In the summer of 1983 I was transferring back to BellSouth in Birmingham from AT&T in Memphis.
One Saturday night I got the call that labor negotiations had broken down and a strike was on.
During a strike management employees had to take on the tasks vacated by striking employees.
I was assigned the task of long distance operator out of the Grenada, Mississippi office as that was closest to my current home in Memphis.
As long distance operators, we worked 12 hour shifts for six days and got a break on the seventh day and only had to work 8 hours. We sat wearing a headset at a console.
Back then some folks had to still go through the operator for simple calls even for emergency calls. We handled college students calling parents to say they had safely arrived, we handled many emergency calls from abused spouses or spouses who woke up to find their spouse had passed away in the night, prison calls, and more.
People were nice, people were mean, people were happy, people were scared. We worked to help everyone as best we could.
This was the era when there were still payphones and when a caller had put coins in the machine for a long distance call, if they talked longer than expected, it would ring up to the operator indicating how much they owed. We would tell them and then they would deposit the additional coins, which we would verify by the different tone of each coin.
It was a Friday night and my console indicated a payphone caller owed an additional 25 cents.
“This is the operator.” I said. “ You owe 25 additional cents for your call”
It was a young girl on the line and I could hear video games in the background. “I don’t really want to give you any more money,” she said. “Besides, I’d rather put it in one of the video games.”
“But,” I replied “you owe the money and it’s the right thing to do.”
“Who’ll know or care if I give you the money or not?” she asked.
“You’ll know,” I replied “and I know you want to do the right thing.”
“Oh, all right.” she said and I heard the thunk of the quarter in the payphone.
“Now don’t you feel better you did the right thing?” I said.
“I guess so,” she replied.
I hit the button on the console that said COIN RETURN, and I heard the quarter drop back into the slot for her to get.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“That’s your quarter back,” I said. “Now go play a video game and remember, the Lord works in
Have a happy summer! See you in September!