Can you hear me now?
I just want to be able to talk to my wife. That’s all. Is that so much to ask…? It all started about a month ago, this odd odyssey.
“I’m starting to get concerned,” said my little Austrian snowflake, Dagmar, in that nifty accent of hers. “I’m lookink at our bank account, und Verizon hasn’t taken our phone bill out yet.” From my vantage point, prone on the couch, I could hear her tap-tap-tapping away on the computer in the other room.
“That’s not like Verizon to forget to take anyone’s money,” I called to her, eyes glued to the book in my hand. The cat dozing on my belly gave me a dirty look for waking him up, stretched (sticking one paw into the popcorn bowl in the process) and went back to sleep. “Verizon always takes their money out of our account the very second the bill comes due…”
“Dat’s vhat vorries me. I’m going to call them. I don’t vant them to cut off our cell phones like they did the LAST time they forgot to bill us…” Verizon’s billing system has bitten us before. About a year ago their computer crashed and didn’t automatically debit our bank account. Even though it was their fault, they cut off our phones and threatened to put gloom and despair onto our credit history… It took days to figure out, and they never did apologize. So we get a bit nervous whenever we have to deal with Verizon. Dagmar walked past the couch. “You go ahead und lay there mit de cat und vatch TV und read your book. I’ll handle everything.”
“Okay,” I mumbled around a mouthful of popcorn. “Good.”
She disappeared into the other room again, phone in hand. I lay on the couch, ignoring the muffled one-sided conversation drifting through the wall. Ten minutes later…
“Vell, DAT sucks!” she said, hands on hips. “The lousy Verizon people tell me my debit card doesn’t work any more. So I gave them yours to use, but they say it vill take two months before it gets into their system, so for the next two months I have to call them und pay the bill over the phone.”
“That sucks,” I agreed. “A genuine pain in the tuckus indeed.” I licked my finger, turned a page, and promptly forgot the whole affair.
A few days later Dagmar and I were about 230 miles away from home, visiting family the day before my uncle’s funeral. “You know,” my wife said to me, “ve have a little time. I think I’ll take a valk und see some of the town. It looks like a nice little town…” With that she wandered off down the street. I went back to visiting with family, until I realized Dagmar had been gone for about forty-five minutes and I hadn’t heard a peep. Slightly concerned that she may have gotten lost in the unfamiliar town, I dialled her cell number.
Rings and rings and rings, but no answer, no happy “Hello, Hunny!” from the other end. Just a prompt to leave a voice mail message. Hmmm… That’s not like Dagmar, to not answer her phone. I called again, with the same result. Just about the time panic was setting in, I could see her coming around the corner…
“My stupid phone!” she exclaimed as soon as she was within talking distance. “It rang, und I tried to answer it, but the top half of it fell off! It just broke in half!” A quick examination revealed that yes indeed, the phone had broken in half.
“Well,” I said, “there’s not much we can do about it here. We’ll have to call Verizon when we get back home and see what we can do… We’ll probably just have to buy you another phone is all.” And that’s where the matter lay for a few days.
As soon as we got back home, off trotted Dagmar to call the Verizon people. “I broke my phone,” she wailed. “Vhat can I do?” Seeing as how listening to one-sided conversations just confuses and irritates me, I wandered off to go make some nice popcorn. By the time the last muffled “pop-popff” issued from the stove top whirlygig popcorn popper I use, my beloved wife was standing behind me. “Guess vhat?” she said. “We’re both eligible to upgrade our phones for free! We just have to go to the Verizon store and pick them out.”
“Great!” I said. “There’s a Verizon store just three blocks away from here. We can go in the morning before work…”
“No,” she said. “Ve have to go to the store in Morningside, remember? The store here can’t help us.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “The people in this store sell Verizon stuff and have a Verizon sign out front, but for some reason they’re not actually Verizon people…” (I’ve never figured that one out. We went there once, only to have them tell us we had to go to a Verizon store. “Isn’t this a Verizon store?” I asked the guy, looking around at all the Verizon logos hanging on the wall and the life-size cardboard cutout of the Verizon guy asking “can you hear me now?” The clerk looked at me. “Well, all we sell is Verizon stuff, but we’re not actually affiliated with Verizon.”)
So, the next afternoon found us all the way across town in Morningside in the Verizon parking lot. “This is exciting,” I said. “Free phones! We get to get new phones! Maybe I can get one with an MP3 player…” We grinned at each other like two little kids looking at presents on Christmas morning. “This is going to be fun!”
