Coffee heat rising

Life in Dystopia…

Memo from the Dermatologist’s Waiting Room…

…way to HELL and gone out on the far west side of the Valley…

HOLY maquerel!  Had to fill up in order to get all the way out to the west side for this morning’s traipse to the dermatologist. Gas at the corner QT is $4.79 a gallon! Three-quarters of a tank set me back SIXTY-TWO BUCKS! And 41 cents.

And that’s cheap! Driving westward, ever westward, I passed gas stations offering the stuff for over five bucks. Yes. That is “per gallon.”

How are people who have to commute or use a vehicle to do business managing this?

I figure we can expect this is gonna be pretty much permanent. Have you ever seen gas prices actually go down? Not likely…leastwise, not significantly.  And you hear the excuse bandied about even now: “After all, these prices are what they have to pay in Europe.”

Sure enough.

But Europe has adequate public transit.

Europe has commerce and services situated in reasonably safe central parts of cities and towns.

In Europe, you’re not likely to get brained and robbed walking down to the nearest grocer’s. Or dragged off from the corner bus stop and raped.

European cities are CITIES, not vast sticky puddles of formless sprawl.

At any rate, these prices make it worth sitting in line (and sitting in line…and sitting in line…and sitting in….) at the Costco to fill up and stay filled up at their tanks. But since that’s what everybody else figures, the lines at the Costco pumps stretch halfway to Yuma. You can figure on a 15-minute wait just to get up to the pump. And if the damn thing refuses to take your card – as it did mine, the last time I went by there – all that thumb-twiddling is just so much wasted time and annoyance.

There’s a Costco on the way back into town from Derma-Doc’s place. It’s actually a business Costco, but thanks to the incorporated editorial bidness, I happen to have a business account. So on the way I’ll stop by there as I’m driving driving driving eastward and ask them WTF was with their rejection of my card. And while I’m at it, renew my membership, which I believe to be due about now.

Godlmighty I’m so, sooooo tired of doctoring.

My mother’s relatives were Christian Scientists. Her grandmother and her aunt lived into their mid-nineties and NEVER saw a doctor. Her uncle, who was not a religious nut, also lived into advanced old age…and died of something that no one was ever able to diagnose – the guy just kinda wasted away.  But honest-ta-gawd, sometimes I think Christian Science is not such a bad idea. You’re gonna die when you’re gonna die – not much sooner and not much later, far’s I can tell. Why make yourself miserable being poked, prodded, sliced, diced, dieted, and lectured?

* *

Arrived out on the west side at the doc’s office  way, wayyyy early, having had to allow some unholy amount of (unneeded!) time to fill up the gas tank. So drove around one of the new look-alike stick-and-styrofoam developments. Gosh…some of those houses can’t be more than 20 feet apart, eave to eave!  My father’s aversion to investing in residential real estate kinda makes sense now, looking at these acres and acres and acres of junk.  And he hadn’t even SEEN junk, back in his day….

* * * *

Back in Town:

{chortle!!!} Successful interlude with derma-tech. I REALLY like those folks.

From there, I proceed back across town over grody Indian School Road. Dodge into the Costco down by the railroad underpass, figuring to renew the annual membership and then pick up a few not-very-necessaries.

Belly up to the customer service bar. Present my membership card and my Visa card (Costco doesn’t take AMEX: costs them too much).

The CSR demands to know some three-digit number for the Visa card.

Huh?  AMEX has a three-digit nuisance number, but I’ve NEVER been asked for one for Visa and didn’t even know such a thing existed. Thrash around my wallet. Can’t find it. Lose my temper (quite frankly) and stalk out. On the way I tell her I’m sorry her employer has lost a customer – permanently.

Driving driving driving driving back across the interminable and interminably ugly west side, it crosses my mind that CC mailed me a renewal form. Drive and drive and drive and drive and dodge importuning Death two or three times and dart in the house and dash to the pile of unattended mail on the dining-room table, and Yea verily! There’s a mail-in form to renew membership. Doesn’t ask for a secret code of any kind, for any vendor.

Fill it out. Stuff it in an envelope. Stick an (expensive!) stamp on it. Jump back in the car. Drive to the PO. Drop it in a USPS mailbox.

