Joe V's Smart Shop is a Houston-based offshoot of one of the state's most successful brands, H.E.B., aka the H.E. Butt Grocery Company. Or, as it's known in my home, The Butt. If you're a fan of The Butt -- and really, who isn't? -- you know why it's an awesome place to shop. I don't know about you, but when I'm in The Butt it just feels right.
As it were, Joe V's recently emerged from The Butt and it's still a little sloppy. When I called to ask about a certain item, someone answered by saying "Hold on a second..." The second turned into about a minute and a half. When she returned, she simply said, "Hello?"
"Is this Joe V's?" I asked, because, what, what, that's not how they do it in The Butt. You're greeted like your call is the only thing keeping them from bankruptcy when you dial up H.E.B. proper.
Anyway, while I was waiting for the phone operator to return from whatever was more important than my question, I listened to the hold music. It was a loop of annoying royalty-free piano music that made me want to fly to Vienna, dig Beethoven from his grave and bitch-slap him. And, from these odd thoughts came the following exercise, one man's attempts to track down some of the worst hold music on Houston business phones.
I phoned an auto insurance company called Aggressive Insurance and a recorded voice assured me they're "driven to serve you." As I waited for a human voice to join me on the line, I heard The Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe." Not bad. Then, The Cars' "Drive" -- sung by the more handsome Car who didn't marry the model -- played in its entirety.
I was halfway through Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" when I realized 1) there's an auto motif to Aggressive Insurance's hold music; and 2) holy hell, how long have I been on hold? I hung up angry that the insurance company was toying with me by calling itself "Aggressive" and leaving me on perpetual hold to have songs about cars mock me.
I went to Best Buy because I wanted to purchase a new laptop with some of the severance-package shekels my former employer tossed at my feet when I was fired. I've got to say, I was probably fired because I can be such an a-hole at times. Like when I am waiting in the computer section of Best Buy for one of its Geek Squad people to come help me.
I phoned the store from within.
"Hello, are you still hiring holiday help?" I asked whomever answered.
"No, we hired everyone we needed a month ago," I was told.
"Well, you should have hired more people for the computer section than you did. I've been standing alone over here for 45 minutes, grumble, growl, grumble, growl, growl..."
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Best Buy didn't really have any hold music. Mostly it was a recorded voice making a bunch of dubious promises to serve me, which it couldn't even do with me standing right inside it; however, those recorded promises did have a backing track of the most pitiful-sounding guitar riffs ever. Over the phone it sounded like a toy my kids once had called Hit Clips. Tinny, awful noise that barely registers as music.
While I was making these phone calls, the people at Target were doing all they could to avoid more negative press in the wake of the data breach they endured over the holidays. I knew I'd be on hold since many irate customers must have been jamming the phones. Apparently no one was in the mood for music at Target. On hold there was no music at all, no recorded messages even. Just good ol' Fifth Amendment silence.
I was happy -- and not at all surprised -- to hear Reliant was experiencing "higher than normal call volume" when I rang 'em up. I planned to settle in for some tunes, but all I got was Matthew McConaughey talking about Reliant. Even though it wasn't music, his performance on the phone was much better than his turn in The Lincoln Lawyer.
Lots of the random places I phoned didn't use or even need hold music when I called. For example:
The Galleria: Call the main number and follow the prompts. No music.
Gallery Furniture: No music, no holding. I called four times and a person answered every time. Hey, you don't get to be Mattress Mac by keeping people on hold or handing them back...back...back order slips.
Houston City Hall: No music, just a bunch of prerecorded mumbo-jumbo about the city you live in.
Kroger: They were playing The Foundations' "Baby, Now That I've Found You." Easily the best song I heard while being on hold.
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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Information about the current exhibitions. I have it on good authority the Antonio Berni collection is amazing. No music.
Cindie's, Shepherd location: I asked the woman who answered what would happen if she'd put me on hold. Would I hear music? She said no, just silence. Which seems like a lost opportunity. I'm sure listening to Barry White while you wait to find out if they have your product in stock would increase sales greatly.
My "research" was about as scientific as an episode of The Big Bang Theory, but based on these few calls is seems Houston businesses prefer to offer waiting callers information about their services than music. Or, they just answer the phone and don't keep you waiting. After all, this is Houston. For the most part, we do things right here.
Jesse's short-fiction piece, "You, at the Beach," is featured in the 2013 issue of Huizache. If you've ever wondered whether your life's as interesting as an average 50-year-old's, follow him on Twitter.