If a voice could be a season, hers was springtime.
"Hello," she sang. "Thank you for calling."
I needed a kind welcome. The sky was pouring buckets of rain. Lightning had caused blackouts, and storms were jamming the traffic. News reports were telling drivers to stay off the roads. But I had a flight to catch.
So I called the airlines. They would know if the flight was late or canceled. "They would be the calm within the storm. And for a butterfly's blink of a moment, she was. "Hello, thank you for calling ..."
But then it came. Before I could thank her in return, the voice continued, "For quality assurance this call may he monitored ..." Not again.
Ancient sailors feared falling off the edge of the earth. Our pioneering forefathers dreaded blinding blizzards. The first missionaries to Africa sliced trails into dense forests. But none of our ancestors faced what you and I face: the Bermuda Triangle called computerized telephone service.
"Press one," she said, "for domestic flights."
"Press two for international."
"Press three if you know your flight number and the name of your congressman.
"Press four if you are a frequent flier in the central time zone with no children."
"Press five if the nine digits of your Social Security number total more than sixty ..."
It was all I could do to keep up! I finally pressed a number, and wouldn't you know it. I committed the equivalent of telephone harakiri. I was put on hold. For the foreseeable future I would be trapped in the underground cable cavern, doomed to spend hours listening to Kenny G and Barry Manilow.
Oh to have heard a human voice. To have spoken to a real person. To have received a human greeting. Is it just me, or is human contact going the way of the snow leopard?
There was a time when every activity spurred a conversation. Service your car; greet the attendant. Deposit a check at the bank; chat with the teller about the weather. Buy a gift, and speak with the salesclerk. Not now. You can gas up with a credit card, make deposits online, and order a gift over the Internet. You can cycle through a day of business and never say hello.
Call us a fast society, an efficient society, but don't call us a personal society. Our society is set up for isolation. We wear earbuds when we exercise. We communicate via e-mail and text messages. We enter and exit our houses with gates and garage-door openers. Our mantra: "I leave you alone. You leave me alone."