Note to Self: do not even THINK of renewing in person next year. Incompetent nuisances!

When William Shakespeare had Miranda say “What a brave new world we live in” and added Prospero’s ironic riposte, did he think that brave new world was as dystopic and as shitty and as nuisancey as the one we live in today is? What on earth would he have made of a life that consists of one techno-hassle after another after another?

Also amongst the unattended mail, I find a notice to renew the Medigap insurance. They want THIRTY-SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS AND FIFTY-TWO CENTS for a year’s worth of Medigap coverage!

Speaking of Brave New Worlds…what IS this effing Brave New World we live in?

Funniest Customer Disservice Eff-You Remark EVER!

Okay, so today I’m wrestling with the pool—its filter pressure is running twice as high as normal, so I’ve backwashed it and now go to prime the pump. This is easy: just turn it on with the pressure release valve open to drain off the air; then when the pump is primed, shut the valve and go on about your business.

Well. No.

Turn the breaker switch to “on” and the system kicks in and looks like it’s gonna run OK…for about 10 seconds and then holeee gawd it’s suckin’ air out of the skimmer basket. A great water tornado has formed in the skimmer and it’s pumping air into the system. Shut it off. Cuss.

This is the second time that’s happened in a week. Last time after I fiddled around with it, I got it to stop. But don’t know what on earth I did to make it stop. This time no amount of fiddling makes the phenomenon quit. So…it’s on the phone to schedule a visit from Leslie’s repair service.

Since it’s been less than 90 days since there were out here expensively repairing the leaking pump, and since this started after the guy adjusted the drain valve (thereby changing the force with which water is sucked in through the skimmer basket weir), I figure they should give me a break.

No. Base price is $110. That’s just to show up out here.

Soonest the guy will schedule a trip is next Friday. That is a LONG time for a pool to just sit, in 100-degree weather. The upshot will be an algae infestation. The pump needs to circulate to keep the chemicals in balance and moving around.

So, I ask if he has any recommendation for how I can keep the pool from turning green while we’re waiting for a Leslie’s technician to show up. Get this…

Oh, this is too, toooo good!

He says (no joke!), “What you can do is add the chemicals and then sit on the edge of the pool and kick your legs in the water real hard!”

😆 🙄 😆

LOLOLOLOL!  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a funnier eff-you from a customer disservice representative, not in many years of trolling punch-a-button systems and putting up with rude, stupid, and uncaring reps. This guy truly takes the cake.

Tomorrow I’m calling Swimming Pool Repair and Service to set up a business relationship with them. When last heard from, they were still a locally owned company. They don’t answer the phones on Mother’s Day. But that may simply mean they don’t hire overseas and cross-country slaves.

Meanwhile, I tried to reach Phil, the manager of the Leslie’s shop nearest my house. He’s worked for that illustrious corporation forever, and before taking on a store job he was a field technician. He does know how to make a pool work. Interestingly, the guy who answered the phone said “Phil no longer works here.”


Anyway, so I ask the new guy if he thinks he could give me a clue as to what might be the issue. He thinks backwashing drew the water level down too low. I say it’s only a quarter-inch below the middle grout line…not like it’s anywhere close to the weir. He thinks the pump could be drawing hard enough that it’s sucking so much water in through the weir that it’s pulling in air.

I adjust the drain valve, cutting the suction a little. He suggests filling the pool above the middle grout line (the “full” line, for those of us who are not pool aficionados) and then turning on the pump again. If it doesn’t suck air at that point, it means I should overfill the pool a bit to keep the thing from doing that.

This requires running the hose about 30 or 40 minutes at full blast.

A-n-n-n-d…yeah. Overfilling and fooling with the drain valve seems to have worked. Right now it’s running pretty well. Nice for swimming in, too: the water’s perfect!!

“Kick your legs.” Heeeeeeeeeeee!

Zapped by Macy’s!

Lenten thanks, Day 23

Well. At least it’s nice and quiet at four in the morning. Except for Sheriff Joe’s ubiquitous helicopters, which use the skies over our neighborhood as an aerial freeway.

