If Hollywood is to be believed, Alexander Graham Bell's redoubtable assistant, Mr. Watson, may have been the first person to have been put on hold.
Dn Ameche, who played Bell, spilled a caustic chemical on himself, hollered into the as-yet-untested instrument: "Mr. Watson come here, I need you," and then danced around in pain, leaving Watson in effect, ON HOLD.
It's been going downhill ever since.
A local journalist recently estimated that of his 20 years in the news-gathering business at least two were spent sitting on hold.
A spokesman for C&P said about 7 million calls are made in the Washington area each day.
An average of $55,000 of these daily calls go to Capitol Hill. The White House switchboard, not including direct dialing handles about 2,600 a day Metro handles 51,000 a day during a big week and GEICO, about 15,000 a day with an increase on Monday mornings.
Being on hold is the limbo most phone callers must bear for part of each day. A call to a department store after the announcement of a big sale can waste an hour of your life some days.
A retired Army colonel said, "I don't get around that much anymore and I need the phone and deliveries, but I'm always on hold."
A dentist, for an appointment; an airline, for a ticket; drug stores, for a prescription, banks, government agencies, METRO, railroads, doctors, even your own friends put you on hold, making you feel sometimes maybe everyone in the world is on hold.
So you doodle, stare into space. The arm gets stiff and the ear gets moist while you either listen to music or a repeated recorded message that could make the Chinese water torture seem pleasant. Or it's just plain silence with the hope of that quick voice cutting in once in awhile, telling you that you're on hold, in case you doze off and forget what you called about or who you were calling.
One day while on a vacation trip I stopped the car along the highway to make a call from one of those glass phone booths to warn my mother that we would arrive in about two hours. Upon the sound of my voice she shouted, "Something burning in the oven," placed the phone down, putting me on hold.
She must have forgotten the call and soon my minutes were up. The phone clicked off and I was out of change.
A friend once placed a call to his firm while on the Metroliner to New York. "I got the switchboard and a very fast operator who had me on hold in one second.
She would cut back in about every half second to keep me alive. When I finally got through I realized I had been on hold all the way through Delaware.
Another acquaintance who once ran afoul of the law used his one call to reach his lawyer and spent the next 15 minutes on hold - and in handcuffs.
There also are those who may never have been on hold.
Most Presidents, of course probably have never been put on hold, but there is a story told about Lyndon Johnon when he was President, calling John Connally in Texas for a chat. Connally, who kept a busy schedule, yelled at his secretary, "Christ, tell him I'll call him back."
If being put on hold drives the dialer bonkers, then a second major complaint is the recording voice saying, "When you hear the beep, etc."
"The people who have this message in their home or office each thinks their little message is cute," says a lady executive who has to make a lot of phone calls each day. "but all you can do is boil. One eccentric millionaire I call once in awhile, recites little poems to his callers. Another couple cheers you up with a song."
An ad agency man, while complaining about being on hold and talking into recording devices moved to another dimension of hold. "I have a boss who can put you on hold while you're talking to him. You go into his office with an idea and half way through your pitch his eyes become glassy with a far-away look and 'bang'.
"You know you're on hold."
Once, after trying to reach the paint counter of a large department store for the better part two mornings, I decided to go to the store to make my purchase and see what the person looked like who was wasting my time.
There were two customers in front of me and the harried clerk was doing his best to get them out fast.
When it was my turn I got my list out and started to tell him what I wanted. The phone rang behind him. He excused himself (putting me on hold, turned to answer and took a long order from someone who sounded like he was painting an armory.
Hanging up he turned, the phone rang again , waving his hand at me to be patient, he picked it up. I somehow knew with this gesture were that this person and myself were never going to have a conversation either by phone or face-to-face.
Utilizing his wave for one of mine that said goodbye I wondered for all we sufferers if I name of the telephone system shouldn't be changed to, "The Bell Telephone System - With Watson On Hold."