The automated phone call came on Saturday over Memorial Day weekend, from the cable television company, announcing it was important, stressing important, for me to call such and such a number by the end of the day. I knew what it was about immediately, or at least suspected, but it didn’t make sense, as far as I was aware, although I hadn’t paid my current bill yet, I was hardly months overdue. I recognized the need to call, though, because I knew the cable company moved quickly, based on my service previously being cut off in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which I found somewhat humorous since my cable was disconnected after power had come back on in my area. And to complicate everything further, my telephone, Internet connection, and television, are all tied in together so I had to use a borrowed cell phone from the woman who runs the Chinese restaurant across the street to call about getting my service restored. So much for the modern era.
I called the number on my previous cable bill, which was not the same as the one in the automated message, and then pushed what I thought were the appropriate numbers on my phone after listening to various recorded options. I guessed billing, which was correct, but I wanted to talk to a person. The recorded voice gave me another option, to continue in the menu or did I want to talk to an actual representative, for which there was now a five dollar charge? Amazing, I was now being charged for customer service, the concept of “service with a smile” apparently disappearing from the contemporary landscape. But I was willing, still believing in human contact, even if limited to the choice of paying five dollars to escape dependence on automation.
A guy with a nasal sounding voice eventually answered, confirming up front there was a five dollar charge for the privilege, or convenience, though his words conveyed no emotion, of talking with him.
“This would make a good story,” I said.
“What would, sir?” customer service guy replied.
“You don’t think paying five dollars for assistance over the phone isn’t an unusual story?” I said,
“I don’t know what would make a good or bad story, sir.”
Man, he was well-trained in responding with no emotion, I thought. Never commit, never offer an opening, continue to placate the customer with a robotic demeanor until he or she gives up seemed to be the modus operandi.
We then went through the usual preliminary details — phone number, address, and so forth. He informed me I owed a monthly bill, of which I needed to pay $48 or my service would be cut off on Thursday, four days away. No problem, I told the anonymous customer service guy, and said I would pay with my debit card.
“I’m sorry, sir, your card is not being accepted,” customer service guy said, moments later after punching in the digits I gave him, including expiration date.
“I have no idea why,” I replied.
“Do you want me to try again, sir?”
“Will it cost another five dollars?”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“You don’t want me to try again, sir?”
“Yes, I do,” I said, recognizing customer service guy had no sense of humor, or individual personality, at least when dealing with those seeking assistance. But then again, he probably was forced to endure a lot of abuse from irate callers, whether justified or not.
I repeated my debit card number, and again, same result, payment was being denied, which didn’t make sense because the card worked fine the day before.
I told customer service guy there shouldn’t be a problem, to which, he replied, “I’m sorry, sir, payment is being denied on your card.”
“What can I do?” I asked, not expecting a definitive answer. “It’s a holiday weekend.”
“Our offices will be open again Tuesday morning, sir.”
“I’m trying to avoid a drive since Monday is a holiday,” I said, referring to the additional upcoming day with no mail delivery. “Can you make a notation I’m putting a check in the mail?”
Foolish question, I knew, before I even got an answer.
“I’m sorry, sir, that’s not possible.”
“I’ve always paid my bill,” I persisted.
“According to our records, your service was disconnected once in the past six months, sir.”
Too complicated to begin to explain: Hurricane Sandy, communication chaos, and same problem with my debit card, forcing me to drive to the local cable office, a fifteen minute drive or so, to pay my bill in cash to get my service restored.
I wasn’t angry then, not even particularly annoyed at the time, since the consequences of Hurricane Sandy in the New York City area, where I live, certainly restored perspective. First priority, food and shelter. My town was spared the devastation hitting Staten Island, the Jersey shore, or parts of Long Island, but the feeling of isolation was very real. Everyone on my block suspected we would eventually be okay, which we were, though power was off for a week, with nearby gas stations closed for four days before lines of a couple hours wait began to appear, so I had already adjusted to not having a television, relying instead on a transistor radio given to me by my downstairs neighbor.
I continued the ping ping conversation with customer service guy, not expecting any answers, which, of course, didn’t materialize, finally getting off the phone after deciding to put my payment in the mail, crossing my fingers, prepared, of course, to the possibility of needing to get the appropriate amount of cash and driving to the local office to pay in person.
So, the race was on to see whether this article, or whatever it is, will include mention of a loss of communication services, whether telephone and television service remain intact, uninterrupted, or if there will be a pause before completion while I go for a drive to pay my cable bill. All seems well so far, with my only conclusion, one I’ve known for quite some time, I will never be part of the twitter-verse, and its future ramifications, or appear before anyone on Skype, either in Japan, London, or one state over from where I’m currently sitting and typing away.
The only thing I know for sure, aside from planning to take the weekend to try and get organized for the true arrival of summer, is that a declarative sentence is still a declarative sentence, and that is something with which I am still comfortable using as a means to communicate with others, and hope to continue doing so for quite some time to come.