I am at war with my phone company. Compared with real wars, it is a nothing war, a luxury war. But every time I walk into my house, I face my enemy: a dead phone.
My home phone hasn’t worked in a week. I have called at least five or six times, just during this latest “outage.” I have spent literally hours on the phone with them. This is the third time this month that the phone has stopped working.
And what do they say? Press 1 if you want to be put on hold for an hour. Press 2 if you want to wait to speak with someone who will ignore you. Press 3 if you want to make an appointment for repair service, which means you take a day off of work, and we never show up and don’t even have the decency or respect to call you and tell you we aren’t coming until you receive an automated call at 8 p.m. saying we’ve rescheduled your appointment for next week.
“Agent. Agent. Agent.” That’s what nice Matthew of Tuesday night said to say to bypass the automatic options that guarantee automatic inactivity. So I say it over and over again. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Sometimes I stay on hold forever until I get a nice guy like Matthew who listens to me rant and rave until I calm down enough to tell him that I understand it’s not his fault, that no one is “in dispatch” at that hour, and he promises to have someone come out first thing the next morning. And then no one comes. And no one calls. And I start with the next person.
I know. Young people don’t even bother with landlines. They certainly shouldn’t bother with Verizon, which of all the companies I deal with in trying to maintain a lifestyle dependent on technology is far and away the absolute, No. 1 worst. It’s not that the people are unpleasant. When you finally do get to a person, after an average of an hour of sitting with your cellphone (AT&T, thank you) at your ear, they very pleasantly read the script that says, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” I now have my answer: I’m sorry you’re stuck working for a company that doesn’t value its customers, that lies to them, that makes promises it can’t keep. It must be terrible to work for a company like that.
Problem is, I need a landline. I have confidential conversations. I have endless conference calls where people say, “Could whoever is on a cellphone please go on mute, because we’re getting all kinds of feedback.” I’m not used to walking around with a cellphone permanently in my pocket so I can pick it up in whatever room I’m in. There really are people in my life, people I care about, who are used to calling me on my landline and worry when they get what sounds like a fax line when they call.
I know there are people in New York and New Jersey who still don’t have phone service, or even electricity. My heart goes out to them. If Verizon can’t fix my landline, it’s no surprise that the companies responsible for these much larger problems are even more “powerless,” and that the folks living like that are even angrier than I am.
I finally got an answer for what’s going on — not restoration of phone service, mind you, but an explanation. Rain. “Rain?” I said. I live in California. We did not have a superstorm. We did not have a hurricane. It rained for a few days. In the rest of the country, it would be just another day. In California, we say things like “we needed that rain.” We get to use our umbrellas. We do not expect to be without phone service for the month.
I know I’m lucky. I told the last person I talked to that I wanted to make sure I understood about this “rain” business because I would be writing a column about it. There was a long pause, but they still didn’t show up today. I’m lucky: I rearranged my life all week waiting for repair people who never came, but at least I get to write about it and send this column to the media relations people at Verizon. Maybe they’ll never fix my phones as a result. Maybe they’ll be out here tomorrow. In the grand scheme of things, compared to being homeless or sick, compared to cancer and earthquakes and superstorms, it doesn’t matter so much.
But it highlights a sense of vulnerability that I don’t really know what to do with. We are captives of technology. We have become dependent on companies that don’t care and technology we can’t control. It makes us yell at the people who are just answering their phones, people who have no more power to fix things than I do.
Tonight there are no rain clouds on the horizon. Also, no Verizon.
— Bestselling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.