Update: This all turned out for the best. A Macy’s supervisor took charge, figured out why their statements had never reached my house, untangled the mess, and accepted payment for the original bill. It remains to be seen whether the collection bureau, which has an unsavory reputation, will actually be called off. But for the nonce, things look brighter.


Yesterday I pick up the mail and open what looks like some official correspondence or possibly a long-awaited check from Google Adsense, which sends payment in envelopes like the one in hand, with no clear return address. And what should I find but a threat from a collection agency!

Say what?

They claim I owe Macy’s $91.

I have no clue what this is about, since I don’t ordinarily shop in Macy’s, because it’s too far away, it’s an unpleasant store to navigate, and it’s generally overpriced. I call Macy’s and spend a good hour wending my way through punch-a-button mazes. Finally one factotum claims I made a purchase last September for $28. I point out that’s a far cry from $91, and if I made any such purchase, why does the account number on the bill collector’s statement not jibe with the account number on the credit card they sent me, which was never activated? She has no clue, either.

Finally, while I’m listening to obnoxious sounds and waiting for yet another clueless soul with a Bangladeshi accent to come on the phone, I sift through several months’ worth of Excel entries and discover that indeed, in September I bought a bargain purse for $28. Now I remember! It was one of those girls-on-the-town shopping adventures. Among several strategies that La Maya and I used to drive the price down from about $90 was to agree to open a Macy’s charge account for 10 percent off—hence the presence, in my file drawer, of the unactivated card.

Macy’s never sent a statement. I recall noticing that the bill hadn’t cleared after the first month, but then as my Excel spreadsheet turned into an endless roll of toilet paper, the uncleared line fell out of sight and it simply slipped my mind.

Not one statement is in the file, and I am quite certain no statement ever landed in my mailbox.

M’hijito suggested that I probably didn’t recognize their bills and tossed them in the recycling bin with the flood of unwelcome junkmail that the USPS dumps into my mailbox. That certainly is a possibility. But I doubt it: I’ve been around for more than a day or two, and I do know what first-class mail looks like. Unless Macy’s sends its bills at bulk-mail rates, it’s highly unlikely I would have missed six statements.

No. The only explanation is that they didn’t send a statement and so, since my bill-paying is triggered by the arrival of statements, I failed to notice the outstanding charge.

Hmmm….  Interestingly, I don’t seem to have been the only one to experience what appears to be a Macy’s scam to extract interest and late fees from unsuspecting customers. We have this endless Facebook exchange, in which a woman describes exactly the same experience and one commenter remarks,

For anyone claiming that this is not a scam, they’re out of their mind. This is absolutely a scam to create late payment fees on behalf of Macy’s. Yes, as an employee you can explain it well and yes, as a credit card user, you can eliminate the problem by being aware of what the account is and how it works, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a scam. Macy’s purposely makes it very easy to lose track of a small balance that is due in order to tack on a large fee. It’s a classic shady business technique/scam. Just like when a company asks you to sign up for a “FREE” rewards service or some other set-up that is free for a month, but then requires you to cancel the $9.99 or $19.99 that starts billing every month. Sure, you can cancel it, but most companies who operate this type of shady practice make it difficult to find a phone number to cancel, or they bill it under a name that doesn’t look familiar to you and if you’re not paying close attention to your credit card bills each month, you can end up getting billed several months for something you never intended to sign up for in the first place.

Other people have described similar behavior and said it damaged their credit rating. Macy’s also has another scam, whereby when they issue you a credit card through one of their 10% off schemes, they’re actually issuing you two credit cards, one of which you don’t know about. One is a regular store account and one is an AMEX account. Since they no more bother to tell you this than they bother to send you statements, if you go to your online site to check your balance, you will think it’s zero, because the real balance appears in an account about which you are kept in the dark.

Well, I guess I’m going to have to pay the bastards. But you can be sure I’ll never buy another piece of junk at a Macy’s store again.

Good Corps, Bad Corps…

The other day, Budgeting in the Fun Stuff remarked on Frugal Scholar‘s rant about the excruciating customer service emanating from Virgin Mobile. Both bloggers asked readers which corporations are best and worst in the customer (dis)service department.

