Sometimes I miss the old phone company. Back when it was the merciless and heavily regulated Ma Bell monopoly, if a phone wasn’t working you could just report the outage and be done. Sometime in the next 12 to 24 hours it would miraculously start working again. There was usually nothing we had to do, except maybe be home for the repairman. Otherwise the Phone Fairy took care of things and the damn thing just started working again. Plus, in the old monolithic phone company days, they might not have been very nice to you, but at least the conversation was relevant to the issue; unlike the disconnected, canned and scripted psychobabble that tech support reps today must use.

Early last week my 89 year old father in law moved to a continuing care retirement community. About a week before the move, I arranged to have his phone, internet and cable service, provided by Comcast, moved to his new residence. I must say the initial call was quite impressive. I quickly got a US based rep who spent a generous amount of time with me making sure she got him the services he needs at the lowest price. It was an excellent call providing outstanding service. I was very impressed.

Then sometime between that week and last Friday evening, Comcast apparently outsourced their US based Phone Fairies. I am convinced the new reps are based in Hell.

I’m pretty sure Donald Trump is going to have something to say about this.

I tried to call my father in law Friday evening and got a recorded message that the number I was calling was not in service. Since the phone had been working the day prior, I dutifully called Comcast to report the outage. I patiently told the automated system the name, number and address of the malfunctioning phone I was reporting. I also provided the last 4 digits of his social security number for verification. For the next 5 or 10 minutes, I dealt with a system wanting to direct me anywhere but to a human being for assistance. I am convinced now it was only trying to help me. It knew what I was in for.

After a few minutes I was connected to some semblance of a soulless being with a heavy Indian accent. You see, it is at this point under the now long forgotten days of monopolistic bliss, that you would have reported the number, been given a time frame for repair, and then been released from the call while the Phone Fairies did their thing. But no more. These reps are based in hell, and keeping you on the call as long as possible while completely misunderstanding the problem is for them apparently the next best thing to eternal damnation. 

My newly assigned representative wasted no time when it came to following a predefined script, apparently reading all her comments and responses from the Comcast Book of the Damned. She thanked me for placing my trust in the Comcast network – which seemed like odd timing since it wasn’t working at the moment. I had to provide her with the name, number and address of the malfunctioning phone I was reporting. I also provided the last 4 digits of his social security number for verification. I told her that I called the number trying to reach my 89 year old father in law, and received a message that the number I was calling was not in service. She replied with, “so to make sure I understand, you would like to speak to your father but cannot.” While I thought that was an oversimplification of the issue, I had to admit she was essentially correct. Then she said, “but he can make calls out, yes?”. I told her I had no idea, since I was not there and could not call him to ask – since his phone was not working.

At some point she asked my name, which is only relevant for the story because I became “Mr. Bob” for the remainder of the call.

And so began a 15-minute journey of “testing the lines” and “checking the system”. She kept me involved by alternately apologizing for the delay and repeatedly misquoting the general issue (But he can call out, yes?”). Finally, she announced she had reset the disgronificator and rebooted the thingamajig, and would briefly put me on hold while she called my father to make sure his phone was working (she never got the “in law” part right, but frankly he has always treated me like a son, so no harm, no foul).

A moment later she was back, telling me in a very bewildered tone, “I wasn’t able to get your father. Apparently his number is not in service.”

And I said, “But he can call out, yes?”

After that critical point of failure she handed me off to a colleague “who could probably help me”. She thanked me for allowing Comcast to serve our communication needs (again, not really serving it, but that is not what the Book of the Damned tells her to say), and she was gone. This next assistant to Satan had an even thicker accent, but with a voice that sounded more like Minnie Mouse. India Minnie asked me what the problem was, and had me provide the name, number and address of the malfunctioning phone I was reporting. She also had me provide the last 4 digits of his social security number for verification. And so began the next 15-minute phase of our journey, “testing the lines” and “checking the system”. Unlike her predecessor, India Minnie did not ask me about the ability to call out. Instead she asked me several times what lights were flashing on the modem. I told her that I did not know, but if they get the phone fixed I would call Dad and ask.

At some point during this call, I cannot specifically remember when, I could hear in the background someone in the call center excitedly shouting and the room erupted in applause and celebratory noise. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect some poor sap customer died while on the phone and they successfully harvested another soul since the poor bastard was still under contract.

Seems as reasonable as any other possibility.

When it finally became apparent that India Minnie was not going to be able to fix the problem, she thanked me for choosing Comcast and allowing them to provide me with excellent service. I was put on hold and transferred to a third representative. Ultimately this is where the issue got resolved, and is the point of this sad and sordid tale.

I was handed off to Level 2 Tech Support. It is something I have known for years, but for some reason forgot on this call. It doesn’t matter what the organization is, if the issue is technical in nature, you want to get to Level 2 Tech Support as fast as humanly possible; at least while you still have your soul. Most people don’t realize that Level 1 workers still drag their knuckles when they walk, but Level 2 folks almost always walk fairly erect. 

True, I was still “Mr. Bob”, and I had to once again provide the name, number and address of the malfunctioning phone I was reporting. I also had to again recount the last 4 digits of the social security number on file for verification. But I sensed we were really getting somewhere, and I still was in possession of most, if not all, of my soul. She even asked if I wanted the direct telephone number to Level 2 Support.

Did I want it? Did I want it!!?? I am having it tattooed on my forearm tomorrow.

Another 10 minutes of testing, working and modem resetting, and I was put on hold while she successfully called my very confused 89 year old father in law who did not even know he had a problem with his phone. All in all, I was on the phone 47 minutes and 7 seconds. I had listened to failure for 46 of those minutes. I had spoken to three people, repeated the same account information numerous times, had my name legally changed to “Mr. Bob”, and had been thanked about a dozen times from the Comcast Scripted Book of the Damned for allowing them to provide me excellent service.

I was exhausted, and longing for the bygone days of the magical Phone Fairy. And believe it or not, I’ve had worse calls with Verizon. I remain completely stymied that phone companies have so much trouble just taking care of problems when they occur. No one wants to spend the majority of their time listening to failure when they have problems that need to be resolved. 

Of course, we are workers’ comp. That is probably a lesson we will want to think about as well. Now if we only had Level 2 Support…..



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