"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Sunday, February 12, 2012


So the other day I bought a 60-Minute card to add to my cell phone.  I don’t have a cell phone “plan,” I have a pay-as-you-go TracFone.  This means that I have to buy minutes every so often because my dates of service (and consequently my phone number) expire.  You used to be able to buy 30 minute cards for ten bucks, but now the cheapest one is $20 for an hour of airtime.  That’s the one I typically buy.  They’re sold all over: Walmart, Walgreens, Cumberland Farms, et al.  TracFone makes sure you know this by sending you reminder e-mails and leaving automated messages.

So that night I go to the function on my phone to add the card.  You just type in the PIN number from your card and your hours and service days are updated.  But, this time the phone wouldn’t take the PIN number.  It kept saying “PIN number invalid.”  Well.  Don’t we just love it when our PIN number is invalid.  Now I get to call Tech Support (India) for help.  So I get a girl who’s very polite, who in fact hints that her whole reason for living is to help me, and she says she’s going to give me code numbers to enter on the phone and that should fix the problem.  It does not.  The code numbers generate an error message.  All of them.  About six.  Repeated three times.  
I am getting a sneaking suspicion that the guy I bought the phone card from forgot to activate it at the cash register.  I ask Tech Support if this could be the case; “No ma’am,” the gal says, “It must be your phone.  Your phone is no longer working properly, ma’am.  You will need to buy another phone.  I can sell you one if you like.”  My phone is shot?  I look at it and see that now the message “Prepaid Service Disabled” is displayed -- even though I still have 75 minutes left on it, as well as 8 voice mails I haven’t yet retrieved (and never would, now).  I get a sinking feeling that this whole deal is not going to be easy or go well.  Things that involve Tech Support, especially when you are talking to someone in a different country and they are trying very hard to speak legibly but not particularly succeeding, and you have to ask them to repeat things and feel you’re being impolite and bothersome but you have no choice, rarely bode well.  (And as an aside, did you know that almost everybody in India is named Kimberly, Judith or Steven?)
Anyway I tell her thanks but no thanks about buying the new phone.  Truth to tell, I already have another TracFone – a “Safelink” phone.  I get 250 minutes a month on this phone at no cost; I’m eligible for this because I’m receiving disability.  Safelink advertises that it’s very easy to transfer the number from your regular (old) TracFone into this one.  I figure I’ll try this tomorrow morning when I’m fresh and not wrung out from an hour and a half on the phone to Tech Support (India).

So I call again the next day and I’m advised I need a new “SIM Card” to change the default number on the Safelink phone.  The guy says they’re going to mail one of these to me and that I should call back after I get it. Sometime in the next 3 to 5 business days.  Time to sigh really loud at this point, wouldn’t you say? HA.  Keep some sighs in abeyance, you're gonna need 'em.

I am getting kind of nervous because I am about to embark upon a dog-sitting job and I want my parents, senior citizens with some health problems, to be able to reach me. But a few days later the SIM Card does indeed arrive.  It’s a tiny little thing; I have to open the phone, remove the battery, take out one SIM Card and put the new one in.  Not rocket science, nevertheless I rather triumphantly call India and inform them with some pride that I’ve done this and I’m ready to add my old phone number into this trusty Safelink.  They fool around with whatever they have to do for a few minutes, apologizing for silence on the line, and then ask me for the number. 

I have no idea what my number is, to be honest, so I keep it written down in my address book.  I give them it to them.  I hear “Hmmm……..” but I do not pay this the slightest attention.  You have to allow for a certain amount of “Hmmm…”-ing to be done when someone’s half a world away on a computer entering data trying to make some sense of what you’re saying and also trying to impart helpful suggestions.  By now I would say I have spent a good three to four hours on the phone to India if you add them all up.  And spoken to six or seven people.  (A lot of supervisors.)

Then I get a sinking feeling that something about this number isn’t right, and I double-check; sure enough, while not sure where I’d gotten it from, I’ve given the guy the wrong number by accident.  “Shit!” I mouth, and “Sir!” I say. “That’s wrong!  Don’t enter it!”  Too late.  If I’m going to change again I will need another new SIM Card, they say, which will be sent to me, sometime in the next 3 to 5 business days. 