Apparently they touched a hot button. They each got a slew of responses. Among them, we see that Comcast is roundly hated. Free Money Finance is locked in combat with that worthy organization—as his saga unfolds, it’s hard to tell whether Comcast is merely incompetent or deliberately obnoxious.

Yesterday while I was driving up to the optometrist’s office, what should I hear on NPR but this interesting story. It suggests a new tool for hacking through thickets of bad customer service, at least in some instances: small claims court.

Dartmouth Professor Charles Wheelan was subjected to United Airlines’ latest insult to passengers, a $25 charge for checking his bag. When they lost his luggage, they refused to refund his money. So he took them to small claims court. So far, he has yet to see either the bag or the refund, but, as he notes, even though the action cost him $72 in court fees, revenge is sweet:

Turns out that it’s [the $72 trade-off] actually really important in terms of economics. It’s essentially vengeance, and vengeance has a technical definition, which is you’re willing to harm yourself in order to impose harm on somebody else. Now when we do that, what the behavioral psychologists have learned, is it makes us feel good. It lights up the pleasurable parts of the brain just like doing other things that make you feel good. So vengeance might actually be quite rational.

United crossed the wrong guy when its baggage handlers threw musician Dave Carroll’s expensive guitar across the tarmac, with predictable results. His revenge came in the form of a hilarious (and infuriating) YouTube video that, says he, “became one of YouTube’s greatest hits and caused an instant media frenzy across all major global networks and sources (including the likes of CNN, the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone Magazine & the BBC to name a few)” and spawned two more videos. He may never have extracted the $1,200 it cost to repair his guitar from United, but the resulting publicity boosted his career, probably returning that much and more in increased revenues.

Well, most of us don’t have Dave Carroll’s talent. But it’s not hard to put up a talking-head video on YouTube describing some egregious example of customer disservice, and the idea of taking the SOBs to small claims court over money owed has its charms.

My own strategy is first to bypass the CSRs by tracking down the names of upper management at the corporate headquarters and firing off a dear-sir-you-cur letter. Often this will get results, or a simulacrum thereof.

If the go-over-their-heads gambit fails, then I head for a regulatory agency or an attorney general. Many of these customer service fiascos amount to fraud or theft—when they stonewall you or outright lie to you, they’re ripping you off. The trick here is to go to the AG in the state where the company is headquartered and send a copy of your complaint to the AG in your own state.

When a company operates across state lines, as most of the faceless monsters that have developed immunity to customers do, then a fraudulent action becomes…yes…a federal case! Corporate America, as we have seen by the vast corporate donations to doctrinaire Kill-the-Beasters’ political campaigns, really dislikes dealing with federal regulators and attorneys general. So if you can’t get any action from a state attorney general, kick it up to the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, or the U.S. Attorney General. You’d be surprised how fast a call from any of these entities will settle your complaint.

Frugal and Budgeting ask readers what are their choices for best and worst customer service. My all-time worst customer service nightmare is Qwest, an outfit with whom no one should ever do business. Videlicet:

Back Again—Temporarily?
“We Value Your Business”
Unbundled! Qwest Strikes Again
What Happens When a Live Qwest Guy Shows Up
Qwest Redux: How Do These Companies Stay in Business?
Qwest: The Saga That Will Not End
Qwest Update

The best? It’s hard to think of many, since retailers and service providers now will openly tell you that the old saying to the effect that “the customer is always right” is dead wrong. CSRs apparently are encouraged to be rude and trained to bounce off complaints like tennis balls hitting a concrete wall. In my experience, the only outfit that’s consistently shown excellent customer service is the Mayo Clinic.

My question to you is this:

What has worked best for you to cut through a customer disservice fiasco?

Dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century

Given a choice, we fossils would have preferred that the Cretaceous had lasted a while longer. All these little mammals running around—pesky things, and they make all sorts of nimble demands. 

Last night I went to log on to my credit union accounts and instead got a message informing me that henceforth the CU will charge a fee to deliver paper statements to customers who have online access. To get statements free, we have to agree to accept e-statements. 

Fine, I’ll figure this out later; leave me alone and let me get my chores done, thought I. 

