Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
YOUR CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED DUE TO TOTAL CONFUSION
Last year we decided to purchase a cell phone for my wife. As the proprietor of Mom’s Taxi Service, she is behind the wheel more hours than most long-haul tractor trailer drivers, so we figured a cell phone would be a good thing to have in case of an emergency (or if one of her temperamental customers suddenly changed plans: “Hey Mom, you don’t have to pick me up after softball practice at 4:00 anymore—pick me up at Brittney’s house at 7:00 instead, but swing by the softball field anyway because I think I left my glove there”).
When I got a cell phone at work a few years ago, it was a fairly simple process. My boss handed me a phone, told me my new phone number, and he pays the bills each month. My wife and I tried to find a cell phone company which would hand us a phone, tell us our new phone number, and pay the bills each month; but apparently telecommunications firms, unlike dot-com Internet companies, still think it’s a good idea to try to make a profit.
There are many different companies offering cell phone service, but we felt most comfortable talking with two familiar outfits, SNET Wireless, a division of our long-time local phone company, and Bell Atlantic Mobile, part of a trustworthy regional phone company. (We knew they were trustworthy because James Earl Jones did their commercials, and if you can’t trust the voice of the Lion King, who can you trust?)
However, just as we started to investigate the various cell phone plans, those two familiar companies vanished. I mean, they simply disappeared overnight. Suddenly, we were inundated with sales pitches from two outfits called Verizon and Cingular. We thought that maybe the telecommunications industry had been overrun by marketing executives who did not know how to spell. (Every time I do a spell-check, my computer suggests that I change those words to “venison” and “glandular.”)
My wife and I were very confused. Verizon uses a big red check mark as it’s corporate logo, while Cingular uses the image of an orange bug which just splatted against the windshield at 80 mph. The Verizon TV and radio ads feature the soothing voice of James Earl Jones, which is why I was prepared to sign up with the Lion King. But then my wife reminded me that Mr. Jones is also the voice of the sinister Darth Vader. So we were back to square one: total confusion.
The Red Check and the Orange Bug bombarded us with a host of cryptic terms: “Roaming charges,” “Home calling area,” “Anytime minutes,” “Manufacturer’s rebate,” and the most ominous term of all, “Two-year service agreement.”
For example, one particular plan offered 300 minutes of weekday calling, plus unlimited nights and weekend calling, for the low price of $29.99 each month—and a free phone! But after asking a lot of questions of the sales representative (who acted as if his supervisor had assured him that no one would ever ask any questions), we learned that when cryptic terms are factored in—especially “Roaming charges” and “Home calling area”—the monthly $29.99 fee could easily jump to a figure approximately twice the national debt of Bolivia.
In addition, they require that we pay over $100 up front for the “free” phone, an expense we could quickly recoup, according to the sales rep, as soon as we completed a 24-page rebate form, mailed it to a post office box in Guam, and waited patiently for a team of highly-skilled customer service professionals (the minimum wage in Guam is about 12 cents per day) to process the paperwork and send us a check. In other words, our chances of actually receiving a rebate check are about the same chances of seeing Ted Kennedy propose tax cut legislation.
Once we sifted through all the plan details, my wife and I discovered the only way to keep the monthly bill reasonably low would be to use the cell phone while sitting on our couch—and only if we made calls to our regular home phone which sits on a table next to the couch. (Walking into the kitchen during the call would produce a pricey “Roaming charge.”) To guarantee that the monthly fee never exceeds $29.99, we would be required to keep the cell phone always turned off and hidden under a cushion on the couch (right next to the missing TV remote).
After analyzing all the options, we finally decided it would be more economical to hire a real taxi service—with a driver on-call 24 hours a day—to chauffeur our kids around. The taxi is not cheap, but at least there are no “Roaming charges.”
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