Into the store we walked, hand-in-hand.
“Can I help you?” asked the girl stationed at the door.
“We’re here for upgrades,” I said. “We’d like new phones.”
“Okay, wait right here and I’ll find a sales associate to help you,” she said. Twenty seconds later she was back. “This is Judy (not her real name). She can help you.” We smiled at Judy. Judy smiled back.
“How can I help you?” We explained to Judy that we wanted to upgrade.
“Okay,” she said, wandering over to the phone displays. “This one is good for text messaging, it’s $249 after rebate, and this one is the music player, it’s $195 after mail-in rebate, and this one…”
“Wait,” I said. “We’re here to upgrade, not to buy phones.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, this one is a good camera-phone, it’s only $129 after rebate, and this one is a buy one get one free for only $95 after rebate…”
“Vait,” Dagmar interrupted. “Vy can’t ve just upgrade our phones?”
Judy blinked at us solemnly for a second or two. “Maybe I’ll look up your account,” she said, leading us to the little sales counter they have there. “Now let me get your information…” We proceeded to give her our names, phone numbers, address, social security number, birthdates, pet’s name, great aunt’s maiden name and our blood type, all of which she quietly verified with their database.
“Well, according to this, Kriemhild, you’re not eligible for upgrade for another two weeks,” said Judy looking at me.
“I’m not Kriemhild,” I said. “Where did you get that?”
“That’s the name they have listed as the main contact of your account. Who are you, then?
“I’m Chris. How did my mother-in-law get listed as the main contact on our account?”
“I don’t know. I can change it if you want, but it’ll cost you ten dollars extra a month.”
“Vait,” interjected my little Austrian Honey-Bee. “Did you just say we’re not eligible for an upgrade now at all?”
“Not for another two weeks,” answered Judy
“Can I talk to your supervisor?” asked Dagmar. “All you seem to vant to do is take all our money away.”
With that Judy scampered off to get her supervisor, a guy two appeared to be in his mid-twenties with a shaven head. “Can I help you?” asked Mr. Supervisor.
“Yes,” said Dagmar. “Ve vant to get phones.”
“Well, I sell phones,” said the man. He looked at the computer. “So tell me, ah, Kriemhild,” he said, looking up at me, “why do you need new phones right now?”
“I’m not Kriemhild,” I said. “What does my mother-in-law have to do with this?”
“Who are you, then?” he said.
“Who’s Kriemhild, then?”
“Never mind… Just tell us why we can’t have phones.”
“You can have phones,” he said, “I can get you this one for $249 after mail-in-rebate…”
“Dis is stoopid!” hissed my wife. “Ve called your main office yesterday, und they told us we could have new phones for free TODAY. We vant our phones is all.”
“But you’re not eligible for an upgrade for two more weeks,” the man said, peering at his computer, “and we don’t give phones away for free.”
“You used to,” I said. “We’ve never had to pay for a phone before, and your corporate headquarters people said we were eligible for new free phones right now.”
“I’m sorry,” said the man. “They were wrong. I can’t do anything about it.”
“So what do we have to do?” I asked.
“Come back in two weeks, and we’ll find a plan that works for you and your lifestyle,” he said tiredly.
Dagmar and I left.
Sitting glumly in the car, we quietly looked at each other. “Vhat just happened?” Dagmar asked, breaking the silence. “Vhy don’t I have a cell phone that works? Vhy don’t I have my free phone?”
“I don’t really know,” I said. “I guess we do as the man said and wait.”
So, we waited. Two weeks went by, slowly. Dagmar, sans cell phone, borrowed her mother’s several times in that time period so we could keep in touch whilst traveling. You never really realize how much you use your phone until you don’t have one, I guess. Anyway, the appointed day finally arrived. Off we went on the 25-minute journey to the Verizon store across town (never mind there’s one just three blocks away). Dagmar sat quietly, reading and re-reading the newspaper advertisement she’d cut out of what passes for our local newspaper. “It says here ve can buy one of these phones for $49 and get the udder one free,” she said. “But there’s so much small print I can’t understand it all.”
“You know,” I said, “that fifty-dollar phone will cost us two-hundred bucks before they’re done with us.”
We pulled into the parking lot. Both of us were edgy, making snarly little comments to each other. We usually don’t do that. We stomped into the store. “Hello, may I help you?” said the girl at the front door.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re here for our upgrades.”
