Archive for the 'Customer service' Category

How old am I?

I was told I had a baby face. One that made me look younger than my chronological age. Never thought about it much until I spent my last two years of college at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I was 19.

In addition to taking classes, eating inedible dorm food, and ogling the coeds, I also embarked on a career in beer drinking. Having come from a Jewish family where drinking was a novelty, I knew little of the finer points of becoming an alcoholic. My father was the only drinker, occasionally downing a shot of Canadian Club with his dinner and emitting a highly audible “aaaaahhh” that signaled the start of the meal for the rest of us.

I worked diligently and earned a minor in drinking along with a bachelor’s major in business. I was ably assisted in achieving that distinction by Prehn’s beer pub on Green Street, run by Paul Prehn, a former wrestling coach at the university. Paul later became a state athletic commissioner who selected the referee for the famous Dempsey-Tunney fight at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which now houses the Bears football team that occasionally looks like I did after downing several beers at Prehn’s.

I could have earned a double major rather than the beer minor if I had chosen to drink during the week instead of just on Saturday nights when Prehn’s was always filled with drunks and about-to-be drunks. The inside of Prehn’s looked much like the wooden tables and booths featured in the Godfather movie; the one where Al Pacino guns down the crooked police captain played by Sterling Hayden, and the mafia guy Sollozzo, played by the perfectly cast Al Lettieri.

Like Sollozzo, all the cast members in the Godfather looked like they belonged there, except maybe Pacino. His baby face belied his true destiny. Like him, my face made me look younger than 19 and prompted an ID check from Prehn’s waiters. I was irritated at being singled out for this treatment since everyone else in the bar on Saturday night was a student just like me. Mercifully, the irritation subsided as the bartenders got used to seeing my face. Or maybe my baby face aged with each sinful beer, just like the one in Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray.

I finished my schooling in 1960 and, without my gluttony to fill their cash box, Prehn’s shut down six years later. But I had learned much at this smelly, smokey classroom that served me well in the years ahead. Like always keeping an ID readily available.

My baby face continued to be a subject of interest wherever alcohol was served. I became an American classic joke as my friends laughed while I was researched and probed by waiters, waitresses, barmen and baristas.

And then, around 50, it came to a crashing halt while driving on Highway 5 to San Diego. I stopped for something to eat at the always freeway close Denny’s, where one can be assured of consistency if not quality. I had completed my meal and made my way to the checkout where I fumbled with my wallet seeking my credit card. The cashier, whose name tag revealed her to be Brenda, looked at me and said, “That’ll be $23 less the ten percent senior discount.”

Since we were three weeks away from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I only hesitated a moment thinking about whether I should tell Brenda of her ageing mistake, or risk serious moral turpitude by keeping it a secret. Two bucks is two bucks.

Since in those days I was mildly certain there really was an all-seeing god, I chose honesty and said, “Brenda, I’m only 50 and don’t qualify for the discount.”

Without hesitation and thinking I’d be pleased, Brenda smiled, “That’s OK. You look older, so I’ll give you the discount anyway.”

I wanted to tell her what she could do with her discount and the overcooked sausage on my Denny’s Special breakfast plate.

Years went by and I figured that I was over this looking older thing until a month ago, a couple of lunar cycles into my 83rd birthday.

I hate shopping for shoes. After trying on two pairs, I’m mentally exhausted and willing to do anything to get out of the store, so I buy one. I pay the penalty the next day at home by either feeling like I was wearing too-tight shoes created for the Iron Maiden in medieval torture chambers, or that were so large that Jackie and I could fit all four of our feet into the oversized gondolas called shoes.

So it was with my usual trepidation that I entered the Adidas store in the Camarillo Outlet Mall. Jackie’s face and demeanor spoke of great expectations, while I looked like I was in the middle of the Bataan Death March looking for water. 

It was Saturday and the mall had thousands of people looking for things they didn’t need. The Adidas store had a similar, though more focused, contingent. I entered the store dragging one foot in silent protest. Sensing a kill, Jackie grabbed onto an idling salesman named Jeffrey, and said with some confidence, “He needs shoes.”

Jeffrey looked at me, turned back to Jackie and said, “What kind of shoes does he wear?”

“Athletic shoes that don’t hurt.”

Jeffrey, thinking that more info might be useful, focused on Jackie again, “What size does he wear?”

I began to feel unnecessary and possessed of limited intelligence.  I might as well have just sent my feet to the store, while the rest of me stayed in the nursing home sipping watered down orange juice through a paper straw.

Maybe it was my demeanor. Maybe it was my sour expression. Or my hunched shoulders, over the hill sneakers, gray hair, and total disinterest. Or maybe he knew my eyesight was failing because of my bifocals and squinty eyes. The hearing aids probably firmed up Jeffrey’s evaluation. One that says this guy probably doesn’t even know he’s in a shoe store. Better focus on his daughter.

