Remember that Lily Tomlin routine? The one where she was the telephone operator? It always made me laugh harder than anyone else in front of the tv.
Well, in the midst of my cleaning I found this old photograph from 1970.
And yes, I am old. Old enough to have worked those old telephone boards with the plugs and switches. If I answered a call from a pay phone, I had to look up the cost of the call to wherever it was going, tell the customer how much money to put into the phone and then listen for the pings of quarters, dimes and nickels before punching the number keys and connecting the call.
No one liked answering the pay phone lights. It could take a long time to convince a drunk college student to put the right coins in the right slot.
Those were also the days of “person-to-person”and “collect” calls, which were transacted by a telephone operator.
I could accidentally disconnect a call by pulling out the wrong plug. There were days when those boards were filled with plugs and flashing lights. And yes, if we wanted to listen in on a phone call it was easy to do, though something that could get us fired. We were too busy to bother anyway.
The most exciting call I ever took was from the FBI, calling to headquarters to announce they’d arrested Viet Nam war protester and priest, Daniel Berrigan, on Block Island. They’d posed as bird watchers in order to find him. Although I didn’t hear the content of the call, it was easy to put the pieces together the next day when the news broke.
We connected 911 calls, too. And transferred “information” calls to the gals in the corner who sat at a table with huge telephone books mounted in front of them.
It’s amazing to think how much things have changed in 48 years. My I-phone is a little miracle of technology. Irritating at times, but light years away from “Hello. Operator. May I help you?”