Telephone systems were once run by personnel called operators. You dialed “zero” and called upon them for personal assistance. Some generations still remember them. For business telephone systems, Florida has of course advanced beyond those days, but they haven’t been forgotten. A fictional operator in TV comedy is even a beloved part of our popular culture.
Comedienne Lily Tomlin starred in Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In from 1969 to 1973. During that series, she created the character of Ernestine, a sarcastic operator with a comically sour face and a nasal voice. Ernestine began her calls with a ritual count of “One ringy-dingy two ringy-dingies ” and was known to ask if she had “reached the party to whom I am speaking.” She once pointed out to one of those parties, “The phone company handles 84 billion calls a year, everything from kings, queens, and presidents to the scum of the earth.” And to another she observed, “You’re dealing with the phone company We are not bound by city, state, or federal regulations. We are omnipotent.” Ernestine was not afraid to point out the position that her employers held: “We’re the phone company. We don’t care; we don’t have to.”
Ernestine put a funny face on what people could easily see as a faceless, humorless corporate monolith. No doubt some people loved her better than the industry that she fictitiously represented. They laughed when she said things like, “You’ve angered me, and when you anger me you anger the phone company and all the power necessary to tie up your lines for the next fifty years. Do I make myself clear?” Coming from Ernestine, it was all in fun.
Business phone systems in Florida today may not have an Ernestine, but they don’t just pretend to care. And they provide quality customer service for any party to whom they’re speaking.