Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Do You Hear Me, Bowman?"

Ah, the fun of all that wacky new technology. From the September 11, 1885 San Jose Daily News comes the following story:
Agonizing Experience of a Business Man This Morning
A telephone in a certain business place in this city is in use so much by loud voiced manipulators, with strong breaths, that it is in crippled condition about half the time.
It was unusually bad this morning when the principal chin worker wanted to communicate with Superintendent Bowman, of the Golden Gate Packing Company.
Then the people within a circuit of fifty of sixty yards heard the following.
"Ting aling aling: Ting aling aling."
"Just give me the Golden Gate Packing Company."
"Hello! Hello! Hello!"
"Do you hear me Bowman? Hello? Hel-lo-o-o-o-o-o Bowman, can you hear me now? I can't hear you - I mean you can't hear me. Can you? Hel-lo-o-o-o-o-o. (aside.) There's something serious the matter with the thing. I can't make him hear to save my life!"
A News reporter who stood by, tried to help him out and said:
"Well, why don't you put it in?"
"Put what in?"
"Your mouth. You must put it into that funnel and then talk in a natural tone. In that way, the danger of explosion is considerably lessened."
"Put my mouth inside the tube? Why what in the world are you talking about? This tube is not more than an inch in diameter and-"
"Of course I understand that your mouth is about four inches across. You used it too much when you were young, and before your cheek got hard; but nevertheless, she says, that the mouth must go in if you want to do a satisfactory business over the Sunset line. You must wrap or fold your lips up somehow or you'll have to walk to the Golden Gate."
"What do you mean by 'she'?"
"The daisy at the Central, of course."
"You're joking?"
"Oh, no. She told me this morning. She don't know me; she might now have said it if she ever saw my mouth; for of course she knows that this is only an ordinary funnel on this telephone."
The man then grabbed a handful of his mouth, pushed it into the funnel and yelled "hello" so loud that all the bells on the line commenced ringing.
"Can you talk as loud as that any time you want to?" asked the reporter.
"Why, yes, even louder." said the man.
"Well, then. I don't see why you want to waste your time on that instrument when the man you want to talk to is less than a mile away. If I was you I'd go to the window and tell Bowman that you want to talk to him."
Then the man walked rapidly away while the silvery smile of the telephone girl floated gently across the line.
Too bad Verizon wasn't maintaining those telephones.

Golden Gate Packing got in the news a lot, and not just for crank phone calls. The San Jose Evening News managed to preserve for posterity that Elmer Chase, who learned the fruit business Golden Gate and refined his techniques at Richmond-Chase, was also a bit of an actor, playing the title role in a Spring 1886 production of The Mikado:

Elmer Chase is Chased by a Watch Dog on Third Street
About 11 o'clock last evening, as Mikado Chase was returning home from a rehearsal of the "Pirates,", he met with quite an adventure at the corner of Third and Julian street.
Mr Chase was softly humming: "From every kind of man obedience I expect. // I'm the Emperor of Japan and..."
The selection was interrupted at this point by Mr. Chase being seized by the left leg by a large dog, who had sneaked upon him from the rear.
It was nip and tuck between the Mikado and dog for a hundred yards, the latter succeeding in nipping off a piece of the Mikado's pants, while Mr. Chase jumped a fence eleven feet high, in the rear of the Golden Gate Packing Company, at one bound.
This dog has a very unpleasant way of nabbing passers-by in this locality in the still night hours, and he seems to enjoy it, as he never barks until he has taken the bark from the pedestrian's shin.
Mr. Chase sustained no serious injuries, but when he reached the other side of the fence his pants looked like a last years birds nest.
That's the problem with Silicon Valley these days. There's no problem in getting everyone out to Black Rock Desert for Burning Man, but you'll never get them to volunteer for Gilbert and Sullivan.

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