What people ask when they can ask anything

Forget the Golden Gate Bridge and House of Nanking and Zeitgeist on a summer night — the heart of San Francisco beats loudest on the carpeted second floor of that South Van Ness building you thought was Bank of America.

“Thank you for calling San Francisco 311, this is Kyle speaking, how may I help you?”

Kyle Sutton is one of 50 or so customer service representatives, or CSRs, asking this question 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The free service launched in March not just to funnel 2,300 government phone numbers into a single line, but to give the city more of a service orientation. About 6,000 calls come in every day, and program director Ed Reiskin says 311 is on track to answer 2 million a year.

Officially, the purpose is to supply a handy route to non-emergency government services and information. Unofficially, it’s a glimpse into the funny inner mind of the city.

“Hello, how long does it take to build a cable car?”

“There’s cocaine all over my clothes! There’s cocaine everywhere!”

“My roommate has been passed out for two days.”

“There’s pig balls on the street.”

Ideally, every call would be like these and our city would have the best dinner parties ever. In fact, most people call about the bus. How do you get to Justin Herman Plaza? I’m on Clement and 8th Avenue, where’s the 2? My driver didn’t stop for me.

(SFGate: “Pig balls and stuck skunks: A 311 customer service rep has a window onto San Francisco’s secret heart,” by Chris Collin [4 Sept 2007])