Sun reporters will soon be getting voice mail, which is our way of saying: Don't bother calling us ever again.
Voice mail is one of those little improvements that seem to make life a lot more difficult. I rank it right up there with removing the hold buttons from telephones.
I will give you a true-life example. Let's say the dog down the street chews off your rear license plate and swallows it. (Hey, it happens.) In the old days, you would have called the Motor Vehicle Administration and gotten a human being and the following conversation would have taken place:
L "Dog down the street, chewed off my rear tag. What do I do?"
"Uh, Spot. Or maybe Fido."
"Not the dog's name, you knucklehead! Your name!"
"Oh." And soon you would have your problem fixed.
Today, we have progress. Today, the MVA has voice mail or, as techno-geeks know it, "voice processing" or "non-simultaneous conversation."
Over the past couple of weeks, a number of people have called me to complain about it. So yesterday, I called the MVA number. Try it yourself if you don't believe me. This is what you get:
"Good morning. You have reached the Motor Vehicle Administration Automated Information System.
"Please have a pencil and paper ready.
L "This system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"If you are using a touch-tone phone, please press 1 for a directory of information.
"If you are not using a touch-tone phone, please hold for further instructions."
So I pressed 1.
"At any time you may repeat a message by pressing 7.
"You can return to the current directory by pressing 9.
"Or you can return to this directory by pressing O.
"After you have listened to a message, if you need further information or assistance, press the star or the pound key on your touch-tone telephone.
"For hours of operation, please press 1.
"For address and location, press 2.
"For tag, title and driver's license information, press 3.
"For other information, press 4.
"For information not included in this system you can call toll-free . . . Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m."
OK, so I want to know what happens when the dog chews off my tag, right? So I pressed 3 and got:
"Please press 1 for title information.
"Press 2 for tags, registration and commemorative Chesapeake Bay plate information.
"Press 3 for driver's license information.
"Press 4 if you are a new resident of Maryland."
So I pressed 2. And I got:
"If you need information on renewal of your license plate, please press 1.
"If you need substitute plates or stickers, please press 2.
"If you want a duplicate or an additional registration card, press 3.
L "For tag return or cancellation information, please press 4.
"For transfer of license plate, press 5."
"For information on personalized tags, handicapped tags or commemorative Chesapeake Bay plates, please press 6."
Are you still with me on this? I hope you don't have anything on the stove when you call this number. I punched 6, simply #F because it was the last number I heard. And this happened:
"For information on personalized tags, press 1."
"For information on handicapped tags, press 2."
"For commemorative Chesapeake tags, press 3."
I punched 3. I began to sob softly.
"To honor Maryland's most precious natural resource the Motor Vehicle Administration is offering a commemorative Chesapeake Bay license plate."
The dog! I shouted into the phone. The dog ate my plate!
"This special plate includes a rendering of one of the bay's most abundant water birds, the great blue heron, along with the slogan: Treasure the Chesapeake."
I began weeping uncontrollably, and the phone fell from my hand. Actually, I am told I did pretty well. Some people lose it trying to figure out which key is the pound key.
(It's the little tic-tac-toe thingie. Why they don't just call it the little tic-tac-toe thingie, I do not know.)
Let me put your mind at ease about one thing: The Sun's voice mail is going to work much better than the MVA's. It will probably go something like this:
"Good morning. You have reached The Baltimore Sun newsroom. If it happens in Maryland, it's news to us.
"Our reporter is busy right now, but if you would like to subscribe, please press 1.
"If you would like to make a cash gift, please press 2.
"If you would like to donate livestock, produce or silage, please press 3.
"If you would like to complain about a Roger Simon column, please press 5.
"If you think Simon is totally unfunny, vulgar, irrelevant and should be fired, we've heard it before, but please press 6.
"If you would like the explosive collar affixed to Simon's head to detonate, please press 9.
"Thank you for pressing 9. If you would like further information, please press 1.
"Thank you for pressing 1. Would you like to change your address? Press 1. Your spouse? Press 2. Your socks? Press 3.
"Thank you for pressing 2. On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your spouse?
"Thank you for pressing zero. Did you know that subscribing to The Sun can make you feel better about your life and your spouse?
"If you would like a subscription for one year, please press 1.
"For two years, press 2.
"For a lifetime subscription, do nothing. A subscription is now being electronically entered in your name. You will be billed.
"Thank you for calling. And we apologize in advance for the next Simon column."