$12 Watermelons and the Forlorn Refrigerator

Ain’t that just kind of sad?

So. Grocery shopping is not high on my hit parade. When we moved here in 1986, I discovered to my delight a small grocery store, Mack’s Market, less than one mile from my home. It wasn’t a large store, but it carried all the staples. If I forgot my checkbook, they let me charge stuff. If they saw me hunting for something, they’d ask what I was looking for. For years they stocked Chinese hot mustard just for me. If I had milk in the basket the clerk would tell the carryout guy to put it back because, “you man was just in here and he got milk, bread and cereal.”Their prices were lower than Kroger’s which really isn’t that big of a feat and when they were higher, I gladly paid it because I’d rather support the business owned by the guy down the road than the soulless, corporation that tries to spy on me.

I manage to do most of my shopping online, but no one is offering groceries delivered to me yet.

Because I hate grocery shopping so much and because Mack’s was so close, I got into the habit of doing my grocery shopping daily which I discovered I liked. I mean really, how can you know on Saturday what you want to eat on Tuesday?But then Walmart opened. It was the death knell. Slowly, things degenerated to the point where I wouldn’t buy it unless it was in a can or a box (continued problems with coolers, freezers and produce quality.) Then stock started disappearing. Then the prices started rising to rival the grocery section in the Exxon.

I was doing my shopping elsewhere once a month or so and using Mack’s for pasta emergencies and dog food runs. Much to my chagrin, the “elsewhere” was often Walmart. I am infused with self-loathing every time I walk into the Evil Empire, but it’s closer and cheaper than Kroger.

Sure enough, Mack’s has gone out of business. I didn’t have the heart to go in and say goodbye. Besides, their last day in business was Saturday and I’d been powerless for 5 days by then, my nerves were as fragile as the mantle on the deluxe lantern I’d just bought and I could easily envision sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of my favorite cashier. I just wasn’t in the mood to be a spectacle.

To add insult to injury, the derecho wiped out my freezer and refrigerator which in my case was even more catastrophic than is usual for the situation. Because I have not had air conditioning for years, I’ve taken to storing flour, sugar, rice, etc. etc. in the refrigerator. HMO’Keefe cleaned out the refrigerator. I’m not sure what his reasoning was, but except for the two bottles of champagne and my B12, he threw everything out – rice, unopened bottles, Bisquick, birdseed, etc. etc. Other than a smattering a canned goods and a fairly well-stocked spice cabinet, the vittles are gone

The size of a Super Walmart, but mostly all food.

I was planning a major hunting and gathering expedition for this evening after work. I hate Kroger. It’s too big. I don’t need 47 choices of mustard and a rest area to grab some Starbucks. (If it wasn’t Starbucks, I might find that rest area appealing.) There’s a smaller local chain next door, but the last time I was in there, I found they didn’t carry a lot of the stuff I buy. I’m very brand loyal with some things. It’s been years, I suppose I should go check them out. There’s a spiffy place in Milton that I rather like, but it’s 6 miles past the house (and another 6 miles back) and after work, well, that ain’t gonna happen. There are some places in Huntington, but the frozen and chilled stuff is going to melt before I get it home.So, I went to the Kroger. I discovered a half a watermelon was $12, but only $4 if I used my rewards card.

$12 for HALF of one.

I hate these stupid reward cards. Years ago, I was in the Kroger and ran across some pricing equally stupid and didn’t have my card with me. They told me I could just punch in my phone number, but we must not have registered our card as the number wouldn’t work. So I punched in my friend’s number. We figure we have confused the pudding out of their marketing department. Sudden switching of dog food brands, no Cheez-Its, but ice cream, the cheap boxed wine one day, the premium the next. I rather like messing with them.In any event, there I am in the Kroger. I stop and think. I need everything.

I look around. They’re awfully busy for 6:30 pm on a Tuesday when it dawns on me that everyone needs everything. I take a gander at the $12 watermelon. I try to find a bag of onions. I get sidetracked trying to figure out exactly where locally the “local’ tomatoes came from. I nearly have a breakdown in the foreign foods aisle.

