At first no one spoke. I heard the machine beeping in the background. Oh yeah, I noticed, I reached someone in the hospital room. This was my 74th call to Joe Biden’s campaign.
I live in Pennsylvania, so I volunteered for Biden. I had to do something. As the crisis approached, I was so nervous that I couldn’t just passively marinated because of my extreme worries.
So, a week before the election, I had live internet training with thousands of other volunteers from all over the country. Call Democrats across the United States to get a vote (GOTV). It was simple enough. Follow the script to provide information about voting options / local polling stations, tackle the problem if someone is on the fence (?? !!), and be kind. Volunteer monitors are available in real time in case of problems. It was comforting that the campaign seemed very organized, efficient and well staffed.
But I need more than kindness to navigate this experience.
My first day was assigned to call a PA Democrat. Most of the people I contacted hung up without saying a word as soon as they realized it was a call for a campaign. Some people listened patiently and said they would vote for Biden (thanks!). We talked about their “voting plan” (everyone had a plan). One woman said she would vote for Trump just to offend us when another call was made by the Biden people. Oddly enough, I saw this as a sign of encouragement.
The next day’s call (this time to Florida) started in the same way. After hanging up, hang up. A few solid Biden voters. Then call – # 74.
“Hello?” Said the man in the hospital room. “Why don’t you wait a moment?”
I answered, “Of course.”
“Honey, how are you feeling? Can you get something?” He asked away from the phone.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I think I contacted you at a bad time. I’m just calling from the Biden campaign. I’ll get in touch with you another day.”
“No, I’m here, I’m sorry … my wife is giving birth-it’s our first child-we’ve been here since yesterday morning and we’re slowly moving forward. Wants to talk to you – your group called the other day, and we couldn’t finish our conversation. Persist … “
“Can I get an ice tip? I’ll get an ice tip right away,” he told his wife.
He talked to a passing nurse and asked her about the medicine. I really tried to tell him, this is not important, we will call back at another time. He kept returning to the phone. “Are you still there? Thank you for your patience, I would like to talk …”
Suddenly, my wife is screaming. The sound is not constructed from a slow, rhythmic moan of discomfort. She was silent. It explodes with a primitive pain explosion. His wife’s anguish goes from 0 to 100 within 5 seconds.
My heart is racing. I have never given birth to a baby. What’s happening? I thought that labor would be carried out slowly. None of this sounds good to me. I have never heard humans make these noises. I don’t know what to do.
“Oh, what, what? What do I do? I’m not ready for this-what do I do? Fainting. I’m going to vomit,” he said. Shouted.
I think I said “Call a doctor!” (Many of this are now blurry to me). I said, “I’m going to hang up. Don’t worry. All right. You do great things!
“Are you still there? Don’t hang up!” He said.
I can hear you screaming in the background. As the doctor enters the room, he hears the sound of chaotic activity and the machine peels off violently during the scream.
“This is a bad thing,” says the doctor.
“What does bad mean? What’s happening ???” The man shouts.
“Baby’s breech. I’m here. My shoulders are clogged.”
“What does STUCK mean? What’s happening ?? OH MY GOD !!!”, the man explodes.
My heart is throbbing. The screams of her wife are more soul-stirring. I tell her husband- “hanging there-you’re doing great things-deep breathing-you’re doing great things”. He keeps asking me to keep calling, Almost he seems to need me, but I don’t know how to help him. I should not participate in this. It’s all happening so fast-only a few minutes have passed since the automatic dialer connected me to this guy.
I’m very scared of them. What if your baby dies?
After a lot of confusion and horrifying sounds, suddenly there is a new kind of mourning: a newborn cry.
“Congratulations-you have a baby girl-cut the code!” The doctor says it sounds like joy and relief.
I feel that way too. Tremor and tears and race of my heart and omg humanity.
The man is cutting the code. I’m no longer interested in the phone. He doesn’t ask me to wait anymore. Holding his head, I’m excited with a smile that isn’t a smile. “Congratulations. You were great !!” But he didn’t hear. He is alive at this moment. He hangs up.
I’m rugged. I breathe fast and my hands tremble. Did WTF just happen?
I call some friends (ironically, I’m not the phone person). But I have to share what I have experienced now. This unlikely encounter. It’s a great story and I think everyone is surprised and it sounds like it helps a fun local TV news segment …
After (a little) calming down, contact the Biden Campaign Volunteer Monitor. I also need to tell them my story. I want to get the name and address of the man I talked to (it disappeared from the screen when I hung up). I would like to congratulate him and his wife.
The people I send the first message to are surprised-what a story! But they can’t help me get the guy’s information. Try another campaign channel and talk to another campaign monitor.
“Sorry, it looks like a victim of RoboKiller AnswerBot,” she sends me a text message.
My brain scrambles. My heart begins to throb again. Her reply doesn’t make sense to me.
She describes RoboKiller as a service people buy to intercept calls from automated dialing systems (such as those used by campaigns and fundraiser to connect people). She is the first to hear such a thing. As an additional feature, subscribers can choose their own “Answer Bot”. This is an elaborate recording featuring multiple actors, some of which are designed to draw you into an insanely emotional situation. They are very realistic, expensive to manufacture and very smart. “Some answer bots are actually pretty violent, a scenario where people are being robbed or attacked. Don’t feel sick. We’ve all been fooled by them over and over again.” And she assures me.
What is it?
My heart goes back to the call. It’s impossible. Like the climax of “Six Sense”, you can play the conversation in your head scene by scene. Did he not react to me? He went back and forth over a few minutes. Didn’t he ask me not to hang up? But he continued to be distracted and disturbed by the turmoil – so did he not react to me? I did not understand.
I googled while still shaking. We have confirmed the existence of the “RoboKiller” and “AnswerBot” functions. There are actually several companies that offer this special service. I found a list of “delivery room confusion” answer bots online.
The company promises: “… A hilarious pre-recorded voice message designed to trick annoying callers into thinking they’re talking to a real person …
And as a bonus, service subscribers can listen to recorded calls later – for laughter! Listen to stressful and humiliating campaign volunteers puncturing! “It’s cheerful, funny, and just the right amount of revenge. Answer Bot recordings are just too good to share!” Their website boasts.
What’s more fun?
Calls from fundraising and campaigns can be annoying. And we all came across an interesting answering machine message that sounds like a living person. These answer bots are completely different.
It’s a perfect heart F # *! *was. The swing from a few minutes of intense connection during the best human experience to realizing that I’m the target of an elaborate setup designed to keep panicking on the phone is like emotional whiplash. I felt it.
I’m not a “snowflake”, but the cruelty seemed unjust. Cruelty seems to be a sport these days.
I never thought I was so credible (no doubt now).
I never thought people could work so creatively to hurt strangers (they can do that; you can even build a business from it!)
I’m glad Joe Biden won.
About the author: Theresa stack A freelance writer whose work has been published in The Boston Globe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Los Angeles Times, and other outlets. From 1998 to 2016, she was president of The Nation magazine and ran the company’s business. She currently works at her home in Pennsylvania, writes freelance writing, and directs The Nation’s progressive educational travel program. She is the producer of the upcoming short documentary, The Road to Justice. This documentary follows a transformational journey in which a group of junior high school students from Chicago and older Nation readers tour the South to meet unsung heroes. Citizenship movement in the 1960s.