Thursday, November 17, 2011

The First Time I Fell in Love with Texas

The first time I fell in love with Texas was in January, 1990. I was on a month-long study trip to Guatemala and was trying to call home. Standard operating procedure for homesick college students in Guatemala City (as I was assured by my professor and the students who had been on the trip before) was to go to the national telephone company and ask to place a collect call. While there you waited in line, reciting words and numbers in Spanish to yourself and hoping to get it right. When it was your turn at the counter you blabbered out all the Spanish you knew regarding telephone calls, adding an "o" to the word "collect" to make it sound more authentic. Surrounding you were not just expats but many locals, making calls this way because none of them owned a phone of their own. When you were done in the line, you sat in the waiting room, listening carefully for your name to be called in rapid-fire Spanish, and hoping you'd catch the phone booth number they gave you at the same time. When called, you went to the booth in question, and (with a little luck) there were mom and dad on the other line. After you hung up, you were let out of a locked gate by a 16 year old with a machine gun (aka: the soldier making sure the non-collect-call people paid up) and you skipped merrily back to your $4/night hotel.

And so one evening, after having returned to Guatemala City from the rainforest and wanting to make sure my mother knew of my survival, there I was. I'd had my turn in line and was waiting patiently for my call to go through. While I was waiting, I noticed a number of what those of my generation would recognize as "normal pay phones" on one of the walls. I wandered over to them and started following the directions, which some kind soul had written in English. Suddenly, the phone began to ring. Bracing myself for a torrent of Spanish, I was instead greeted by a loud and cheerful (and decidedly non-New Englandish) voice: "AT&T, Haw mah I hep you tu-day?!?" All I could stutter out in response was "Oh my Lord, where ARE you?" "CorpusChristiTexasMa'am!" was the happy answer. And with that, I not only politely requested a collect call to New York, but I also fell in love with Texas. And with the sweet operator who made it forever unnecessary for me to stand in line, sit in a booth, and have my stomach poked by an AK-47 before exiting the building.

Ahhh, sweet Texas. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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