I am defeated before I begin.

Shamelessly stolen from thepunch.com.au — artist’s name is Mark Knight

I decided I can’t do this. I’m just going to shop daily for awhile until we’re restocked. A nice salad from the salad bar and a rotisserie chicken for dinner sound appealing. There are no receptacles whatsoever to put the salad in. I wait in line at the deli for 20 minutes to obtain a plastic container. I head for cereal. I find bread 6 aisles down. I troop the equivalent of a half-marathon to the dairy aisle and grab milk, butter and yogurt. I backtrack 8 aisles to get lunch meat and salad dressing.I would have sat in the rest area, but, damn-it-all, it’s Starbucks and I don’t want anyone I know seeing me at a Starbucks.

I stand in line. I use my Kroger card. I bought dinner for this evening, some lunch stuff for Boston Boy, 10 containers of yogurt and some odds and ends and, voila!, through the magic of my Kroger card it only cost $99.16. My receipt said I saved $22.19. (No. I did not buy the $12 half-watermelon.)

I cannot afford to save that much money.

With dinner leftovers and the avocados I didn’t know we had, it looks better.

I arrived home to find milk in there. Nobody at the Kroger told me my man bought milk and nobody offered to carry my groceries out though they did ask about my wrist brace.So now, I have cheese slices, ham, turkey, butter, 10 containers of yogurt, two bottles of Champagne, a vial of B12, two bottles of salad dressing, two quarts of milk and a loaf of bread in the refrigerator. There’s also a quart of milk in the freezer, because I try to keep a small amount of milk in the freezer for the occasional bovine breast milk emergency.

It’s a big refrigerator. It looks forlorn. Or maybe not. Maybe it looks hopeful. Is it a beginning or an end? It looks like if I rearranged the words a bit, it could be the opening of a short story.

And another remote goes to live in the basket by the tv.

I’m sitting here watching the local news LIVE on my TELEVISION. My Agog-O-Meter is off the charts.

After puberty, I didn’t watch much television. I preferred books. With the advent of the cyber revolution, the Internet offered me all the entertainment I could handle (plus some). So even having the capability to watch 7000 channels, I mostly ignored the beast. UNTIL, against my will, I became addicted to Law & Order. I was appalled. I was embarrassed. It called for strong measures.

My New Year’s resolution for 2008 was to quit watching Law & Order. It remains the only resolution I’ve ever kept. Without a steady diet of homicide, pedophilia, rape, arson, corruption, and a justice system gone amok, I’ve been happier. You just can’t watch that crap day in and day out with consequences. That Law & Order is on at least one channel at every hour of the day doesn’t help.

I quit cold turkey and it was a lot easier than I thought. I would go days without turning the television on. So, I cancelled the satellite service which was installed years and years ago. The decision to get a satellite dish was made after (a) learning the Barn sits in a television broadcast signal “dead zone” and (b) after spending heaps of money on ever bigger, more powerful, unsightly antennas. The last antenna was only slightly smaller than a cell phone tower. It allowed us to get Channel 3 clearly, 8 on sunny days, 11 now and then, and 13 never. PBS was hopeless. I raised the only child born after 1970 who didn’t grow up with Sesame Street.

When the Green Bay Packers had their great revival in the mid-90s, Chef Boy ‘R Mine and The Ex couldn’t stand the thought of missing a game. 7000 channels including the local stations soon appeared crystal clear on our television moments after the DISH TV truck arrived at the top of the hill. (7000 channels, of course, necessitated a new television.)  The guys monopolized the television and I didn’t much care.

For the most part, I have not missed having television. The parts that aren’t included in that most part are being able to watch the news, not being able to watch Jane and The Dragon, and not being able to turn on one of the annoying morning shows while I’m trying to wake up and get motivated.

