Sunday, October 25, 2015

Telephone Repair Fiasco

What part of “phone line repair” does AT&T not understand? Five weeks ago my landline went dead. Silly me for thinking it was no big deal. To date, a twelve-foot-long trench has been dug across the street and surrounded by fluorescent plastic cones and yellow caution tape, orange spray paint has been splashed arbitrarily in my yard, four AT&T linemen made a campfire on my front porch and roasted a rabbit on a spit while singing Johnny Cash tunes, and I can hear werewolves howling in the background while talking on the phone; but my phone line is not fixed. I confess that I exaggerate. Cut me some slack. AT&T is making me crazy.

When I picked up the receiver five Sundays ago and discovered I did not have a dial tone on my landline, I called AT&T on my cell phone to report a problem. After wandering in a voicemail maze for two or three years (I found Jimmy Hoffa in there), I finally spoke to Customer Service Rep Katie, who took my information and said she would schedule a service visit on Wednesday. Wait, whatever happened to prompt service? I reminded her it was Sunday and asked her if a repairman could come on Monday. She said the next day a repairman would be in my service area was Wednesday. She insisted she couldn’t send anyone sooner.

I work from home and speak to business contacts all over the country on my landline. I am hard of hearing and the landline phone, with my excellent headset and amplifier, is my best shot at following a conversation. I have difficulty hearing on my cell phone. Without my landline, my ability to work is seriously compromised. I explained this to Katie. She apologized for the inconvenience and stuck to her story about Wednesday.

On Tuesday the phone began working again as mysteriously as it had stopped working and also, to my surprise, AT&T Repairman Bob turned up. Cool – Tuesday was the new Wednesday. Bob checked out the line and reported the big bad news that I have a problem on my line. Dang, I thought the problem had resolved itself. According to Bob, the problem acts up when the line is wet. “Well, Bob,” I said, “if that’s the case, please explain why the phone went out on Sunday because it didn’t rain on Sunday.” Bob said it had rained on the prior Thursday and that it took a few days for the rain to soak down into the ground and knock out the line. Sunday was the new Thursday. He reckoned that until the line got fixed my phone would go out for an indeterminate amount of time a couple days after any substantial rainfall. Finally I had found the upside to the California drought. I figured AT&T would fix the line before the rainy season began, so I was not worried. Bob couldn’t fix the line that day because he couldn’t get to it. He said someone would have to come dig up the street and then an AT&T repairman would climb into the hole and fix the line. Bob put in a request for the hole.

One week later no hole had been dug. I called the AT&T service line and talked to Customer Service Rep Alhambra-Kaminski. He explained that AT&T does not dig holes and that AT&T contracts with local excavation companies to dig holes. He assured me that an excavation contractor would come dig the hole in a few days. The next week the contractor appeared with an earthmover the size and shape of Kansas and half a dozen teenagers in tennis-ball-green vests and dug the hole, carefully placing plywood over it and surrounding it in eye-popping orange plastic cones and yellow caution tape. Progress. There was now a hole. I peeked under the plywood, discovered a teenager who had been left behind, and fed him soup. Just joking.

The hole remained untouched for another week. I called AT&T and spoke to Customer Service Rep Chicklet-Rigatoni, who looked in the computer and found the notes on our phone problem. “It looks like they dug the hole,” she said. “Yes they did, I can see the hole from my window,” I confirmed. “But the AT&T repairman has not come out yet,” she added. “Yup. I’ve noticed that.” She promised me that a repairman would come out. A couple of days later a repairman actually did appear in an AT&T van and he looked in the hole. I ran over to the hole to talk to him. He shook his head sadly and said the hole had been dug in the wrong spot. He couldn’t get to the problem section of wiring from that hole. “What next?” I asked. “They need to dig another hole,” he said.  

But no one came to dig another hole. So I called AT&T and spoke to Customer Service Rep Drainpipe-Chihuahua, who looked in his computer and informed me that the excavation contractor had dug the hole in the wrong spot so the repairman couldn’t get to the problem in the line to fix it. I had just told him this, which led me to wonder why he needed a computer at all, not to mention a brain. He said that a request had been made to the contractor to return and fill in the old hole and dig another one in the right spot. “There’s rain in the forecast for this week,” I pointed out. “I need to have the problem fixed before it rains because the problem happens when it rains.” All he could do was put in the request. I couldn’t scream at him, he was just the messenger. He didn’t have an earthmover and he didn’t even know any Johnny Cash songs.

