TEX revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a guest post for Peachwater,
Texas
. I’m not
sure how many people clicked through, but I get the feeling from talking to
Jeff (Peachwater’s webmaster) that it wasn’t many. The topic of the post is
close to my heart, so I’m taking this opportunity to republish it
here, with a few minor revisions. Even if you don’t entirely identify with
this particular experience of mine, maybe you will at least find it interesting
or entertaining.


In the summer of 1994, I moved from Greenville (a city in Northeast Texas)
to the city of Austin. I was 22 years old, full of angst and devoid of hope.
I
intended
to
stay for
three months and then return to Greenville. I had been attending East Texas
State University for three semesters, and for a
change
of
scenery
I
decided to transfer to The University of Texas at Austin. That was a monumental
decision for me. To explain exactly how I felt about the transfer, and about
life in general at the time, would drive
readers away from this site out of maddening boredom. Suffice
it to say that I felt all alone in the world, with no real home and
with no
friend
who
understood
me.

So I transferred—another epic ordeal whose explanation would drive readers
away. I took the step in an attempt to improve my lot in life, but I still
felt empty and isolated. Registration at UT was done by phone at the time,
so I figured out what classes I needed and made the call. I expected that the
automated registration system would engender the same sort of frustration and
phone-banging that most of them do, so I prepared myself mentally, knowing
the process would take only 30 minutes at most. I was entirely unprepared
for what actually happened.

When I called, I didn’t even hear a tone indicating the ringing of a phone
on the other end. I just heard a soft click, and the kindest, most generous
grandfatherly
voice
in the world say, "Welcome to TEX, the Telephone Enrollment eXchange for
The University of Texas at Austin. TEX is now registering classes for the…fall
semester." Although TEX was
an acronym for the phone registration system, not one student in the 50,000
at UT thought of TEX as a program. TEX was a person.
He was a gentle old soul who guided and supported us all in some of the most
stressful times in a difficult education. The inevitable mid-sentence pauses
that occur with automated phone systems added distinctiveness to his personality
rather
than drawing attention to the fact that he was merely a recording.

Take for instance the way he would let you know that a particular class was
added to your schedule. He would say, "Class…number……3…1…5…1…5………has
been added." In the silence between the final number and the ultimate
verdict, your mind raced with possibilities. Will the class be added? Will
I have to try
a different section? Will I have to find a completely different class? What’s
going to become of the rest of my life?! But TEX always offered reassurance
in the way only he could. That pregnant pause never failed to raise my fears,
and TEX never failed to calm them. This always happened in spite of the fact
that when a class was full, he would simply say "This class was not added"
without repeating the five-digit number. Even then, he softened the blow with
a
simultaneously
apologetic
and
encouraging tone.

I can’t really explain the effect that voice has on those who hear
it. The soft central Texas drawl combined with statesmanlike intonations
just make you feel like you had an ally in your registration efforts. And he
ended every phone call with the eternally comforting words, "Good-bye
and…good luck." Though TEX will be disconnected on Friday, July 15, I will
hear those words in my mind until the day I die.

If you’re so inclined, you can give TEX one last call at (512) 475-9950.

4 thoughts on “TEX revisited

  1. My oldest daughter lives in Commerce – Greenville is the big city in comparison! She works for Texas A&M, but not for long – she’s getting married in October. I’ll have to tell her new husband about your blog!

  2. Curt,

    I read your post at Peachwater the Saturday after TEX went off-line. I was heartbroken. As a UT-Austin alum, I would have enjoyed hearing it again. Even so, I enjoyed reading your post about it. Thanks for the memory!