shout-out to Austin

I just spent almost an hour on the phone with customer service, mostly because the guy was an engaging conversationalist. does this mean I’m lonely?

The time just flew by. I really couldn’t believe we chatted for so long. That wasn’t a chit-chat; that entered the realm of now we’re buddies.

Even though I only needed a simple change on the account, I’d put off calling customer service because I dreaded the (a) waiting on hold, (b) entering all the requisite info using the keypad, (c) repeating all the info to a customer service person (why did a machine ask me all those questions a few minutes ago?), and (d) finally just doing what needs to be done.

So I braced myself and called. I don’t remember saying much of anything before Austin divulged a whole bunch of useful information about how cell phone companies make money, none of which I knew before. He explained a lot to me. Unsolicited, but useful. Then we discussed why it is ridiculous for a cell phone company to charge high rates for internet access.

Ironically, Austin came at the topic from the customer’s perspective. He told me how much money he and his family pay to use telephones (thousands of dollars per year, like you probably do); that cell phone plans used to be not only affordable, but a good deal when he was 16; that now he sucks it up and agrees to pay what a company dictates. “As an irate customer would say: Ridiculous,” he said.

I felt that he was humoring me. “No,” I insisted, “I’m not an irate customer.” At one point, my family’s cell phone plan was a good deal. “The day I find a better deal is the day that I leave you, Austin, for a better contract. Although you’re right; the customer service here is superb.” I tacked on that last part. It’s actually true, though.

No, I argued that the exorbitant cost of internet access through a cell phone provider is ridiculous from a business standpoint. When internet flows as freely and cheaply as water, when you can go online for free at any coffee shop anywhere, when you pay less for unlimited internet than for electricity in your home–why would a cell phone company essentially push customers away by charging a lot of money for a little internet? Only a fool (i.e., someone living like a turtle) would pay too much for something that’s nearly free.

Maybe Austin was placating me by teaching me the tricks he and his friends use to save money on the sly. When he mentioned that his coworker doesn’t even use her own company’s products, I had to ask Austin whether he actually likes his job.

This led to a discussion about how he was born in Norway, was raised in Russia, and now considers Washington to be the closest thing to “home” he knows. He’ll be deployed to Afghanistan soon. But yeah, he likes his job, although never would he have expected to work a desk job, let alone like it. He prefers hard labor. Which I guess is why he’s going to Afghanistan with the military.

But before this, he joined Job Corps and worked for two years as a wildfirefighter with the US Forest Service. He made a killing doing that for 6 months out of the year, working 3 or 4 fires per season. I thought he may have said something about fighting an “international fire”, but I guess I misheard him. Are you familiar with international fires? Would a government agency fight one?

And then it was an hour later.

I had dreaded this phone call because I knew I’d be on the phone forever, repeating 4 different passwords every time I got transferred to another person and listening to hold music.

(hold music courtesy of Homestar Runner)

Turns out that the phone call did go on forever, but…maybe because I was lonely. That’s why people have long, involved conversations with strangers on the phone, right? Because they’re lonely?

But wait, some friends suggested that maybe he was the lonely one, and I’m the engaging conversationalist. Maybe.

Probably, though, dude was just bored at work and found relief in a phone call that wasn’t a customer yelling at him.

As much as I would have loved to record Austin’s and my conversation for an episode of Point A to Point B, this story, such as it is, must suffice as kindling for your burning imagination. Maybe I’ll get to meet him, if the turtle and I roll up to Washington before he gets to Afghanistan.

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