they've won the sweepstakes...they can get that information quickly.

But when we get down to just everyday conversations, why should I, who called first, have my phone call interrupted and my status pushed down to second priority just because the person I've called has gotten indication that a second caller is trying to reach him/her? Why should I be able to break off someone else's conversation simply because I called second? This is wrong. It is discourteous to me, or to whomever was talking first, to break off the conversation and leave him or her in electronic limbo for 10 or 15 minutes.

Therefore, I am proposing call waiting etiquette 101:

1. If you are talking to someone on the phone, and you have call waiting, and it indicates that someone else is ringing you, you may break off the phone call for a minute to answer the other line.

2. If you do so, you should politely tell the person that a call is coming in and ask if it is okay to break the conversation for a moment. If that person says "no" you should not break the conversation, but simply let the other person ring. Chances are, if you have call waiting, you also have call notes or some kind of answering service and he or she will leave a message.

3. If the first caller says "yes, that's okay" you should only spend a moment with the other person on the line while your first caller is in electronic limbo. Spend enough time to simply get his or her name, how to best reach him or her, and then politely inform him or her that remaining on hold until you finish your first call is an option, or you can call back later. Do not launch into an entire conversation that will leave your first caller, who should be your first priority, in limbo for a long time.

These are just simple things, but it will make the telephoning experience much more pleasant for everyone around, and help to ensure that your first caller feels important enough to you that he or she will not be summarily dismissed simply because a second caller is on the line.

Of course, I would prefer the old fashioned busy signal. Sometimes "advances" in technology are "retreats" in common sense and our notions of acceptable community behavior. Just because technology has made it easier for us to be rude to each other, we don't have to follow its siren call in all cases.

And don't get me started on Caller I.D. That's for a later rant.

April 03, 2006

Truth or Consequences

This past weekend, Megan and I drove down to Truth or Consequences. Megan is doing a freelance story for AAA New Mexico magazine on the burgeoning arts scene there, and we decided to make a weekend of it, partly because we could use it after the passing of Hannibal, and partly because it offered an opportunity to relax.

I was always intrigued by the name of this little town. T or C, as the locals call it, used to known as Hot Springs, New Mexico, because of the hot springs that simmer under the ground and boil up there. The area looks pretty arid now, despite town's perch on the banks of the Rio Grande, but at one time the area was quite muddy and swampy. The Native American Mimbres people used to farm the area, but were eventually driven out by the Apaches. However, Native Americans considered the area neutral ground, and used the hot springs in the area to relax and heal.

The name actually came from a combination of two attempts at self-promotion. In 1950, Ralph Edwards, producer of the hit radio show Truth or Consequences, wished aloud that some town would rename itself after the game show. Of course, such an action would give more publicity to the game show. However, Hot Springs also thought the idea was a good one for the city too. After all, there are many "Hot Springs" around the country, including a famous one in Arkansas. By adopting the name, the city could gain some celebrity AND separate itself from all those other Hot Springs. In gratitude, Ralph Edwards kept coming back on the anniversary of the name change and bringing Hollywood people with him, to participate in the town's Fiesta.

Despite this interesting history, T or C is a small, sleepy town which rolls up its sidewalks around 8:00 p.m. each evening. It has two main drags, each a one-way split of the main road through town. Main Street is a little less developed than Broadway, but both have shops, cafes and art galleries on them. The arts scene is just starting to develop in T or C, with a number of small businesses that are either full galleries or hybrids of galleries and some other business opening in the past three years. Megan and I strolled around the town, which would take all of 15 minutes should you decide not to stop anywhere. The town seems to be on the verge of becoming one of those cute artsy colonies...but for now, it is just strange and hippy-dippy enough to be quaint and mysterious all at the same time.

However, the main attraction of T or C, and surprisingly the most undeveloped part of it, is its hot springs. There are a number of businesses that cater to people who want to soak in the mineral laden hot waters lying beneath the city range from the rustic to the glamorous. The main hotel in town, for instance, has private baths in the rooms, plus a well-known and regarded restaurant. We stayed in a slightly lower scale establishment, Riverbend Hostel, where our room was simply one end of a partitioned double wide and where we shared the community tub with other guests and members of the community who wanted to soak. The water came out at approximately 120 degrees, and passed through a series of three tubs that were gradually cooler until it drained out into the river. The soaks were nice, and Megan particularly liked soaking in the luke-warm tub next to the flowing Rio Grande.

The nice thing about the weekend was that it was cheap. $50 got us the room and the soaks (private tubs would have been $10 per person extra). Compare that to going up to New Mexico's Ojo Caliente: our friend Anne recently went up there and it cost over $200 for a similar weekend (though she got a massage as well).

There are other places we would like to visit in New Mexico, but this was a nice weekend getaway and a place we would be happy to take any visitors.