Monday, July 30, 2007

Two for billing: get Amp'd

Bye bye phone service. I got a text message a week ago from my mobile phone service provider informing me of the possibility that my phone service would be disconnected on July 24.

I freaked out and ran to the computer to look up my bill. It looked fine: my automatic payments were still passing on my money to the phone company. I decided the text message must have been an error so I called the toll-free customer service number. An automated greeting voice answered – sort of an accented Midwestern woman – telling me to press this or that for information, new accounts and billing. I pressed two for billing and waited, listening to the “on-hold” rap music.

This was no ordinary cell phone company when I signed up for the service. I had been doing my Internet research because I wanted to escape from Sprint 16 months ago. I clicked on website after website that detailed mobile telephone service plans from the usual suspects, including Sprint, Verizon, Cingular (now AT&T again), and T-Mobile. I sneaked a peak at plans unavailable here in California offered by Qwest and ALLTEL and Cellular One. And then I found the perfect mobile phone company: Amp’d Mobile.

Amp’d Mobile. Amp'd offered Verizon service at prices better than Verizon’s own plans, a small selection of very nice phones, and some pretty decent service options. So I jumped to a "500 anytime minutes, unlimited after 7:00 PM" plan and enjoyed a year and four months of nearly flawless service.

Customer service was a bit unrefined, but efficient and always very helpful. For example, I discovered the chip in my phone was defective, so I called to request a new one.

After sitting on hold for a couple of minutes contemplating the weird hip-hop tune being pumped into my ear, the customer service “agent” answered: “Thanks fo’ calling Amp’d Mobile, man. Wazzup?”

I tried to act all hip-hop and cool, like Amp’d’s age 35-and-under target demographic. “Hey. I’m callin’ ‘cause I think somethin’s wrong wit' my phone. The chip don’t seem to work.”

“Oh, man. Them phones been doing that lately.” I heard some computer keyboard clicks in the background. “I’m sorry sir, but we out of them. They all backordered.” Another pause followed.

Great, I thought. I got a lemon of a phone and I can’t get it fixed. (To be honest, the phone was working fine, but I just couldn’t listen to any of the music I had downloaded to my phone).

He returned to the phone. “Sir, I’m sorry about that. So let me tell you, go out and buy your own. You be reimbursed up to fo'ty bucks.”

The exchange wrapped up with “you sure?”, “yeah, just fax the receipt!”, and each of us saying “cool.”

That’s how most of my interactions were with Amp’d customer service. But last week when I called after getting the text message that my service was going to end, I waited and waited and nobody answered. So I started clicking around on the website. And I came across a Q&A section with information about bankruptcy and the end of service, full of misspelled words and many unknowns.

Each day, a new button on the Amp'd website turned blue (all except the one about Amp'd Canada, which is apparently still working): Amp'd's Customer Q&A.

Aha. I was going to be a casualty of a failed marketing scheme, one that targeted young people without any credit who downloaded millions of dollars worth of hip-hop music and never had any intention of paying their bill. And to think three days earlier I was perusing the website thinking about ordering a new or upgraded phone or plan!

The next day I went to the Verizon store and switched my service to the network that had carried my calls but had never received any of the money I paid. The Verizon sales guy, typical 20-something who could care less about anything, actually got excited that he could easily switch my phone to the Verizon network. He was almost giddy, telling me it looked like the Amp’d software was actually better than the Verizon software. He said he was going to start telling his friends to go out and buy the Amp’d phones that were going to be on clearance and then sign up for Verizon service using them.

I’m shopping again for a new mobile carrier. Helio looks kind of cool and I like their Ocean phone. But maybe I should accept the lesson I’ve learned and stick with one of the big guys. And get a dull AT&T iPhone.

I miss Amp’d.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Innkeeper out

Westport Island, Maine. I came back from Maine last weekend. It was my first trip to the lovely lobster state, and I paid my visit in order to join in the merriment of my friends’ Bethany and Abigail’s wedding, which I officiated. It was my only stint as wedding officiator, or faux rabbi as I called myself. A Jewish wedding, we convened under a chuppah. I infused the ceremony with my personal reflections on the couple’s relationship, but the presentation was built upon an outline they had given me. I had asked them to list things they wanted in their wedding and informed them I planned to craft the ceremony around their preferences.

Aside from a swarm of mosquitoes under the chuppah during the ceremony, all went quite well. I told myself that I was not permitted to swat the bugs during the celebration. With a gathering of 150 guests, I was sure to be photographed slapping my head or neck, or even worse, with a gruesome expression showing my disturbance.

The entire wedding weekend was a blast, and capped a week in New Hampshire on Highland Lake. In fact, I give the trip a top rating, with one exception: a certain unpleasant innkeeper.