The lady looked at her clipboard. She looked at us, then back down at her clipboard again. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but there’s going to be a wait before a sales associate can help you.”
“How long?” asked Dagmar, peering over the lady’s shoulder at all the people wandering morosely about the store, looking like extras from the latest zombie movie, poking vaguely at display phones and making grunting noises at each other.
“At least half an hour,” the girl said. “I can write your name on the list if you want – then you can leave and come back and not lose your place in line…?” We gave her our name and joined the zombie throng, shuffling from display to display, occasionally poking at a phone and grunting. After about five minutes of this, Dagmar announced that we were going to leave. So we went for a short drive, sitting in silence for the most part.
“Watch out for dat car!” Dagmar spat at me.
“Don’t tell me how to drive!” I spat back.
“Vhy are you so angry?”
“I just want to get our stupid new phones and go home,” I said. “Trying to deal with ‘plans’ and ‘rebates’ and ‘deals’ makes me angry. I just want to go give the people fifty bucks, pick out a phone, and go home. Why are YOU so angry?”
“Because I don’t understand vhy these people can’t make thing simple, and I feel like they’re going to take advantage of us,” she said. I turned the car back to the Verizon store so we could resume our place in line. “Isn’t it sad that shopping for a cell phone can make us so angry?”
In a matter of minutes we were back at the store. Dagmar found a bench to sit on while I joined the other shopper-zombies in shuffling about the store. In about twenty minutes the girl at the front door came and told us there was a salesman available to talk to us, and led us to the counter.
“Hello,” said the man at the counter. “May I help you?”
“I doubt it,” I said. “We want to upgrade our phones.”
We proceeded to go through the checklist – name, phone number, address, social security number, yadda yadda yadda… Finally the man finished taking our info and stared at his computer for twenty or thirty seconds, occasionally clicking his mouse. He looked up at me. “So how can I help you…” he looked back at his computer screen again, “…Kriemhild?”
“I’m not Kriemhild. Please leave my mother-in-law out of this. I’m Chris.”
“Oh,” said the man. “Well, someone named Kriemhild is listed as the main account holder. I can change that for you if you want…?”
“Yes, please,” answered Dagmar. “Ve don’t vant my mudder listed.”
“Okay,” said the man. “I can change that for you, but I’ll have to change your family plan. It will cost you ten dollars a month more than you’re paying now.”
“Call me Kriemhild,” I said. “We just want to get our phones upgraded. That’s all we want.”
“Oh, okay! Well, I have this phone here I can let you have for $249 after the mail-in rebate…”
“NO,” I said, rather loudly. “That’s NOT what we want. I do NOT want to pay that much. We just want to be able to call each other every now and then. No plans, no schemes, no rebates… We just want phones.” Dagmar reached into her purse and retrieved the battered newspaper ad. She smoothed it out and presented it to the man. “Ve want to have this,” she said, “unless you have anything cheaper.”
The man perused the ad for about a tenth of a second. “We don’t have those any more,” he said.
“But it was in yesterday’s paper,” Dagmar replied.
“I’m sorry, it’s an old ad. We do have something equivalent,” he answered. “Here are a couple phones we can let you have for $49 after mail in rebate, buy one get one free.”
“So the phones are twenty-five bucks each?” I asked.
“No,” the man said slowly. “This phone is $99 dollars.” He held a phone up in one hand to make sure I knew exactly which phone he was talking about. “But you get a fifty-dollar rebate from the phone manufacturer. If you buy this phone,” he again waved the indicated phone at me for emphasis, “you get THIS one free.” He then held up an identical phone in his other hand.
“So the phones are twenty-five bucks each?” I asked.
The man sighed. “Yes.”
“Okay, then. We’ll take this twenty-five dollar phone,” I held a phone up in my hand so he knew exactly which one I was talking about, “and this twenty-five dollar phone.” I held the other phone up so he could see it. “And we’ll pay you fifty dollars.”
“No,” the man said. “That’s not how it works…”
Before he could start in on the rebate explanation again, I interjected, “But why not?”
“It’s complicated,” he said, a tinge of resignation creeping into his voice.
“I know. And that annoys me,” I said. “Tell me what I have to do to get those two phones.”
The man turned back to his computer. “Okay, all I have to do is…” His voice trailed off as he pushed buttons, clicked mice, ran boxes over scanners, peered at the computer…
I turned around. There were at least twenty-five people in line behind me. Dagmar had wandered off to find the comfy bench to sit on again, and was in conversation with an elderly lady who wanted to talk about her daughter’s in-law who had been killed in Iraq. The couple next to me at the other cash register seemed to be having a difficult time as well. “All I want is a goddam phone that works,” I heard the man say. “Give me a goddam phone that works.” The sales guy working on my stuff kept tapping away at his computer. My attention drifted.