But nay…the only way you can move forward into your accounts is to click “accept” or “decline.” There’s no “I’ll think about it” choice. When I tried to back out, up popped an error message informing me that Safari no longer will suffice to navigate the CU’s site, and that I must have a new version of IE  or (hang onto your hats, folks) Netscape.

Netscape? It went down in 2008. 

So I sent a query. This morning comes this reply:

If you are using a MAC the only browser we support is Safari, versions 1.2 and 3.0. You must use this browser in order for all the options to work properly. 

Huh? Safari 1.2?? I thought the last surviving copy resided at the Smithsonian. Safari 3.0? That came out…when? In the Mesozoic? I’m at 3.2.3, and a more recent update keeps bouncing at me like Cassie the Corgi with a ball, begging to be installed.

They say you can view your accounts with any old version of Safari, but you can’t perform the functions you may need. 

Meanwhile, nothing said about the fact that you can’t proceed to your accounts without accepting or declining their “offer.” 

Well, I guess we can say good-bye to the old-fashioned, customer-friendly service that is the specific  reason some of us prefer credit unions to banks. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Your megacorporation “values” your business

Why do faceless corporations work so hard at being faceless? And why do they veil their facelessness behind messages that claim to “value” their customers’ business? The fact is, if they valued your business they wouldn’t treat you the way they do.

For the second time in three months, Cox has failed to send a printed statement. When you call, the customer service rep gives you a scripted story: “We printed it on the 26th of last month. If you didn’t get it, you need to talk to the post office.” Understand: they’ve already wasted a significant slab of your time and tortured you by forcing you to listen to the most hideous Muzak turned to high volume, and now they want you to waste even more of your time trying to get through to an even larger and even more understaffed bureaucracy, the U.S. Postal Service, whose fault this clearly is not!

I will say, they’re better than Qworst. At least you can get through to a human being, and at least the human being has a sense of humor!

Customer: “You know, your bosses need to know that real musicians actually make real music, and they record it. You can get real music to put on the phone.”

CSR: [laughs] “Well, if it’s any comfort, sometimes we have to listen to it, too!”

Customer: [laughs] “You poor kid! What an awful job!”

[CSR and Customer laugh at Cox’s unholy treatment of its customers and employees.]

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, it’s possible to get your hands on the names of living, breathing executives of faceless corporations, and on the addresses of their corporate headquarters. Ergo:

Jimmy W. Hayes
Chief Executive Officer 
Cox Enterprises
6205 Peachtree Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, Georgia 30328


RE: (666) 123-4567 
Acct. No. 098-765-432101234 


Dear Mr. Hayes:


Once again, no statement from Cox has arrived this month. This is the second time in three months that a Cox statement has supposedly been sent and “lost.” I mailed your company a check for $71.65, the amount your spokesperson says is due, but of course in the absence of a statement I have no precise understanding of what I’m paying for or whether the bill is accurate.


I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy your customer service rep’s canned line that it’s all the Post Office’s fault and that because you guys didn’t send the statement I have to go waste still more of my time (it took over 10 minutes of listening to truly painful Muzak to get through to a human today!) by hassling the postal service. All my other bills appear on time. None of them ever goes missing. It seems highly unlikely that the U.S. Postal Service has something against Cox Communications and so is failing to deliver Cox’s statements and only Cox’s statements.


What seems more likely is that the statements aren’t being sent as a way to trap customers into missing a payment and being gouged unfairly with a late fee.


Please ensure that your staff sends statements in a timely way. The reason I asked Cox to send paper statements rather than dorking around online is that I’m getting on in years and do not remember things well. And I can’t afford extra dings on my bills for late payments.


Thanks for your consideration.


                                                                        Sincerely,  (etc.)

The “go talk to the Post Office” line is an obvious runaround. Even though these companies have monopolies or near-monopolies, you’d think sooner or later their customers would either find other ways to get what they need or simply abandon that service or product. Really. Will I die if I don’t have high-speed Internet? (Hmmm… Probably.) Can I get high-speed Internet somewhere else? (Evidently: a Google search brings up seven competitors on the first page!) Do I really need a land line? (Nope.) Can I get cell service with some other provider? (Indubitably!)

What is the matter with these companies that they can’t spare a little common courtesy for their customers?