FileTitle: Prose383.html
Category: Humor
Type: Prose
Description: Sorry Geographical Knowledge

    (After Surviving 130,000 Calls from the Traveling Public)
    by Jonathan Lee -- The Washington Post

    I work in a central reservation office of an airline.  After more than
130,000 conversations--all ending with "Have a nice day and thanks for
calling"--I think it's fair to say that I'm a survivor.

    I've made it through all the calls from adults who didn't know the
difference between a.m. and p.m., from mothers of military recruits who didn't
trust their little soldiers to get it right, from the woman who called to get
advice on how to handle her teenage daughter, from the man who wanted to ride
inside the kennel with his dog so he wouldn't have to pay for a seat, from the
woman who wanted to know why she had to change clothes on our flight between
Chicago and Washington (she was told she'd have to make a change between the
two cities) and from the man who asked if I'd like to discuss the existential
humanism that emanates from the soul of Habeeb.

    In five years, I've received more than a boot camp education regarding the
astonishing lack of awareness of our American citizenry.  This lack of
awareness encompasses every region of the country, economic status, ethnic
background, and level of education.  My battles have included
everything  from a man not knowing how to spell the name of the town he was
from, to another not recognizing the name as "Iowa" as being a state, to
another who thought he had to apply for a foreign passport to fly to West
Virginia.  They are  the enemy and they are everywhere.

    In the history of the world there has never been as much communication and
new things to learn as today.  Yet, after asking a woman from New York what
city she wanted to go to in Arizona, she asked, "Oh... is it a big place?"

    I talked to a woman in Denver who had never heard of Cincinnati, a man in
Minneapolis who didn't know there was more than one city in the South
("wherever the South is"), a woman in Nashville who asked, "Instead of  paying
for your ticket, can I just donate the money to the
National Cancer Society?", and a man in Dallas who tried to pay for his ticket
by sticking quarters in the pay phone he was calling from.

    I knew a full invasion was on the way when, shortly after signing on, a man
asked if we flew to exit 35 on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Then a woman asked if
we flew to area code 304.  And I knew I had been shipped off to the front when
I was asked, "When an airplane comes in, does that mean it's arriving or

    I remembered the strict training we had received--four weeks of regimented
classes on airline codes, computer technology, and telephone behavior--and  it
allowed for no means of retaliation.  "Troops," we were told, "it's real  hell
out there and ya got no defense.  You're going to hear things so silly you
can't even make 'em up.  You'll try to explain things to your friends that you
don't even believe yourself, and just when you think you've heard it  all,
someone will ask if they can get a free round-trip ticket to Europe by reciting
'Mary Had a Little Lamb."

    Well, Sarge was right.  It wasn't long before I suffered a direct hit from
a woman who wanted to fly to Hippopotamus, NY.  After assuring her that there
was no such city, she became irate and said it was a big city with a big
airport.  I asked if Hippopotamus was near Albany or Syracuse. It wasn't. Then
I asked if it was near Buffalo.  "Buffalo!" she said. "I knew it was a big

    Then I crawled out of my bunker long enough to be confronted by a man who
tried to catch our flight in Maconga.  I told him I'd never heard of Maconga
and we certainly didn't fly to it.  But he insisted we did and to prove it  he
showed me his ticket:  Macon, GA. I've done nothing during my conversational
confrontations to indicate that I couldn't understand English.  But after
quoting the _round-trip_ fair the passenger _just asked for_ he'll always ask:
"...Is that _round trip_?"

    After quoting the _one-way_ fare the passenger _just asked for_ he'll
always, always ask: "...Is that _one-way_?"  I never understood why they always
question if what _I just gave them_ is what _they just asked for_.  Then I
realized it was part of the hell Sarge told us about.

    But I've survived to direct the lost, correct the wrong, comfort the wary,
teach U.S. geography and give tutoring in the spelling and pronunciation of
American cities.  I have been told things like: "I can't go stand-by for  your
flight because I'm in a wheelchair."  I've been asked such questions as: "I
have a connecting flight to Knoxville.  Does that mean the plane sticks to
something?"  And once a man wanted to go to Illinois.  When I asked what  city
he wanted to go to in Illinois, he said, "Cleveland, Ohio."

    After 130,000 little wars of varying degrees, I'm a wise old veteran of the
communication conflict and can anticipate with accuracy what the next move  by
"them" will be.  Seventy-five percent won't have anything to write on.  Half
will not have thought about when they're returning.   A third won't know  where
they're going;10 percent won't care where they're going.  A few won't care if
they get back.  And James will be the first name of half the men who  call.

    But even if James doesn't care if he gets to the city he never heard of;
even if he thinks he has to change clothes on our plane that may stick to
something; even if he can't spell, pronounce, or remember what city he's
returning to, he'll get there because I've worked very hard to make sure  that
he can.  Then with a click in the phone, he'll become a part of my past and
I'll be hoping the next caller at least knows what day it is.

    Oh, and James... "Thanks for calling and have a nice day."