So, I figured out how to watch the local news on the computer. I joined Netflicks. I was reasonably happy. Then I learned about the Roku player – this cute little thing was going to let me stream Netflicks to my television set – not a beast by any means, but a larger picture than the laptop. The Roku came with a number of channels none of which included live newscasts.

I got greedy. I wanted news. On the television.

My television does not have a digital tuner. There’s nothing wrong with it otherwise – decent picture, right size for the room, and long-since paid for. When they pulled the analog plug, I couldn’t even get a fuzzy picture. If Armageddon occurred, I was going to have to listen to it on the radio or hope CNN had a livestream.

I am thoroughly enjoying the Roku.  If you have a Netflicks account and aren’t otherwise able to stream it to your television, I can highly recommend the Roku.  If they would just provide me with live newscasts, I would be a content, fulfilled woman.  But they didn’t and I wasn’t.

Well. A friend gave me a digital converter box and a set of rabbit ears. I didn’t figure it would work very well considering the rabbit ears, but I hoped it might pull in one channel clear enough to keep abreast of current events. I also acquired an ancient tiny portable television as I wasn’t about to pry the “big” television out the armoire in order to hook up gitchies to whatzits that might get one channel. And besides, I didn’t want more stuff hanging off the television – between the stereo receiver, the DVD player, the VHS player and the Roku there’s more than enough cords, cables, boxes, and remotes.

So, I hooked it all up. Even without the rabbit ears extended, I immediately tuned in the 3 major networks and a bunch of other stations I’d never heard of. The picture was beautiful. As fate would have it, one channel was playing the news, one had Law & Order on, and another had Jane and The Dragon playing. Even PBS came in clear as a bell.

I was agog.

So bug-eyed, I disassembled it all and hooked the converter and rabbit ears to the “big” television which was a pain in my pudgy pitoot. Moving everything into the armoire resulted in a loss of PBS and the Jane and The Dragon channel, but I can get them back if I fiddlefart with the antenna.

I am state-of-the-art now!  Relatively speaking.

It’s been a good week to be me.

Now I’ve stayed up too late watching the tube and probably will get up too late to tomorrow to see Today.

[Really, I don’t understand the appeal of late night talk shows. I swear my IQ dropped 10 points watching Jay Leno.]

Frontier – Rooting for the Underdog

Reviewing my notes while on the phone with Frontier's Customer Service Call Center.

I meant to post Part 2 of the Frontier Saga before now, but my life kept getting in the way.

When I left y’all, it was 3 p.m. and I’d raised hell with Frontier Customer Service which ended in a promise that a technician would be at my house prior to 8 p.m. At 8:05 p.m., I entered into chat with yet another Customer Service Representative who was anxious to get me off of her screen. She was exceptionally polite, but we went through rounds and round and rounds of linguistic gymnastics in which it became obvious she wouldn’t or couldn’t let me talk to her supervisor.

I settled in for the evening. We chatted. I used words like “unacceptable” a lot. I also used the phrase, “No. I’m not going to call that number – I’ve called that number several times already.” After assuring me it was both impossible and illegal for a Frontier representative to call me after 9 p.m., I settled into the sofa  even deeper and she and I stared at a blank computer screen for a good while – just under 15 minutes.

While sitting in chat, I sent an abridged email to Ken-The-President knowing full well I was spinning my wheels, but what the hell.

Apparently, tying up a CSR in chat for more than an hour gets one a lot of attention provided one is polite, but insistent.

My phone rang. A very nice gentleman from Frontier was on the phone and I disconnected from chat. I’m sure that poor woman Snoopy-danced all the way to vending machine for sorely needed chocolate.

Multiple phone calls later, the Very Nice Gentleman assured me he was on the case and I toddled off to bed right around midnight.

The next morning, I was astonished to find email from Ken-the-President. Said email was not of the “thank you for contacting Frontier where you can be assured…” Oh no. It was a real, detailed response to my email. Ken-the-President assured me he was On The Case.

