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3-1-1 is no joke. Prompted by a story in yesterday's New York Times the editors at the Black Table decided to test the quality (and the operator's patience) of the city's revolutionary telephone information system, still in its infancy. Overall, the 311 operators answered all our questions as best they could in an adequate amount of time no matter how ridiculous they were.

Ah, they're still an eager, friendly bunch. We give 'em a week.

As with the Times, ours was not a scientific survey, either. But on Wednesday March 23, from 8:30 p.m. to 10:15 p.m., we got answers to some rather compelling questions. Here's a look.

Question: Who do I talk to about getting a license to drive a stagecoach?
Time Until Answer: 2 minutes and 23 seconds. After the operator Alicia first asked what a stagecoach was she politely told us that she does not have that kind of information in the system even after she typed in "stagecoach".
Answer: 311 could not provide that information.

Question: I'm lost. Can you tell me how to get to Rockefeller Center?
Time Until Answer: 14 minutes 32 seconds, via one patient search for the location of "Wacker" Street (Wacker Drive is in Chicago purposely done to throw the operator off, however he did not catch on), and directions from 14th street to the D train. The operator, Wilson, did not have a map in front of him, but did tell us to make a right on Wacker and keep walking up 14th Street.
Answer: If we got lost again, he suggested to call the MTA Travel Information Center at 718-330-1234.

Question: Where can I get information about the time for the next scientist boxing match?
Time Until Answer: 4 minutes and 12 seconds. The operator, after searches for both "scientists" and "boxing" there were no results. After we explained that the matches could be in Brooklyn, the operator did another search, but still found nothing. The operator asked twice to clarify the question: "Did you say "scientist" boxing?." She continued to patiently search after she was told it was a monthly government sanctioned event where scientists fought.
Answer: Unfortunately, 311 was not able to help with this question.

Question: Where do I get a permit to shoot a pornographic film in the middle of Washington Square Park?
Time Until Answer: 2 minutes and 14 seconds. The operator, Alicia, said she didn't think pornographic films had different standards then regular films, but did have a number to call.
Answer: Please call the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting.

Question: My cat is dead. Who do I contact about getting rid of it?
Time Until Answer: 8 minutes 13 seconds. The operator was very respectful and patient and did two searches for trash pick-up schedules near 204th Street, the location of our dead cat. Trash pickup is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but we don't have to wait for two days. There's a number we could call. She then apologized for the death of the cat again.
Answer: A special division of the New York Sanitation Department.

Question: Where can I get a permit to go ice fishing in Central Park?
Time Until Answer: 3 minutes and 43 seconds. The operator needed clarification on "ice fishing" several times.
Answer: New York State Department of Conservation. (716) 546-8030 (x. 27) or (315) 598-4063 or (315) 591-2507

Question: Do you know what the state alcohol limits are in New York? I'm in my car right now, I need to find out whether or not I should drive.
Time Until Answer: 4 minutes 42 seconds. The operator said that we needed to "look at the book" and insisted that "she did not have the book in front of her". She did some more research while we were on hold to double-check, however she still found no answers. We told her we would take our chances and just drive. She seemed okay with that.
Answer: 311 could not provide this information.

Question: I'm trying to organize a child's party and I'd like to have circus performers attend. I'd like to rent gazelles and midgets. Do I need to get permits for such a thing?
Time Until Answer: 6 minutes 33 seconds. Amazingly, the operator, Austin, patiently offered information and also said that he thought it sounded like a "splendid idea" for a child's party.
Answer: For gazelle permits? NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Veterinary Services. For questions about midget rental permission? NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.