It was near the end of my shift when the switchboard phone rang, and since one of my duties involved taking calls that came in on our main line, I grabbed the call.
I answered it in the friendliest tone I could manage, hoping that my voice did not convey the annoyance of one who had to take a call when he was just counting down the minutes until his relief arrived.
"Good afternoon [railroad redacted], how may I help you?"
"You people1 are sounding your fucking whistle at the crossing again!"2
I was used to people becoming angry about things beyond my control - my company has a way of bringing that out in folks - but usually they would give me some verbal cuddling before plowing straight for the unprepared anus of indignation. The fact that I had somebody yelling at me before I had even completed my salutation told me it was going to be one of those calls. This meant it was time for me to play dumb.
"Hi, you've reached the main switchboard. Where may I direct your call?"
"I don't want you to send my fucking call anywhere. I want you people1a to stop sounding your goddamn horns all day and night."
I paused for a few seconds.
"Yeah," I replied slowly. "See, I'm just a clerk in an office who has no control over our train horns. When the switchboard phone rings, I answer it and ask where to transfer..."
"Uh, did you try calling [regulatory body]?" I suggested, since that was probably his best bet.3
"I am NOT going to call [regulatory body] because of your fucking train whistles! This needs to stop! Now!"
"Well," I said in something close to a monotone, "I don't know what to tell you. If you won't call the body in charge of these things, did you consider maybe not living right next to a crossing?4 It's not like we just moved in recently..."
"Don't give me that bullshit about how you were here first," he exploded. I can't say that I blame him for that, nor that he was unjustified in getting angrier. By this point I had assumed that he wasn't looking for answers, but somebody to yell at. "Your trains are violating the law, and this needs to stop! Now! Work with me on this!"
I am paraphrasing him a bit, since he went on at much more length than I am telling here, but it was more of the same. Lots of yelling and anger. He went on for about a minute while I held the handset away from my ear to avoid damaging my hearing. As he ranted, I noticed that one of our afternoon train clerks had just come in and was settling down at his desk to check out his turnover.
The afternoon clerk was R, who was within spitting distance of retirement, death, spontaneous immolation or mass murder. He was a bitter old man who hated the company, his job, and pretty much anything that drew breath. It occurred to me that this call was turning into something that would be long and fruitless, and that R would be much better equipped to handle it. I waited for the caller to pause for breath before I interjected.
Then I blind-transferred him to R and hung up. The plan had been for R to take the call, and either kill the caller with blast of pure hatred over the phone, or at least have an aneurysm and move me one step up the seniority ladder. What I had not anticipated was that C would brush his hand away as he reached for the phone and offer to take the call.
C was the girl on the day shift who R was relieving. She was actually a pleasant girl; short, smart, slightly plump, and reasonably attractive. Alas, her temper could be just as short as her stature, and she would lose it in unfortunate, but amusing ways when triggered.
"You finish settling in; I'll handle this," she said, brushing his hand away and grabbing the phone. "Machine room..." she said cheerily, and she stopped, face frozen in mid smile. I could hear the sound of yelling over the phone from my desk twenty feet away.
"Who is this?" she demanded angrily. I watched her expression sour as she listened.
"Well I'm just a train clerk. What am I supposed to do..." she stopped talking again as he started into another epithet-laced stream of abuse. She let him go on for a few seconds, then angrily cut him off. "How did you even get this number? Did you just pick up the fucking phone and start dialing numbers at random? Why don't you shut up the screaming for a second and tell me what your problem is?"
She listened, and said, "Uh huh" a couple of times. "I see," she said coldly. "Well, they likely sounded the horn because if your fucking kids are as dumb as you then they were probably out playing on the tracks. Now don't ever call this number again!" She slammed down the phone hard enough that I feared she was going to break the receiver.
I apologized to her, and explained that I had intended for the call to go to R and not to her. She was relieved that she got the call instead of R - it might have pushed him off the edge. She said the caller was so over-the-top that she wasn't even mad about getting blind-sided by it.
I don't know if the guy ever called back. If he did, it wasn't on my shift.
1 "You people" is the fastest way to ingratiate yourself to the person who might be in a position to help you with something.</sarcasm>
1a There it was again. I could feel my inner care bear withering.
2 The rude gentleman had legitimate reason to be annoyed, since there were local bylaws against train whistles, and our crews were supposed to be versed on those and obey them.
3 In retrospect, it probably wasn't, but - well - fuck him.
4 If you are ever planning to buy property near some railroad tracks, find out who owns them and then call them and ask how much traffic the tracks handle. Hint: if the rails are shiny, it's a lot. You would be amazed how many real estate agents told their clients that one of our busy mainlines was, "Just a branch line that might see 1-2 trains a week."