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1 In A Thousand

I used to call random people in other states. – Don’t worry, it was for a job. During college, I worked the phones for Hannibal La Grange College (now ‘University’). During the week in the evenings, I’d call up prospective students and talk college. I always grabbed from the ‘out of state’ stack – I figured since I was from out of state, we’d at least have that to talk about. So, I’d get cozy in my computer cubby with my phone and my stack of entrants, and get crack’n.

To this day, I can still remember a few of the people I called. I only remember one name – and you should too: “La – uh”. That’s right. I’m not making this girl’s name up. She lived down in St Louis… The call went something like this:

Hi, this is Ryan with Hannibal La Grange College! – Is La uh there?

It’s “La DASH uh – the Dash is pronounced."

(Me, dumb DASH founded).

… True story. Really happened.

Much later, my English graduate wife, Steph, was quick to point out that technically, it ought to be pronounced ‘La HYPHEN uh’, since you don’t use EM Dashes like that. TMYK, I guess!

Another call I can remember from my call-days to a little town in West Virginia goes a little something like this:

Hi, this is Ryan with Hannibal La Grange College! – Is so and so there (apparently, to my memory, their name was just not quite up to the La – uh standards…) ?

(Heavily accented) HEY SO AND SO, THERE’S A COLLEGE ON THE PHONE!! (sound of multiple bare feet scampering across a wooden floor – sound of screen door slamming… about now, I’m picturing in my mind the entire family huddled around so and so, all trying to listen in…)


So, needless to say, I’ve called a lot of people during my time there. At least a thousand. Probably many, many more. During my last week there, I received the William Wallace award – I always had Celtic music playing softly… (I’m quite proud). While working for the call center, I also helped lead campus tours during visitor days, too! Every now and again, I was able to place voices with faces – which was always a treat.

The one call, however, which sticks out above the rest came during the middle of a long, boring stretch where I was getting a lot of answering machines… A trick I had learned was to let the phone ring three times. If no one picked up, I recorded ‘NA’ (No Answer), and kept working down my list. – that way I could, over time, get through more people than the rest of my fellow callers. I figure, if you’re not going to pick up after three rings on a house phone (this was back in the day when people still primarily used those… and telemarketers hadn’t quite bought up all the auto-dialers…) then snooze you lose.

I called someone from Alaska. For most of us, it’s not everyday you get to call someone living way up there! I called – they picked up… you know how the conversation started by now… We talked about a whole range of stuff… including how the abbreviation for Alaska is not the same as the abbreviation for Arkansas. Finally, the Alaskan asked me the one question no one out of my thousand of calls had ever asked me: ‘Why should I go to HLG?

For half a second, I admit, I was taken off-guard. This is the question I was always hoping to be asked – but after hours and hours of doldrum and NA marks, I wasn’t ready. Thankfully, my Thespian training kicked in. Improvising, I remember engaging right back. Basically, the Alaskan said something like, I hear all your reasons and stats and all, but why should I go?