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I’d soothe my nerves with a Diet Coke, but the waiter gave me root beer

PAUL WELLS October 6 2003
The Back Page


I’d soothe my nerves with a Diet Coke, but the waiter gave me root beer

PAUL WELLS October 6 2003


The Back Page

I’d soothe my nerves with a Diet Coke, but the waiter gave me root beer


HELLO, sir or madam. How may I help you today? How can I be of service? I ask because I, myself, can’t get any good service around here. I mean, none at all. Not anywhere. The wonder of the modern service economy is that you can’t get any frickin’ service. Here are the articles of indictment.

m I ordered brown toast with my omelette. I got white toast. Why did the waitress ask what

kind of toast I wanted? Was she just making small talk?

■ At another restaurant I know, every single time I order a Diet Coke, I get a regular Coke. I have to watch the servers now, like a hawk, until I see them reaching for the telltale red can. “Uh-uhuh-uh! Diet Coke! I said Diet!”

“Oh. Sorry.” Every time. m I ordered a Diet Coke with my Sunday brunch at another place a couple of weeks ago. The waiter brought a root beer. A half-hour later.

ü My girlfriend is vegetarian.

The other night she ordered a quesadilla. Quesadilla is a Spanish word meaning “thing with cheese.” She got a quesadilla with chicken. She doesn’t eat chicken. That’s why she didn’t ask for any. She got some anyway. It’s the second time this has happened to her at the same place.

a Once, when we were going someplace on the train, she called ahead for a vegetarian meal. They served her a vegetarian meal. The actual quote from the steward was, “Here’s your vegetarian meal.” It had chicken in it.

m I asked directory assistance for the phone number for River East Collegiate in Winnipeg. I got the number for Princess Margaret Elementary School.

Say them both to yourself. “River East.” “Princess Margaret.” How is it possible to screw that up?

Surely even the directory-assistance robots shouldn’t be screwing that one up. Teams of evil geniuses have designed the directory-assistance robots to interrogate you mercilessly, then transfer you to a

human operator who asks precisely the same questions.

The super-creepy Stepford Robot Lady Voice comes on the line. “Directory assistance for what city, please?”


A long pause. This is the robot imitating a human moron with eerie precision. “For what province?”

You bite your tongue. It’s just a robot. Maybe you can teach it something. As calmly as possible, you answer: “Winnipeg is in Manitoba.”

“For what number?”

“River East Collegiate.”

Long pause.

The human operator comes on.

“Hi, what number are you looking for please?”

Uh. The number I just asked your supercreepy Stepford Robot Lady colleague for, maybe?

Through gritted teeth, you repeat yourself, pretending to be calm even as you

ponder the cosmic idiocy of a phone company that would replace human operators with robots that ignore everything you say and deliver you to Emergency Backup Humans, who are lonely, surrounded by super-creepy Stepford Robot Lady Voices, and have therefore, apparently, been driven quite mad.

“Here’s your number. Thanks for calling.” And then they give you a number that is never—not ever!—the one you asked for.

■ I would have thought the position of taxi driver had two qualifications, (l) find addresses; (2) make change for a $20. Apparently I was mistaken on both counts.

■ I have a new house. I ordered a dresser for the bedroom. Paid a hefty deposit: half the cost. The receipt says, “Allow 10-12 weeks for delivery.” I allowed 10 weeks. Then two more. Then some extra bonus weeks.

Finally after 16 weeks I looked and I still didn’t have a dresser. I went back to the store. So sorry—there’s nobody around to tell you where your dresser might be. Or whether it exists. Or whether it ever will. Let me take your name and number. Someone will get back to you on Tuesday.

Nobody got back to me on Tuesday. Nobody got back to me on Wednesday. Ten days after the nice lady took my name and number, nobody has called to explain why my dresser is a month late meeting its 12week deadline. I still have no place to put my boxer shorts. These days I mostly just stuff them into my mouth to keep from screaming when I call directory assistance.

■ I cancelled my National Post subscription two months ago. But they won’t stop sending it to me. The Posfs owners want to charge money for access to their Web sites. But at the same time, they don’t mind giving out free newspaper subscriptions that no force on earth can cancel.

I’m telling you, it makes a guy cranky. I’d soothe my nerves with a Diet Coke, but all I can get is root beer. HI

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