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One day I played phone tag and I was 'it' all day

June 08, 1997

There are days this business grates on your nerves. The days when the editor says, "Hey, I got this really interesting story for you. It's just a matter of making one or two calls..."

Sure.

Or days when the editor comes up and says, "I really need that story this afternoon." What he's really saying is, "What's the holdup? This is a daily newspaper, not a weekly."

You tell him or her that you've really, honest-to-God tried to contact the person who has the information you need, but can't reach them.

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They look at you in disbelief, and then tell you to call them again. Someone must be able to give you that information, they say.

Tell THEM that, you think.

Some days in this business - even when the editor isn't bugging you - you daydream about getting ANY other job in the entire world. I once daydreamed that I found work cleaning elephant dung in a traveling circus. It was a wonderful dream.

I had one of those days last week.

It was Thursday, to be exact. I called the "territorial office," as they put it, of the State Highway Administration, trying to reach the official who was handling the case I was writing about.

I needed information from her before I could do the story.

I was told she wouldn't be in the office until Friday, but did answer her voicemail, so I left a message. That was early in the morning.

At roughly 3 p.m., I decided to go to the bathroom. When I came back to the newsroom, there was a note on my desk.

The note said: "Andrea Abend with state highway returned your call. Call public affairs." The phone number followed. Had I thought about it I would have realized Abend was referring me to someone else.

Unfortunately, I was brain dead, and thus asked for Abend when I called the public affairs office.

A guy with a Bronx accent answered. I asked for Abend.

"Can ya spell it?" he said abruptly.

"A-b like in boy, e-n-d."

"Can ya hold?" Click.

I heard a fast busy signal, followed by nothing.

I called back. He answered. "I was holding for Andrea Abend," I said.

"I know, I was trying to find her name in our directory. It isn't there. Call personnel at extension 5792 and they'll give you her direct extension."

I called personnel and got voice mail. I hung up.

At this point, I thought about the note, and realized that Abend was in one place, and public affairs in another, and therefore it was really dumb of me to ask for her when I called public affairs.

I called public affairs back. This time, I explained to a woman who answered that Abend had referred me to her office.

"Yes, our district office called us as soon as you called them, and we've been waiting for you to call us," she said.

"I have been," I said.

"Have been what?"

"Calling you," I said. "Only I've been mistakenly asking for Abend, who doesn't work out of your office."

Silence. Then the woman spoke.

"Well, the district office called me around 2 p.m. with all the information you need, but I can't give it to you," she said.

"Uh, may I ask why not?"

"I'm not a public affairs officer, and a public affairs officer has to give it to you," she said.

"This is the public affairs office, isn't it?"

"Yes, but they're all in a meeting. All three of them," she said.

"All three of whom?"

"All three of the public affairs officers," she said. "They've been having a lot of meetings lately."

"So, let me make sure I have this right. You have all the information I need, but you can't give it to me, right?"

"Right," she said. "I could have the assistant deputy director talk to you, except..."

"Let me guess. A meeting?"

"Yes. it started at 2:30," she said.

"Well, what do you suggest I do?" (I tried to cloak the sarcasm in my voice).

"Well, how soon do you need this information? Would tomorrow morning be alright?" she asked.

"Well, I'd like to have it as soon as possible. Yesterday would be good. How about if I leave my name and number and you have one of the three public affairs officers call me and give me the information you have but can't give me, as soon as possible."

"What?" she asked.

It was obvious that I had confused her.

"Nevermind. Just take my name and number, please, and have someone get back to me, ok?"

She said she would.

Sure.

There are days I absolutely, completely detest this business.

There isn't a circus in town, is there?

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