Bethany had selected the Squire Tarbox Inn as a good location for her friends to congregate and slumber during the wedding weekend. It was a perfect choice: clean, historic and only a few miles from the wedding site on Dreyfus Lane. Breakfast was quite delicious and the grounds were lush with an organic garden, ponds and a forest. It was a bit kitschy with Raggedy Ann dolls in every room and bits of clutter to give the inn some personality. But all of this was unnecessary because the inn had plenty of personality, and not a particularly good one, in its manager.

The day before the wedding, I headed to the dining room to find the innkeeper to ask about an iron. Her assistant, a cheerful young blonde woman with her hair pinned back, dashed upstairs to fetch an iron, light blue, circa 1978, and an old folding ironing board. She offered to take them to my room, but I told her not to bother herself and that I could easily manage.

Pressing. Back in the small room, where the bed occupies almost all of the space, I set up the ironing board and plugged in the iron. I added a bit of water and waited for it to heat up. No steam was coming from the iron, so I pushed a few buttons and adjusted the settings before conceding it wasn’t going to be a good ironing experience. Brad ironed his shirt and then I ironed my new Benetton shirt, going over it again and again with the dry iron, hoping to press some of the wrinkles out. When I finished, I moved on to some slacks and another pair of pants before starting on a silk and linen blend tie. Caroline dropped by to see if she could iron too, so I finished up the tie and unplugged the iron. With nowhere to set it, I placed it on the bed and began to disassemble the ironing board. When I picked up the iron, some of the water, perhaps ¼ cup, spilled out on the bed (certainly none of it had escaped the iron as steam). Caroline smartly suggested hanging the duvet on the porch in the sun so it could dry, so I pulled off the sheet and draped it there. She finished her ironing and we walked outside, iron and ironing board in hand to pass it to other guests, Alisa and Lisa, patiently waiting to press their clothes in their room.

On the way out of my room, housekeeping staff greeted me. I told them about the duvet, with apologies, and showed them I had hung it to dry. The two young women thanked me for hanging it, told me “no worries,” and I headed on my way.

Adequately pressed, under the chuppah.

Returning to the Squire Tarbox in the evening, we discovered our bed had been made with only one blanket, an old yellow one with specks of dust and hair. Brad and I went downstairs to ask the innkeeper for another blanket. She was supervising Caroline’s ironing in the inn’s dining room!

I made my request and she replied, “I was very displeased with what you did to the duvet.”

Caught off guard, I responded, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I hung it up to dry and told the housekeeper about it.”

“The duvet is stained and it won’t come out.”

I told her it was just a small amount of water from the iron. “The iron wasn’t producing steam and I was trying to figure out how to make it work.”

She eyed me with a look of contempt. “There is nothing wrong with the iron. People have been using it all evening.”

“It’s an old iron,” I said. “And it doesn’t produce steam very well.”

You would have thought I was telling her that her daughter was a whore. “It works perfectly well. I don’t understand what you were doing ironing over the bed.”

I decided it was best not to get in a catfight with a mature Swiss feline. “If we could just get another blanket, that would be great.”

“I’ve been working for 15 hours and I’m ready to go to bed, “ she snarled. “I’ll be back in just a moment, but I need to lock up.”

As soon as she disappeared up the gloomy back stairs, I unleashed to Brad and Caroline, perhaps more audibly than I should have, “Fucking bitch. I hate her. She just needs to do her fucking job because I’m paying to stay here.”

She came back with the blanket and handed it to me. At the same moment, another woman asked if she could use the iron. The innkeeper was riled: “Not tonight! I’ve got to put it away so I can go to bed.”

We all just glanced at each other and escaped from the room as fast as possible.

Not cheap. I was paying $175 a night to stay there, under the watchful eye of a woman who should not be running an inn. A certificate framed on the wall expressed Delta Airlines’ appreciation for her 33 years of service. It made sense. Think of Delta’s flight attendants. They’re bad. Then think of the worst one. She would have been better suited to be the dorm matron in a school for girls.

As one who has always wanted to run an inn, it’s interesting to get a lesson on how not to do it. Following the weekend, I wrote a review on Trip Advisor. It is somewhat balanced and reasonably polite, and offers prospective guests a qualified three-star rating. Perhaps some will consult it. I think the Squire Tarbox innkeeper would do well with fewer guests to ruffle her feathers. Or fewer guests to wet them with an old leaky iron.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Splenda not made from sugar

It's worth reporting the good news that the makers of Splenda must retract their false statements in France, and a trial on the same matter is scheduled in the US in November. The ads suggested Splenda is made from sugar, so it's natural like sugar.

In case you are unfamiliar with Splenda, it's the toxic crap in the little yellow packets that fat people eat.
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