“Do you want cases for your phones?” the man asked me after about four or five minutes. I looked up, startled, wondering if I’d snored. It’s embarrassing to do that in public, but it happens to me from time to time.
“Um,” I replied. “I guess I’ll need something to hold it on my belt.” Dagmar saw that there was action happening for the first time in quite a while and rejoined me. “De last time ve were here, they told us we could buy a case for ten dollars with a lifetime warranty,” she said to the man.
“We don’t do that any more,” he said. “I can sell you these two leather cases for $19.95 each…?”
“I really and truly don’t care any more,” I said. “Just get our new phones hooked up so we can leave. We’ll take the cases if it makes you happy.”
The man turned back to his computer. “Huh,” he said. “Stupid thing. I’ll have to activate your new phones by hand…” He started pushing more buttons. Eventually, he woke me up again to tell me he was finished. “All I need is for you to swipe your card here,” he said, indicating the little credit card swiper machine. Obediently, I swiped. Just under two hundred bucks for two twenty-five dollar phones. Go figger.
“So how do ve get our money back from the rebate people?” asked my wife.
The man handed us a piece of paper. “Simple. You just mail this in, with the receipt and the bar code off the box the phone comes in. The address is here,” he indicated an address on the piece of paper. “Okay, we’re done,” he said. “Have a good day!” He handed us our phones, the boxes and the receipt.
I looked at my watch. Just under two hours. Two hours it took to do this. But now my wife has a phone again, and I have a matching new phone as well. All is good with the world.
Until later that night…
Tap-tap-tappity-tap went my wife in the computer room. Then, “Vhat? Was ist das? Warum…? Oh, those schmucks!”
“Auf English, bitte,” I hollered from my vantage point (that being flat on my back on the couch with a bowl of popcorn balanced on my chest and a cat on my tummy). “My German’s not that good.”
“You understand ‘schmuck,’ don’t you? Vell, those lousy Verizon people… They added $191 to our bill. Didn’t you swipe your card und pay already?”
“Yep,” I answered. “I paid. Swiped my card. Got a receipt.”
She padded off into the other room to call the Verizon people again, muttering under her breath. “Charge us twice for this, lousy schmucky people, boy, I tell you…” I could hear her pick up the phone, and bits and pieces of the conversation. “I know you’re busy… Look, I just vant to talk to the man at the back counter…” then “you charged us twice… Can’t you take care of it? You’re the people we bought it from…” then “You mean I have to call THEM? Ach, mein Gott! Okay…” click.
So, she called Verizon’s corporate headquarters people. She eventually got it straightened out, but it took a good twenty minutes of jabbering on the phone… They did indeed charge us twice. The man charged our card AND put the charge on our bill. Silly people.
Last night Dagmar asked me to make copies of the receipt and rebate form and box-top from the phone so she could send the rebate in. “Okay,” I said. And I meant it, too. Twenty minutes later, I heard a great guffaw from the other room. “Our phones have warranties on them,” Dagmar told me between giggles. “But to get the warranty you have to have the original boxes the phones came in. But guess what you have to do to get the rebate? Tear the boxes apart and send them in… I can’t believe these people!”
Today Dagmar’s at the Verizon store yet again. The man at the counter only gave us the front of the rebate form – he didn’t bother to give us a copy of the back side, which is the side where you fill in your name and address. In other words, if we hadn’t noticed that he didn’t give us the entire form, we would have sent our stuff in only to have the rebate rejected, thus losing our rebate money.
So, to sum everything up: They screwed up our billing. They misinformed us over the phone as to when we could upgrade, AND they told us it would be free when it turned out to be expensive. When we went to the store the first time it was a hassle and they kept trying to sell us expensive things. When we went back, it took two hours to get two phones, the store was crowded, the staff was flustered, and they kept trying to sell us expensive things. Then they double-billed us and messed up our rebate forms.
It seems to me that it shouldn’t be that difficult. They have a product and a service that I want. I go to them and say, “I want this and that.” Why can’t they just take my money and give me what I want? Why is it so hard? Why? Why?
If Verizon didn’t have the best coverage (which is important in this rather rural area of ours) we’d go elsewhere.