The following week the excavation contractor returned (yay) and extended the hole another four feet so that the plywood no longer covered the entire hole. Although the hole was still surrounded by cones and tape, it became an open trench on one end, which, while clearly marked, still poses somewhat of a safety hazard. After extending the trench, the contractor sprayed fluorescent orange paint marks on my street, driveway, olive trees, gravel, ground, lavender, rock roses, and other assorted items in my yard. I wanted to report this as vandalism, but my husband speculated that the marks were important guidelines for where to dig and where things could be found underground (such as moles and roots). “If that’s the case then why did he spray orange paint on my cat?” I asked. “Don’t exaggerate,” he scolded, “you know perfectly well he didn’t spray the cat.” Busted.

That week it rained, but fortunately my phone kept working. No repairman appeared all week. So on Monday I called AT&T and explained the whole saga to Customer Service Rep Sawtoothbrakefluid, who looked at the notes in his computer and couldn’t make hide nor hare of them. He suggested that I call a different branch of AT&T called Buried Wire, or B-Wire for short, that would be able to tell me what was preventing the contractor from digging for my renegade buried wire. Sawtoothbrakefluid gave me the number for B-Wire. At B-Wire I spoked to Customer Service Rep Arugula who informed me that the excavation contractor could not dig the hole in the right spot because he needed a permit from the city to dig in that particular spot. From this I inferred that it’s legally OK to dig in the wrong spot without a permit but if you want to dig in the right spot you definitely need a permit. Arugula said that I could find out the status of getting the city permit by calling my AT&T Regional Area Service Manager Gingerfish-goo and she gave me his number.

I called Gingerfish-goo and explained my whole sad saga to him. “So,” I concluded, “I’m calling to find out if the permit has been secured and when the contractor will dig the hole in the right spot.” (Meanwhile, I was silently praying that the right spot was not going to be in my driveway.) Gingerfish-goo listened to my woeful narrative attentively and then asked, “B-Wire told you I’m the regional manager for your area?” I confirmed this was true. “I’m afraid to tell you where I am located,” he said. “I can take it,” I assured him, “hit me.” Gingerfish-goo was in the Philippines. I complimented him on his excellent English accent. He took my phone number and said, “Give me an hour. I’m going to track down your real regional manager and I’ll call you back.” This was the most promising response I had received yet.

An hour later Gingerfish-goo, true to his word, did indeed call back with the phone number for AT&T Regional Service Area Manager Calliope- Potatokugel. Thank goodness AT&T outsources to the Philippines because they seem to be the only people who know what’s going on with the hole across the street from my house. Next I called Calliope-Potatokugel, confirmed that he was located in my local area, and repeated my story. “Wow,” he exclaimed, impressed. “That makes no sense whatsoever.” I agreed. “You don’t live in city limits so why would anyone need a city permit to dig a hole on your street?” he asked. “I think you just won Double Jeopardy,” I replied. He offered to investigate (decent of him) and said he would call me back with a status report, which he did the following day.

With Halloween approaching, I’m considering borrowing a cone and some of that yellow caution tape and dressing as an AT&T phone line repair project. Probably not a good idea since a small child could fall into the trench while trick-or-treating and then I might be held liable for tampering with the hazard zone warning presentation.

So. This is where things stand as of this writing. The permit to dig another hole has been secured but the hole has not been dug yet. I still don’t know who issued the permit, but I suspect it was Gov. Jerry Brown because he’s the only one who seems to get anything done lately. I also don’t know where it will be dug. Perhaps in the Philippines. There is still a hole in the street in the wrong spot. Even though the phone line has not been repaired, the phone works (and it has an adorable little hum on the line that sort of reminds me of Johnny Cash). Unfortunately for me, the first substantial rain of the fall season is forecast to arrive on Tuesday. Maybe Saturday will be the new Tuesday. Maybe the contractor and his flock of teenagers will dig the hole this week, the hole will not be in my driveway or under my olive tree, there will be a shortage of fluorescent orange spray paint in my AT&T region, and the repair to my line will get done ahead of the rain whenever it comes and seeps down to my line. Yes. Well. Maybe Elizabeth Warren will run for president. One can always hope. If you call me and I don’t answer, message me. And send dark chocolate. (Can you hear me now?)


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