Have you noticed how prevalent automated phone lines have become? It
seems you no longer talk to actual employees of a company, you merely
What made me think about this was when my phone lines at home went
dead the other day. I called Pacific Bell’s repair service at 611 and was
surprised at all the buttons I had to push.
For example, I was instructed to push 1 for further instructions in
English. I then pushed another number to indicate my phone line was dead.
Within a few minutes, I had pushed more numbers than a Keno runner in Las
All of this to save money that would be used to pay actual humans to
answer your questions and solve your problems.
That got me thinking we could incorporate automated systems into city
services and save a lot of money.
Tell me how this scenario sounds? Suppose we start with an automated
phone system for our police department. You might hear a recorded message
welcoming you to Police Services.
After that you might hear: To report a burglary, push 1. If the
burglar is still there, push 2. If the burglar is holding a gun on you,
push 3. If you think the gun is loaded, push 4. If the gun is a revolver,
push 5, and so on.
And how about an automated version of our fire department?
If you are calling to report a fire, push 1. If you are ill, push 2.
If you think it is your appendix, push 3. If you have a broken leg, push
4. For a broken arm, push 5, and so on.
Our parks department could use a similar system.
If a large tree fell on your car, push 1. If you were siting in it at
the time, push 2. If your mother-in-law was sitting in it, push 3. If the
car was a Porsche, push 4. If the car was a Porsche and your
mother-in-law was sitting in it, push 5, and so on.
Perhaps our city attorney would also benefit from an automated system.
When you call, a voice would say: If you want to sue the city, push 1.
If you actually think you have a chance of winning, push 2. If you are
willing to settle, push 3. If your attorney is Johnnie Cochran and your
name is O.J., push 4, 5 and 6.
To reach members of the the City Council, you could go through the
As for my own personal system, I would have a welcoming voice saying:
To reach City Council member Kramer, push 1. If you think Kramer is
actually awake, push 2. If you think Kramer is really as dumb as he
looks, push 3. If you are trying to sell a great Corvette cheap, push 4,
5 and 6.
Other public agencies could follow suit. Let’s say, for example, the
Burbank Airport adopts an automated system.
The recording could say: If an airplane just woke you up, push 1. If
you think we care, push 2. If you think airport commissioners should fly
first class, push 3. If you think your property will be worth more if the
airport expands to 27 gates, push 4. If you want to buy some swamp land
in Florida, push 5.
Even President Clinton could get an automated system.
You might hear an introduction by the President, and then: If you want
to talk to the President, push 1. If you are an attractive female, push
2. If you are attractive and want the president to call you back, push 3.
If you are attractive and want to be a White House intern, please stay on
And perhaps the candidates for president could use the same system.
Let’s say, for example, George W. Bush decides to have a local number.
You might hear him give an introduction and then say: Push 1 if you think
Steve Forbes is a geek. Push 2 if you think I can name one world leader.
Push 3 if you think I ever danced naked at the White House. Push 4, 5 and
6 if you think I can recall ever being high. Push 7 if you think my dad
should run again.
And how about Vice President Al Gore?
After a welcoming message, you would hear: Push 1 if you think I can
name the current president. Push 2 if you think I will even hire a White
House intern. Push 3 if I appear lifelike. Push 4 if you think I can
spell “Clinton.” Push 5 if you think I can name three world leaders,
other than “President what’s-his-name.”
Since my lights just went out at my house, it must be time to end this
column. I better call the power company to let them know I am having
Let’s see here: Push 1 if you have no power and it’s too dark to see
your phone. Push 2 if your neighbor crashed into the power pole again.
Push 3 if you forgot to pay your bill. Push 4 if you didn’t forget but
were too cheap to pay. Push 5 if this is Bob Kramer, who once again
didn’t pay his bill. Push 6 if this is Kramer and you think we are going
to extend your credit again.
BOB KRAMER is a Burbank city councilman. Reach him at 238-7950.