Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trapped on ... Freedom Day

"Imagine … a brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...”

33 years later, after silencing the guy who wrote these words, America still has trouble imagining this. Or so it feels, sometimes.

It was July 4thof this year. We went into a Verizon Wireless store, as we had opened up a new plan with them, bought two new phones and signed our lives away for 2 years the day before, but Bryan, the nice man who sold us the package, forgot one very important thing: to tag on to my phone the international calling plan. This plan (for a little bit extra a month) allows me to call internationally for a lower rate.

Now, as you know all of my family is … out there. Internationally. My parents live in Romania. My sister lives in Canada. I have friends and extended family in Germany. So, I talk to them. Some of them, quite a lot. This is a plan I have always had tagged onto my phones – whether mobile or land lines. Always. For 15 years now of living in the US, I always make sure I pay around $4/ month extra to get to speak to my mom for $0.30/ minute instead of $2.50/ a minute. Anyone who knows me or my family, or Romanians for that matter,knows that we love to talk!

Yes, we do chat online and all, but sometimes, you just have to have the phone!

Anyhoo, I digress. Bryan, from the Verizon store, had forgotten to put this on my phone. So, the next day, which is July 4, we go in, and Bryan is … not there. So, we ask someone else for help. We describe the whole predicament: we just bought two new phones, we have an unlimited everything plan with them, we need one extra service added. No problem, the answer comes from the lady that greeted us. She logs into our account, and tries to add the service. She can’t. Some odd message shows up on the screen and she calls the manager. I will call him Dick, because the name fits.

So, Dick comes along, and tells her that “oh, they want to add international calling?! Well, that will have to require a call to Credit”. I am puzzled, but I am trying to be patient. She calls someone from the Verizon cloud worlds. She describes to that person the situation and then she gives the phone to me.

The voice on the phone explains that they will need to perform a credit check on me, for this particular service to be added. At this point, I am pretty sure they don’t understand what I want or need, but I play along. A $4 extra charge would require a credit check? But them sending me a bill every month for $130 does not?! Anyway, I try to be patient and answer her questions: “We show that you applied for a mortgage in 2007? Who is the mortgage with?” – multiple choice answer? “In what bracket does the age of the head of your household fit in?” – multiple choice answer? Etc …

I answer the questions, and then the voice wants to talk to the in store Verizon lady, again. I put her through, with Dick closely watching. The two ladies talk to each other and then the in store lady hangs up. OK. I breathe. All done, right?! I ask. She says: “Umm… no, not quite. You will need to bring in a utility bill and a federally released ID so we can finish the credit check. You need to either be a customer with us for 6 months, or else you have to prove to us that you have a credit history in this country.” I am in awe and my blood pressure is rising at this point. You have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me. We just bought a crapload of stuff from you people, the day before, AND you’re gonna bill me for all $130/month of it! That requires proof that I can pay, no?! For two whole years, we have a contract together, a proof of trust, right?!, and for a $4 charge, you need to turn my whole life upside down and prove to you that I have a credit history?! I am not buying a house, or a boat, even. I am not even buying  a phone! Did that already! You're serious?!

So, I voice all this: that this is all ridiculous. That I have had these plans for 15 years and I have never had to do this for a phone plan! Dick gets a voice, now. A very loud one, too, and almost yells at me: “Well, ma’am, this is the law!” – he pukes emphatically and batting his eyelashes at me like I am 5 years old and just pooped on the living room floor with The President visiting in the next hour! “Every company is doing this”, he continues. “T-mobile, AT&T, all of them”. I rebut, because I know damn well T-mobile is not doing this – this is who I am switching from! This is not the flipping law! He yells further, that this is the law and if it were not “anyone could come up in here and buy a phone and start calling internationally!”.

And I just start laughing, because oh, it’s OK and “come in here and buy a phone for two years, with an expensive plan, but by God, it is a crime to dial a number that starts with 011!”. Seriously?! You’re telling me, on July 4th, when you celebrate your stupid freedom, that I cannot call my mother, because it is a crime that she does not live within the boundaries of the great US of A. Right?! Right! He pretty much says! “We need to prove who you are”. As if, my ID, social security number, and pay stub are lesser in importance to determine my identity as a … water freaking bill! Un-flipping-believable. At this point I feel trapped in the “free world”. Truly do!

