Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Problem Solved

The Y2K bug can't be much worse than the cicadas

By Walter Jowers

JANUARY 11, 1999:  I am an irritable man. As best I can tell, it's because I'm hyper-alert to things that most people don't even notice. For instance, it drives me crazy when people in Japanese restaurants start rubbing their chopsticks together and making that shick, shick, shick sound. The useless motion and noise make me want to turn around and say, "They're fine right out of the wrapper. They don't need rubbing together. Just start eating."

Because I'm irritable, I like to get a good head start on my worrying. This helps me desensitize myself to any annoyances that might pop up. So, as of this week, I've started mentally rehearsing the hassles that'll come a year from now, when the century changes and the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug gives a whole lot of computer chips an instant digital lobotomy.

I know, I know. There are people out there who think the world will end on Jan. 1, 2000, and it'll all be the fault of computers. But these are the same people who think the moon landings were fake and pro wrestling is real. The good news is that these people are dropping out of society and moving to the boonies. If you ask me, this swell outcome is worth whatever aggravation the Y2K bug brings.

I figure the Y2K trouble will most likely come down to a series of annoyances of the chopstick-rubbing magnitude. It'll start with the morning coffee. All across this great land, electronic coffeepots will wake up the morning of Jan. 1, 2000, with instructions to start the brew. But because their tiny coffeepot brains contain old two-digit chips, they'll think it's Jan. 1, 1900, a time when coffee was made over campfires. So they'll burst into flames. No problem. The coffeepots contain water. They'll self-extinguish.

For me, the first glitch will probably come when I try to pick up my voice mail. "You have one new message," the girly voice will say. "Received a hundred years ago, at 8:52 a.m..." No doubt, the message will automatically have been erased by the brain-dead system. I figure if people really need me, they'll call back.

In countless suburbs, people will find that their garage doors won't open. (The Red Cross is actually warning people about this.) Gainfully employed Americans will call into work claiming that their cars are stranded in their garages. You people listen to me: Pull the rope at the top of the door! Up where the door bracket joins the chain! This simple act will free the garage door and turn it into a manually operated device. Stop your whining and go to work.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a little preview of Jan. 1, 2000. I needed gas, so I pulled into an Exxon station. I slid my credit card through the pump's card reader, but the pump wouldn't start. So, being the resourceful guy that I am, I pushed the button that let me pump the gas, then pay the cashier inside. When I got inside, I went to the end of a long line of people who were clearly angry with the cashier.

"He can't take credit cards," the person in front of me muttered.

"Well," I said, "I've already got the gas. What's he gonna do? Wrestle me to the ground?"

Another of my linemates chimed in, "He's sending people to the ATM machine."

Just then, I heard the woman at the front of the line announce, "I am not going to pay that ATM two dollars so I can withdraw money to pay for a tank of gas! I've got an Exxon credit card. You're an Exxon station. Take the card, or the gas is free!"

The mood of the linefolk was turning ugly. We were within minutes of a mass drive-off.

At this point, people who had come in just to buy a soda pushed to the front of the line and started throwing dollar bills at the cashier. Some said, "Keep the change." Others said, "Kiss my ass."

The cashier kept sliding credit cards through the scanner. "I'm sorry," he moaned. "The cash register just won't take them. Does anybody know what 'no carrier' means?"

"Means your phone line's dead, bubba," I said, walking to the front of the line. "Either that or your modem just blew."

"Say what?" He gave me that possum-in-the-headlights look.

"Well, before I go on, let me ask you: Did you not hear what I said, or did you hear me just fine and now you're just puzzled?"

"I'm puzzled."

"OK," I continued. "Two other quick questions: Are you Mr. Exxon?" He shook his head. "Are you trained to deal with this situation, which involves repairing a bad phone line, a bad modem, or both?" He shook his head again.

"Well, then, I'm going to pay in cash. I suggest that you call your manager and ask for instructions." Then I turned to the angry bunch behind me. "Fellow customers," I said. "This young man is not trained to handle this situation. He does not own this company. None of this is his fault. Let's be nice."

And we were nice. The customers, the cashier, all of us. Nobody drove off. As I walked out the door, people were lining up at the ATM machine, resigned to paying two extra bucks to keep their blood pressure down.

I figure we'll handle the Y2K bug just about the same way.

Visit Walter's Web site at www.nashscene.com/~housesense, or you can e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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