I eventually unscrewed Jeffrey’s head by quoting from Einstein’s theory of relativity, straightening my torso, and doing a dance like the one Ray Bolger did as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

To further demonstrate my substantial capabilities, I tried on three, not just two, pairs of shoes, and tied each of them properly. I rejected them all, blessed Jeffery with the language of the 23rd Psalm, and left the store. Jackie offered to repeat the process in any number of shoe stores in the mall.

Instead, we bought her a pair of shoes and went home.

Breaking My Chains

I usually take my Mercedes to the dealer in Oxnard. The car is seven years old, and I figure I’ve been there about twenty times since I bought it. I always cringe when the bill is presented expecting the worst. And it usually is.

Add to that a thirty mile drive taking 40 minutes each way. That’s forty trips in seven years totaling 2,400 miles. Or 120 gallons of gas at $5 a gallon, or $600. But, what the heck, it’s a Mercedes.

If I owned a Chevy, I’d probably go to the local repair shop. But Mercedes has developed a reputation that only a Mercedes dealer can perform services. I’m easily swayed by friends, the internet and strange lights in the sky, so I’ve also been cowed into thinking that my C300 will fall to pieces if touched by a generic mechanic who has grease smeared on his Hawaiian shirt and says things like duh, what?

I don’t even adjust the tire pressure when the dashboard warns me that I will die if any of the tires has the wrong PSI as prescribed on page 268 of the user manual. Instead, I wait for my next service at the dealer to correct the pressure, believing that doing otherwise will void the warranty and cause a tire to explode leaving a gaping hole in the middle of Ojai Avenue.

Jackie also has a Mercedes and a similar fear of aliens touching her car. This fear, unlike mine, does not include tire pressure adjustments. She will go any place with an air hose and a willing mechanic. She uses her cute smile to get the work done. No money changes hands and both parties are happy. Jackie because she has freshly topped-off air, and the guy with the Hawaiian shirt because he gets to ogle her for five minutes.

Since no mechanic is interested in ogling me, I wait for the Mercedes dealer to do the work and bill me for his time, and probably his air.

But all that changed a couple of months ago. I needed air and decided to break my Mercedes chains and visit Ojai Valley Imports, walking distance from my house. A strange name for this car repair shop since they don’t import anything and, based on my visual inspection, mostly service cars that look like they haven’t been washed since they came off the assembly line.

They did a five-star job of adding air to my tires without breaking anything. And the guy who did it had a clean shirt. And he charged me nothing. Maybe I am worth ogling.

But one success does not necessarily change a life-long habit. A month later my dashboard lit up with messages, lights and whistles announcing I was due for service at the Mercedes dealer money pit. I procrastinated for two weeks hoping the message would disappear. It did not and became the very first thing I saw every time I started the car. You are seven days beyond your service period. Then eight days. Then twenty days. It was unending.

If that wasn’t enough, the tire pressure indicator lit up again. Another annoying announcement that dogged me for a couple of weeks. Like unrelenting dripping water, the two messages overwhelmed me. I broke down and called Mercedes for an appointment.

My first call produced a transfer to the service department where I was disconnected before I could say anything. Maybe they checked my bank balance and figured I couldn’t afford them.

My second call connected me to Ralph, who seemed disinterested in my need for service. After promising that I would add large sums of money to my bank account, he granted me an appointment ten days later. Busy place.

And then I thought about the free air. And the walking distance from home to Ojai ImportsAnd I said, why not? What have I got to lose? A beat-up seven-year-old Mercedes? Jackie can always buy me a new car. Or better yet, she can drive me wherever life takes me.

So, I took a deep breath, put on my favorite hat, got in the car, and took what I thought would be a two-minute ride to Ojai Imports. It took only 90 seconds, and I began to wonder what I’d do with the rest of my day.

Tyrone wore a greaseless shirt, welcomed me without saying duh, and told me they could take me right away. No waiting, no return trips. He smiled and, sensing my unease said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be kind. We’ll be gentle.”

And they were.

In spite of breaking my Mercedes chains, the Creature from the Black Lagoon did not emerge from the abyss in Lake Casitas. Godzilla did not fly in from Tokyo and flatten the Chevron station and King Kong did not climb the post office tower with city council member Suza Francina in his giant hand.

I paid my bill, got in the car, and rested a minute staring at the dashboard. I thought…Can’t wait until the next time I need service.

Man’s best friend

Is it really man’s best friend?

I’ve been driving the Help of Ojai bus ever since we moved to Ojai twenty years ago, except for a couple of years when Ila was ill. My usual shift starts at eight on Friday mornings and ends a little after noon.

My clients are generally older and have given up driving. Being homebound is all too often a sad result. I pick them up at home and deliver them to physician offices, the grocery, hairdressers and other destinations which might otherwise be unreachable. For some folks, the bus is the only way they can get out of the house.