I try to call mom, and the operator says “I am sorry, this call is not authorized. Please call Verizon customer service to authorize this call”. I feel like a big, fat nothing, at this point. In my very rare, typically Romanian drama persona, I think: If I die of a heart attack right now, my husband cannot even call my mom to tell her I died! Sure, we can buy calling cards, but we have a freaking phone! My frustration is beyond words!

But Dick, or the Verizon Gods,  will not do it! He will not open my phone so I can call internationally. I have to go home (15 miles away), and find a utility bill. Now, that, my friends, is harder than you’d expect. I am not on any of our utility bills. My husband is, because he is the one that opened them when he bought this house, before we were married. I do have a house in NC, with its utility bills, but I have had renters in there, who paid the utilities themselves. So, I come home, and dig. I pull credit card bills, in my name, car payment bills, in my name, and a NC utility bill from February, when I had no renters in the unit for one short month, so it is in my name.

The next day, I go back to the Verizon store, and Bryan is there, thank God. He is helpful and so very kind. I explain to him the whole craziness and he agrees with me, that this is not necessary and he has never heard of such a thing, all during his 3 year tenure with Verizon. I gloat: “see, this is bogus”. And he gets into my account again. But … he is sent back to the Credit lady! I tell him I already talked to her. He calls. Yep! He needs to fax her my utility bill and a copy of my ID. I give him the utility bill from NC. He faxes. Five minutes later, Bryan calls back to check if the fax is there. It is, but the bill is not good. It need to be a bill within the last 30 days! F*&^!!! Can’t do that! Renter paid those.

My husband (who is right there with me, watching the drama) has a bill for our home, from last month. He is on the same cell phone plan as me, and he is an owner/ manager on the Verizon account, just like me. So, Bryan faxes yet another bill, with my husband’s name on it, and it is a legitimate utility (water) bill.

Five minutes of waiting and another call to Credit later … nope, that bill is not good, either, because the international plan is going on my phone, not my husband’s, and the account is in my name (forget the equal power he has!!), because I needed to get the discount from work on it!

Bryan tells them that I have a bill for my car payment. Several for my credit cards. Nope. No good. Utility bill! And then … a silver lining! They will also take a car registration! Bingo! My car is registered in my name! Alas - salvation! I run into the parking lot, glove compartment, back in, out of breath to Bryan – please fax the darn freaking thing!

And wait … Five minutes become 10 and then 20. I try to call mom, and keep getting “nope, you’re a criminal” voice! Bryan!! So, after several more minutes, he calls Credit again. And they talk. And talk. The registration was good and all that – not sure what the delay is. But finally, they “unlock” my phone. And I call mom, and she answers and all is good.

I am still thinking that I am in some kind of a dream or a Kafka novel, at least! But I am glad to hear mom’s voice and I thank Bryan, and then I go back to work – almost two hours later. So, after three trips in three days, to the Verizon store (who said you can do everything online, nowadays?!), after several faxes and innumerable calls to Credit later, I can finally make some use of this phone! Thank the Lord!

I think. But as with dramas … there is always more. We go home, and then the next day (day number four, for those counting), my husband (no, not me!!, but him), the unimportant, your bill is no good and you’re not the owner of this account, good for nothing person, gets a call from … Verizon. “Just to make sure you did, indeed, authorize for international calls to be activated on your other line.”

I will let you ponder on this for a bit: I have committed to this company for 2 years. I am paying good money for it, and they had no problem trusting me, at face value, with the promise that I will pay them every month. There was Bryan’s time on the phone with Credit, and the lady greeter person, and Dick’s time to yell to my face and feel like a man, and then, there were … the Credit people (several), several scans and wasted bandwidth and electricity. All this wasted energy and people resources, for what?! Because, for some reason, making a call outside the borders of this country requires all this! I am still having a hard time googling and finding out who is requiring this, precisely?! We talk about a United Europe, a global economy, how are we expected to communicate, then?!

What is the purpose? What did they accomplish? Why can’t America be less paranoid?! Why can’t we not only love, but at least accept everyone, accept that there is a bigger world out there, other than “us”, but instead we find it 'wrong' that people don't worship us?! 

Does America feel safer now, knowing that I drive a white Prius registered in Utah – I am sure this record is out there, in some file now that will never purge. Do they feel safer knowing that and that … I sometimes start my dial number with 011?! Who benefits from this? Do you feel safer knowing that now, they did a thorough job of checking me out, before they will allow me to call my dad in a week for his birthday?! Do you? Or do you feel better now that I know also have the permission of my husband to call my dad, as well?! The irony leaves me speechless (well, beyond what I have already written…), so I will stop here.

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one.”

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