Al Batt: Do you suffer from common landline dread?

Published 9:32 pm Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt


I hoped the driver was OK.

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I was worried after he’d missed hitting a pothole.

I was in a shuttle going from here to there. The cellphone of a man seated near me sounded. It was an odd ringtone. Most are. It was part of a country song. “All my exes live in Texas,” it twanged.

I had no choice but to listen to his conversation. It was a small shuttle. He said, ”Hi” and not much more than “OK,” ”I will,” “Sure” and ”I promise I won’t forget.” His clipped conversation ended with ”Bye.”

He shook his head and smiled weakly. “All my exes live in Phoenix where I do,” he said. ”My life would be simpler if I traded my cellphone in for a landline.”

I have no exes in Texas, Phoenix or elsewhere, but I felt I should say something, so I said, “Gloriosky!”

He seemed pleased with my response.

“Little Annie Rooney” was a comic strip, running from 1927 to 1966, about an orphaned girl who traveled about with her dog Zero. Annie Rooney’s pet expression was “Gloriosky!” That G-rated expletive and Little Orphan Annie’s “Leapin’ lizards!” were included in the song, “Gee, Officer Krupke!” from “West Side Story.“ Those expressions come in handy.

Not many people threaten to discard a cellphone and replace it with a landline, but many people suffer from landline dread.

I stayed with friends in Duluth. They talked of discarding their landline. Not an easy thing when landline telephones had been a companion all their lives. They had a rich history together. Appointments, news, surprises and the correct time had come on rotary dial and push button phones. Romances bloomed on landlines. Emotional moments found footing on phones tethered in place.

A glance at a phonebook gives a hint as to the diminishing use of landlines. Tearing a phonebook in half used to be a feat performed by only the strongest of strongmen. Now tearing one in two is done by everyone in an exercise class for centenarians.

I grew up with a rotary dial during a time when we expected certain things on landlines. Late calls on landlines were reports of teenagers up to something or bad news. Close family members called when the long distance rates were the lowest.

Cellphones have assumed most of this business.

My Duluth hosts had come to expect the expected when their landline rings. The chances were good they’d hear familiar voices.

“Hi, this is Rachel from Card Services calling about your credit card account.“

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m adjusting my headset.”

“Hello my friend, this is Michael from technical support. I see you have a virus on your computer that needs addressing.”

“Do not hang up!”

“Hi! This is Elizabeth from the Resort Rewards Center!”

These calls cause landline dread.

In 2017, 45 percent of households had landlines. That number has likely dropped. Part of the reason for the decline in usage might be that the majority of the calls many folks receive on landlines are from scammers masquerading as such things as banks, FBI, police, IRS or stranded grandchildren. Political calls teeter at the edge of the definition of a scam.

Going wireless isn’t all tea and scones. As landlines disappear, scammers need to find another way to reach us. First Orion, a call-blocking technology firm, predicts that 45 percent of cellphone calls will be scams in 2019. That’s up from 3.7 percent of calls in 2017 and 29 percent in 2018.

And we get robocalls made by automatic dialers, consisting of prerecorded messages. You can’t be rude to a robot. Hang up.

It’s not all monkey business. Clinic appointments, pharmacy refills, Red Cross blood needs, insurance company updates and water softener salt deliveries are verified by automated phone calls.

I heard a speaker in California say that 95 percent of non-franchised bars and restaurants fail within five years. He added that only 1.8 percent of funeral homes fail. Not long after hearing that, I encountered a car covered in cellphone cases. Those things aren’t related or even coincidental, nor do they have anything to do with what I’m writing about, but this column was 68 words short.

I’d just gotten home from Duluth when my landline rang. I expected it to be one of several people who check on me regularly.

That’s what I expected, but it was Elizabeth from Resort Rewards Center.

“Tread softly, dear Elizabeth. You strive to pawn my dreams,” I warned.

She kept talking.

I’ll keep my landline.

I think Elizabeth likes me.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.