Friday, December 07, 2007

The Great Oz Has Spoken.

Over the years, I have been in hundreds of terminals (train, bus, and air) and have often wondered who and where The Voice that makes all the announcement comes from. You know, The Voice is usually one of those distinct, often regionally-accented, tired messengers who alerts you to the arrivals, departures and other important facts. I'm not talking about the The Endless Loop Voice like the one at the airport telling you all cars will be towed. No, this is a real person, in real time, telling you real information.

Well, in Boston's South Station yesterday I actually met The Voice.

She must be one of the busiest people working for Amtrak and in addition to being The Voice, she juggles control of two or three seemingly vital jobs including reviewing various track information by watching over a colorful screen marking the movement of trains in and out of the station. Mind you, she was not controlling these trains, but she was using this information to announce the arrivals as well as the departures. And when someone not on time, she was on the two-way radio giving them the business.

I met The Voice while dutifully waiting to check into the Acela Lounge. I soon learned that I was not qualified to be in the lounge because I had not purchased a First Class ticket. But she was cordial - and fascinating to watch - just the same. Although she didn't offer me a cup of coffee or a nice fresh danish, she did let me stand there long enough for my hands to thaw. She also tried very hard to find out if I was indeed entitled to membership in this exclusive club.

In between the dispatching of the 11:10 Acela to DC and the 11:05 arriving on track 9, she had time (God knows how many hands she had) to call the Amtrak Awards office, punch in my 11 digit account number, file through four or five voice menus and reach the mechanical voice that announced that I only had "400 points." By the look on her face I knew that was probably not enough to get me a free newspaper let alone the coveted danish.

I mentioned that I had traveled cross country on Amtrak last summer and should have had lots of points. She then punched in some more numbers and got a real person on the phone. Two more trains were being dispatched through all this and she read through the script which announced each of the stations along the way without missing a beat. "…with stops in Providence, New Haven, Penn Station New York…" The voice on the other end confirmed I was a loser. I really wanted that danish now.

I took back my $211 business coach Acela ticket and thanked The Voice who was now apologetic. I told her I was glad I had stopped by because I had always wanted to meet the person who was in control of the universe. "It's Oz," she said, her thick Southy accent bending the words almost to the point of being unrecognizable. "They call this place Oz."

Indeed, the Great and Powerful Oz had spoken.

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