All morning my phone rang with various people from Frontier. At roughly 3 p.m., I left my office to meet the service technician at the house. Multiple problems were found and Dan-the-Repair-Guy was surprised I ever had a connection that worked.

Since it was not raining, the connection was working. Nevertheless, Dan replaced my wiring, the box, and the modem. He gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him if it went down again.

It rained and I didn’t have a connection. I called Dan; Dan was puzzled.

Meanwhile, folks from Frontier are still calling me. I tell them all the same thing – the connection works fine until it rains. When it rains, I lose my DSL and acquire so much line noise that phone calls are nearly impossible. Some hours after the rain stops, whatever got wet dries out and the connection works perfectly.

Everyone is perplexed but On The Case. I still get multiple phone calls with questions that probe the exact conditions of the outages.

In my spare time, I surf the net for stories about Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon in West Virginia. The stories are Not Good. There are widescale outages that go on for more than a week. Fibernet, who use Frontier’s backbone, are especially not happy. The Public Service Commission is not happy. Lots and lots of people are not happy.

I search some more. I read business analysts who said before the acquisition that Frontier cannot possibly pull off West Virginia given Verizon’s mess.

I challenged Ken-the-President to “prove it” with respect to Frontier’s web page statement which reads as follows:

Welcome, West Virginia.

We are excited to be serving you.

Over the next few months, you will see that we do things a little differently than your previous Service Provider. Because for us, serving you is more than just a day-to-day operation. Our work is all about you, our customer. We have an ongoing commitment to servicing the communities we work and live in. It is about giving back, growing with our communities and supporting your needs.

It is remembering that you are a person, not just a customer.

As I told Ken, once I got in contact with a technician, I’ve been absolutely tickled by Frontier’s service, but that the call centers still need a lot of work.

I'm never going to pull off a back flip, but it's the thought that counts. Right?

I don’t pretend that any customer of any business should have to fire off an email to the president to get all of Customer Service on the same page, but I’m enormously impressed nonetheless.

I continue to read the news stories. Frontier is getting hit with just about everything that can go wrong going wrong. Powerful thunderstorms are wreaking havoc on an already havoc-ridden infrastructure.

Almost always, I root for the underdog in sports competitions (including politics).

I’m now rooting for Frontier to pull off the impossible – restore the communication infrastructure of West Virginia to a reliable state and, eventually, improve it without going bankrupt. Lots of professionals say it can’t be done. (Go Team, Go!)

My DSL still goes up and down like a yoyo. I still have the same problem – we’ve merely eliminated some potential causes. I fully realize that in terms of fixing the problem, I’m exactly where I was. But after years of Verizon’s nonsense, I have every reason to believe that Frontier does, in fact, care that my service is unreliable and is, in fact, Trying To Fix It.

In terms of the greater good, it is probably ridiculous that they stopped what they were doing elsewhere to work on my silly-ass little problem. On the other hand, they created an enormous amount of goodwill with me.

Welcome to West Virginia, Frontier.

[Connie dons a bizarre set of clothing which she hopes approximates that of a cheerleader and tries to think of a clever rhyme that will go well with pompoms and back flips.]

An open letter to Ken who may not have been thinking straight.

Ken Arndt
President
Frontier Communications Inc.
39 Public Square
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773

Dear Mr. Arndt:

I think we’re off to a bad start.

For reasons I didn’t understand, Frontier decided to buy the customer base and infrastructure of Verizon’s troubled dealings in West Virginia. I can’t imagine what you folks were thinking. While on a smaller scale (by far), it’s akin to someone buying BP’s gulf operations. Perhaps y’all needed a tax loss. Anyhoo, y’all took over the reins on July 1st.

In any event, you’ve inherited me. And hundreds like me – the same folks that overwhelmed the Public Service Commission and the Attorney General of West Virginia with complaints about Verizon’s equipment and nonresponsive customer service. Your website greeting indicates that you were aware of at least some of the problems.

