DON'T KNOW IF you've heard, but things have been a little tense over here at 801 Market. Feuding owners, returning prodigal editors . . . and that's just the last couple of months.
So when an editor stopped by my desk to talk about the voice of God, I figured the poor guy had finally lost it.
Turns out he was talking about a SEPTA announcer who sounded like what I guess he imagines God would sound like if he were, say, announcing that "the scheduled local 3:28 to Fox Chase is next to arrive on track 3, section B." Me, I've always imagined God sounded more like Rosie Perez, but I digress.
When I wandered down to the information booth at the Market East station to inquire about this voice, the woman at the desk laughed. "Just so you know, sometimes 'God' makes mistakes and we have to correct his information," she said, apparently unmoved by the eternal damnation that follows such blasphemy.
Same with the guy who joked that I shouldn't forget to genuflect when I swung by the control room at SEPTA headquarters to meet Alvin Elliott. (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.)
Elliott, a 28-year SEPTA veteran, probably isn't what many would envision God looking like - he's a small, unassuming guy, kind of shy. But when he speaks . . . Ahhhhhh - cue the pearly gates.
Well, all right, I thought, as I took in his deep baritone. Now this is the kind of heavenly voice that separates believers from nonbelievers.
Elliott, 63, is a good sport. He's used to the attention, and although he's most often compared to Lou Rawls, James Earl Jones and Barry White, he's gotten his share of celestial comparisons, too. Though he treads lightly there.
"I've thought about that characterization, and if what they mean is that it's a nurturing, maybe fatherly voice, that they don't mind listening to, that I can go for," he said.
Elliott, a passenger-information specialist, started making live announcements in SEPTA's Center City stations around 1990. In 2000, he was chosen to voice the automated announcements thousands of passengers now hear systemwide. He also announces delays, cancellations or equipment changes.
It was quite an honor, and a responsibility, but despite some gentle ribbing, he said, his colleagues are supportive.
Like anyone would really mess with God, I joked.
Well, sinners. And dumb kids, apparently. Growing up in North Philly, Elliott got some grief for his voice, he said.
"Where I grew up, it was like putting on airs," he said. That made him try to sound like everyone else in his neighborhood.
"I think if I hadn't have done that, I may have pursued a different career using what I was given."
He may yet still. Recording those announcements in 2000 got him thinking of a future in voice-overs.
A sinner at heart, I suggested he could have all kinds of fun with harried commuters: "This is God. Everyone's getting to the station at the same time. Chillax."
Elliott smiled, but admitted that he can be a little humorless about the job.
"It's important that the voice doesn't take away from the essence of this job, which is to relay information and help the public get where they are going safely. If I don't do that, then it doesn't matter how nice my voice sounds. I'm just a talking head with no substance."
Fair enough. But I couldn't help but wonder: What if he were God . . . wink, wink . . . what would he say over those speakers? Would he maybe give us a heads up about when the world is really going to end - because those Mayans are making planning impossible? Would he announce the upcoming Pennsylvania lottery numbers at a few lucky stations? If so, Market East is my usual station, big guy.
Would he maybe exercise the divine intervention with the Flyers that he's clearly exercising with the Eagles?
Ever the professional, Elliott paused and then settled on something simple: "That I care," he said with a smile. "That I genuinely care."
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