I can’t for the life of me figure out why I gave them this number or who the hell I got it from.  The phone has actually rung a few times but I can’t understand what the person on the other end is saying.  I thoroughly comb through the pages of my address book and finally find my error.  Unfortunately the number I gave them was my cousin Peggy’s.  I do not look forward to it, but I know I have to call her and spill the beans.

“Um, Peggy?” I stammer, “Lately I’ve been having trouble with my TracFone and…”  “Me too!” she says – “I’ve been on the phone with India for about six hours!”  Aha, I think, initially buoyed by this information, that someone else was having all this TracFone trouble too until I remembered who it was.  The woman whose number I had inadvertently highjacked.  Sabotaged.  STOLEN.

Peggy took it in stride, to her credit.  I told her I was waiting for a SIM Card to arrive so I could change back to my original number and give her hers back.  As her phone wasn’t working at all, we agreed that I would take messages for her, “Especially the Lewises,” she said, “They’re in the islands while their house is being painted and I’m taking care of the cat.”  We also narrowed down the calls which had been unintelligible: there’s a gal from the Phillipines who’s on Peggy’s bowling league and she doesn’t speak English very well, so we figured it was probably her.   Peggy has a land line so she doesn’t get tons of calls on her cell phone, but still.  Anyway, Peggy was waiting for her own SIM Card, since her phone went completely kaput.  (Coincidence?  Ha.  We won't look too closely at that possibility.)

Next thing you know, MY cell phone went kaput.  It read “Emergency Use Only” and had a zero airtime display.  I didn’t like this. I hated being out of reach.  A couple of days later I was checking my e-mail and I see one from TracFone confirming that a SIM card is on its way – to my cousin Peggy.  So I called and told her it had been shipped.  We wondered if it was my SIM Card or hers.  We hoped they were sending two.

They did.  I called the special “Manager’s Number” they’d given me.  The phone rang a few times and then I got this automated voice stating that my call could “not be completed as dialed.”  I figured I’d called the wrong number, called it again to make sure, and got the same recording.  So I called India one last time (I hope).  Strangely enough I got a girl who seemed to know what she was doing.  I tried not to tell her all the stuff that led up to this, figuring it would simplify things to kind of pare them down, but was thwarted, since there were "notes" attached to my number and she was reading them.  Anyway, it appeared, when I finally gave her the number from my other phone,  it was “no longer available.”  Regarding the original default number on the Safelink, she said nope, that wasn’t available either.  I asked her what happens when numbers aren’t available – are they assigned to somebody else?  “Probably, yes,” she said.  Didn’t waste any time, did they.  On the other hand, couldn’t they have told me PEGGY’S number was unavailable and thus prevented this entire situation?  I guess not.  So they just rolled the dice and gave me a new one.

Meanwhile, we still hadn’t solved Peggy’s problem.  This became obvious when she called and told me she’d been on the phone with India again, and they’d told her that I had to “release” her number from my phone company so that TracFone could use it.

Peggy was getting just the slightest bit fed up.  You could tell.  I told her to come over and bring her phone and the ever-so-popular SIM Card.  "Release the number," my ass.  And furthermore Safelink and TracFone are both from the same company.  Are you following this?  Is anybody??

Peggy put her new SIM Card in and I called India again.  I gave them Peggy's number.  The guy said he couldn't assign that number because -- c'mon, let's all say it together -- IT WASN'T AVAILABLE.   I asked him if it would be available if I released it.  There was some silence on the line and then the guy, sounding more human than anyone so far, said "WHAAAAT???  NO!!!"  Meanwhile Peggy's phone was loading with a brand new number unbeknownst to her or anyone else.  We were able to find out the number, though, by pushing the "My Phone Number" function.  And then I wrote it down with a huge "Peggy" next to it and an arrow pointing from the name.  And then Peg said she had to get busy calling people with her new number.  A few days later my land line rang.  It was Peggy.  "I'm parked right outside in your driveway," she said, "I have a couple of coupons for a free lunch at the new restaurant downtown.  Come out and get 'em."  I did.  And I thought it was a very nice thing to do.  Her way of saying "No harm done."  Frankly, if I were her, I'd be more tempted to cut my phone lines instead.  Until next time, India.  It was nice knowing you.  You have humbled and exhausted me.  So long.

No comments:

Post a Comment