The State’s response was to fine Verizon and impose sanctions that included proof of improved customer service and a significant outlay of cash to improve equipment and coverage. Verizon, responsible corporate citizens that they are, effectively said, “Hell, no” and sold you their mess.

I have to ask. What were you thinking?

My problems with Verizon span about 20 years at a single address with a single phone number. The most concise synopsis of the problem is: when it rains, the equipment doesn’t work. West Virginia boasts possession of the largest rain forest in North America or maybe just a big rain forest.  I can’t quite remember.   Either way, it rains here. A lot. And, by the way, we’re having a fabulously wet July.

A few years ago, Verizon sent me an email taunting me with the news that I could have a DSL connection in my home. I was dubious. At that stage of my relationship with Verizon and their equipment, I could not make an outgoing phone call more than half the time for 3 years. On a somewhat irregular basis, I called the phone number that connected me to what was euphemistically known as Verizon Customer Service and reported, yet again, the problem. With varying degrees of civility, I was told a technician would be dispatched to my house.

Of perhaps the 45 service calls I had in that 3 year period, a technician showed up at my house maybe half-a-dozen times. The technician always arrived when it wasn’t raining and couldn’t find a problem.

Far more often, the technician didn’t show. I would burn vacation time to be at my home between 8 and noon, or 10 and 2, or 12 and 4 or some other four-hour window of time I’d been instructed to be here at risk of having my ticket cancelled if I was not.

The four hours would come and go. I would call. Someone would tell me they’d peered at my phone line from a distance, determined it was working fine and cancelled the ticket.

I was not a happy camper as you might imagine.

So. When I got the invitation to sign up for DSL, I did. I did so in part because I knew they had to send someone to my house to hook it up.

I almost felt sorry for that guy. First of all, it was raining. Nothing worked. He left. He came back. He talked to people at Verizon. He scratched his head. He did this. He did that. He brought in another guy. Another modem. One thing led to another and they assembled things in a nonstandard way that worked around whatever the problem was. It took about a month. They told me, definitively, they didn’t know what the problem was but that this “fix” seemed to allow me use of my phone and DSL connection.

I was happy. For roughly three years things have been peachy. In the most violent of thunderstorms, provided I keep power, I can cruise YouTube while talking to my Sweet Baboo on the telephone.

Well. All coinkydinky, beginning with the first rain after July 1st and continuing through the present, any time it rains there is so much noise on my line that I lose my internet connection altogether. Voice works, but there’s a lot of static on the line that renders it pretty much useless.

Color me unhappy.

It’s a long story that isn’t particularly flattering to me and I won’t bore you with it, but I ended up even replacing the DSL wiring which ensures the problem isn’t on my end. I did it correctly (or at least as correctly as Verizon did) because it worked just peachy until it rained again on Sunday.

I called Frontier Sunday afternoon.

But first let me just copy a quote from your website here real quick. (You’ll want to refer to this often while thinking about me and West Virginia and Verizon and my mastery of Public Service Commission complaint forms.)

Welcome, West Virginia.

We are excited to be serving you.

Over the next few months, you will see that we do things a little differently than your previous Service Provider. Because for us, serving you is more than just a day-to-day operation. Our work is all about you, our customer. We have an ongoing commitment to servicing the communities we work and live in. It is about giving back, growing with our communities and supporting your needs.

It is remembering that you are a person, not just a customer.

I was heartened by those words, though not too much. I am a realist.

(Goodness! What were you people thinking?)

I talked with a very nice gentleman who actually did listen to what I was telling him. He and I agreed I had an unusual setup and he would put through a ticket for a technician to come to my home. I was instructed to be sure and be here between 8 and noon today.

Having to get up at 0’dark thirty so as to be sufficiently caffeinated to be articulate while technically on “vacation time” from my employer is kind of annoying, but I did it cheerfully high on the fact that y’all remember that I’m a person, not just a customer and that y’all are all about supporting my needs.

Well noon came and went.

