Friday, June 15, 2012

Cell Phone Saga: Part I


I’m finally ready. I can now tell you of the Cell Phone Saga. This, of course, means that I’ve happily forgotten any number of maddening details that likely would have had you mouth-agape at my misfortune and/or stupidity. I consider myself blessed, however, to be as forgetful as I am. Forgetfulness means I am happily married, depend greatly on the kindness of others to remind me of necessary details and can live in a country like this one. For everything else, I just have to give up all hope of a better past. That’s forgiveness, bumper-sticker-style.
In all of our unknowing when we moved here, we decided a couple of things before truly exploring the details. Perhaps that was our first mistake. After all, exploring the details here means that you talk to a bunch of Dominicans. In true American style, we just wanted to look up the information on the internet, systematically examine it in an evening and decide. To be fair to ourselves, we did ask the few Dominicans we knew at the time, “Which company has the best coverage?” and “Which company do you recommend?” Coverage was important at the time because Jesse was going to be doing quite a bit of traveling for his research and would need it. The best coverage comes from: Claro. Clearly. Why did we all need the same company? It’s cheapest to call within network. What is even cheaper? If you have a family plan. Or so we thought. Free phone calls to the people you call the most sounds great! And you get free phones with each plan. We decided then. A family plan from Claro.
Since I was working every day, all day and Jesse didn’t speak Spanish, Operation Cell Phone fell to Josh and Martine. Serious troopers. Months after the ordeal, I asked several times for them to sit down with me and recount the traumatic details of their efforts, but to no avail. The PTSD would always kick in first. I do, fortunately, recall one amusing story from the beginning of the cell phone saga: the first time Josh and Martine decided to ask for the manager, a fail-safe strategy in the US of A.  The response: "No, you cannot."
"What do you mean I can't talk with the supervisor?!" sputtered Josh. After all, even wee Zora had once suggested, Daddy-style, to speak to the manager when we had issues at a fast-food restaurant. 
"I can't go and bother her," the minion replied, glancing up (literally) to the supervisor, who was in her elevated perch, just behind the staff desks, likely playing solitaire. In this moment, another minion left his post and came over to help FirstMinion argue with Josh and Martine about whether they should get to see the supervisor or not. Dys.func.tional.
Josh and Martine insisted that she descend from her retreats on high.  Eventually, she deigned to grace them with her presence, and they were sure the cat was in the bag.
"How can I help you?" she asked, exciting Josh even more.  They explained their case. Then High&MightyManager turned to whisper with her minions. She turned back to our intrepid explorers and said, "No, we cannot help you with that."
At that point, both Martine and Josh were trying their best to resist the temptation to give each other a boost over the counter and strangle these people, but decided instead to re-state their case. To no avail.
"No, we cannot help you with that sort of thing here."
"You can't help us sign up for phones? You're the main customer service office of the largest telecom company in the country, for the second largest city in the nation.  Who can help us if you can't?"
"I don't know," she replied, straight-faced, and it became clear that it was a lost cause.  It would appear that asking for a supervisor is much like asking various taxi drivers at the same cab stand for a different fare.  There is a fierce loyalty that your money cannot possibly hope to violate, regardless of the logic of the situation. The supervisor is not there to ensure that "the customer is always right", but rather to defend her employees from meddling customers, and other such riff-raff.
Aside from this recollection, all I can tell you is they made countless journeys to Claro headquarters, talked with just as many minions as managers and each day came home empty handed. Frustration mounted. These phones were expensive before we even had them.
Claro HQ demanded everything under the sun before they would accept us as clients—I’m surprised we didn’t have to bring in dental records or photos documenting our childhood birthday parties. They did ask for all legal documents we had in the country, our bank records for the last three months, a letter from Josh’s previous employer stating his salary, a letter from his current employer, and our rental agreement. We have money, we promise! And if we don’t, we’re good friends with VISA. Claro HQ wouldn’t have it. Josh was denied. Martine was denied. We kept fighting, though, our heads held high. Perhaps that was our second mistake.
I kept asking myself, "Really?" The last time I got a cell phone, I hopped online, chose my plan and the color of my free phone in twelve minutes. Two days later, a box arrived on my front door step. Ta-da. Service. Efficiency. And I used my VISA card. I probably could have used a pseudonym had I been cool enough to think of one; they didn’t care. ‘Twas good enough for T-Mobile as long as they got their money. They’re not just good friends, they’re besties with VISA, for sure.

On my lunch break, about three weeks into the battle for phones, I was chatting with a fellow professor, Melanie, and she couldn’t believe my story.
“Let’s just go and ask what the process really is, because this sounds totally ludicrous,” she offered, “Surely, they’ve just stumbled upon a stupendous case of incompetence down at HQ.” Melanie is an expat, married to a Dominican and has lived here for seven years. Plus, homegirl is feisty. I immediately accepted her offer.
As luck would have it, we happened upon the friendliest salesperson ever at the Claro kiosk in the grocery store, Carolina. She gave me her home phone number and I kissed her. No joke. And she was hot. As it turns out, HotCarolina was just really great in sales. Let’s say, she’d make a lot of money selling cars in the States. Those kinds of sales. My dad met a pen saleslady like that once. He bought a thousand pens he didn’t need. He stands by his purchase to this day though, a decade later, and we still have any number of those pens lying around. I did not have quite the same luck with HotCarolina. Had Josh and Martine not been through three long weeks in the cell phone battlefield, I may have made clearer decisions. I was vulnerable. We all were. It turned out, anyway, that I was actually the only one of us who could get a cell phone family plan because I had a legit Dominican job with a big-name institution. We all unanimously said “Yes, I do.” Third mistake? For an 18-month contract. HotCarolina knew exactly what she was doing. I trusted that beautiful face, all the answers she gave me and didn’t read the contract before signing (something I NEVER do, especially after the cloth diaper fiasco of 2005). We were so eager to have phones already. Fourth mistake. She didn’t even give me a copy of the contract. Nor did I think to ask. Fifth mistake.
We picked out our free phones, including a 5th guest phone because HotCarolina assured us that it’s the same price whether you get four phones or five. Weird, I thought. But I had that same thought so frequently in the first months being here, it didn’t raise any red flags. Sixth mistake.
And here I’ll take a short intermission since I can’t admit to more than six mistakes in one blog post according to my contract or else I’ll certainly need a bubble bath and good chocolate, both of which are currently unavailable. 

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