So I called, my ticket number handy, and was told decisively there was never any intention for anyone to come to my home as my call had been lumped together with a bunch of others in another town for what y’all are calling a widespread outage. Through gritted teeth, I explained the situation and explained that my internet wasn’t out at the moment, but would be the minute it rained and that I had been told unequivocally that I had be here from 8 AM to NOON so that a TECHNICIAN could LOOK at my equipment.

In that false, ever-so-annoying, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience, ma’am” tone of voice, I was told nobody was coming to my house. And that no, I couldn’t schedule a visit because there was a widespread outage in a town near me and my problem had been lumped into that problem without anyone, it seems, reading the ticket or looking at the name of the town I live in.

Did y’all hire all those Verizon people?

What were you thinking?

So. It’s been my experience that online chat with tech support is a better way to go. I chatted with a guy who refuted what the woman on the phone said. He and I went rounds for awhile about my wanting to speak with someone who could unravel why I was being told two different things. Here’s part of the chat transcript:

12:40 PM Connie: James, I took off work to be here. It is after noon and I’ve heard from no one. When I called Frontier, a woman told me there had never been any need for me to be here.

12:40 PM Connie: I’m a wee-bit perturbed.

12:41 PM James A: I definitely understand, and I do apologize for any trouble you have experienced.

12:42 PM Connie: Moreover, the tech I spoke to on Sunday went through my history of connectivity problems with Verizon and the “fix” they finally settled on. He agreed this necessitated an inspection of the outside box.

12:43 PM James A: The engineers will determine the need for onsite access, after diagnosing the lines and equipment on our end of things. That is all the information I have. I apologize.

12:44 PM Connie: I don’t mean to take this out on you. What I do need is the contact information, etc. to file a formal complaint.

12:45 PM James A: I understand. Complaints should be directed to our Customer Service department at 800-921-8101. You can also discuss possible reimbursement for the time that your internet was down.

12:46 PM Connie: I believe that’s the number I just called and was given erroneous information. I’d like a contact name, please.

12:46 PM James A: I do not know what name to give you…

12:47 PM Connie: Is your supervisor available?

12:47 PM James A: We have many Customer Service representatives. I do not know any of them by name.

12:48 PM James A: Unfortunately, supervisor request via our chat platform, are difficult to comply with. If you’d like, you can call our Internet Help Desk at 877-352-7011 opt 2, and speak with one of our supervisors, or you may try Customer Service aswell.

So. I called that number (Option 2, mind you) and spoke with a very pleasant woman who I warned up front that I had my Super Bitch cape on. I vowed silently to myself. I was going to read your website statement to her if she started in with robot speech, but turns out it wasn’t necessary.

She listened (always a good thing) and apologized (without sounding smarmy) and (gasp) called dispatch to find out what she should tell me. I now have a third version of the story of my ticket. She tells me there is a ticket to come to my house, the widespread outage takes precedence, but there are plans to have someone at my house before 8 PM unless they call me. I just fervently hope that technician isn’t wandering around that town I don’t live in looking for my address.

So, um, it’s now 3:00 and I haven’t heard from anyone, but there are miles to go before we all sleep. With any luck, y’all will be here before the 72 hour legally mandated response period is up. And before I’m out of vacation time.

I’ll keep you posted.

And, um, by the way. You should probably make arrangements for your customer service folks to meet their supervisors and learn their names. It’s got to be damn confusing to not have a clue what to tell people like me who can get rather insistent. I once had a Verizon guy tell me that yes, indeedy, he had a time card, but at the end of the pay period he didn’t know who he gave it to, but that, yes, he did give it to someone. And he’d worked at Verizon for 12 years. Imagine! Twelve years and not a clue as to your boss’s name.

And co-workers! A company picnic maybe? Poor James tells me he doesn’t know a single one of his co-workers’ names. (Is this like a sweatshop or something? Or was today his first day?)

Oh. There’s an old geology principle that states the past predicts the future. I know from past experience, the more vacation time I burn, the more PSC complaints I file. Just sayin’.

Sincerely. . .