During my rewarding career as a bus driver, I’ve had my share of mishaps including varying degrees of bodily injury; to me, not to my clients. One that stands out vividly occurred several years ago.

Many of my riders are mildly incapacitated; some use a walker. Walkers come in various shapes, colors and sturdiness. Some are festooned with saddlebags and other accouterments. Some are simple in design while others require a degree from MIT to fold them flat in order to load them onto the bus. All of the beasts sadistically defy me as I try to lift them up the steps of the bus and through the narrow entry door.  I put them in a place that varies with my mood, so long as they can be safely stowed without the risk of them hurtling through the confines of the nine-passenger metal behemoth with which I deftly negotiate the streets of Ojai.

The walker folding process requires a certain degree of dexterity. The two sets of legs are folded using a scissors like movement that involves paying close attention to the location of one’s fingers, lest they become painfully pinched in the process. And that’s what happened to me.

My client that morning required the use of a walker as well as the lift. Being relatively non-communicative added to the challenge. Seating her went without a hitch, and I then began to flatten the walker. The scissor-like motion reached its high point when the tip of my little finger lodged securely between the two legs. Ignoring the searing pain for the moment, I attempted to open the scissors and free my finger. Alas, two hands are required to open the legs.

My client, comfortably seated and ignorant of the drama unfolding behind her, was of no use. Being the proud owner of two feet, I stood unsteadily on one of them and used the other as a wedge shoved between the walker’s legs. After what seemed like a fortnight of acrobatics, I was able to extract my pinky from the jaws of the monster. Profuse bleeding was the next cause for alarm. It was staunched with a box of Kleenex and the on-board first aid kit stocked for such mindless mishaps. Driving with one hand became de rigueur for the rest of the morning.  I can show you my scar if something like that excites you.

This Friday started out normally. Go to the gym at 6am. Treadmill for an hour while watching season two of the Kominsky Method on Netflix, shower and then head over to Help of Ojai. Have a quarter section, or two, of a yummy turkey sandwich made by Glenda, some surprisingly good coffee prepared by Meagan and then check out the bus for unwelcome critters, discover a nearly empty gas tank and a windshield that could only be cleaned with a Brillo pad.

Check out the manifest. The usuals…Melvia, Karen, Rosie, George, Betty…and one new name, Joyce. Going to the doctor, Joyce was to be picked up at 9:30 for her ten o’clock appointment. The early morning crowd delivered safely to their chosen locations, I headed over to Joyce’s mobile home park.

I arrived two minutes early, opened her gate and rapped on the door. A small, furry dog exited through the doggy door and took up a position close to my left leg. A cute little guy with a reassuringly mild disposition, he just begged to be stroked. And so I did, while waiting for Joyce to emerge.

I could hear Joyce calling for Charlie to come back in the house. Having none of that, Charlie sprinted away from me, ran through the gate that I had obligingly left open, and disappeared down the driveway. Joyce arrived and I pointed in Charlie’s general direction. Joyce called out. And, after what seemed like an eternity, he reappeared at the foot of the driveway. We beseeched him to come closer. He did but stopped short of the gate as though pondering his alternatives.

He moved slightly forward. I detected some misgivings in his tiny brown eyes. Seizing the fleeting opportunity, I reached down and gently cradled his ten-pound body in my two hands. What had once been a small, cuddly friend of man, became an enraged bull mastiff. He opened his jaws and clamped them on the root end of my thumb which had, prior to this event, been minding its own business. The pain took me back to my years’ ago adventure with the iron walker.

Charlie was intent on becoming a permanent part of my right hand. Perhaps he had second thoughts. Perhaps he felt that he had inflicted enough punishment commensurate with my indiscretion. He loosened his vice-like grip and bounded happily over to Joyce who said one or two “bad dogs” and without any further ado, deposited a newly cherubic Charlie in the place from whence he came.

Bleeding was becoming a habit of mine deserving of a Purple Heart. Charlie’s teeth had produced two punctures that appeared quite similar to those that might have been inflicted by a king cobra. My customary use of Kleenex seemed to only aggravate the flow. Thankfully, Joyce produced a large band-aid from her purse, and wrapped securely, I was able to deliver her to her appointment, drive one-handed back to Help and apply a vat of antiseptic ointment to calm my distress.

I had forgotten to ask Joyce if Charlie was up to date with his shots. Scary thoughts about rabies proliferated in my frontal cortex. Magnifying the possible implications of a frothing-at-the-mouth dog, followed by equally terrifying rabies shots, occupied my time until we were able to confirm that neither I nor Charlie would be appearing in a re-run of The Wolfman.

Walkers and dogs are often thought of as man’s best friends. But sometimes it might be better to remain more platonic.

A little credit, please

I have this cute little app on my cellphone that alerts me whenever there’s a charge to my credit card. It pops up with abandon, but that’s what happens if you’re a spendthrift. Unfortunately, it popped up once too often about three weeks ago.

My Citibank credit card was issued eons ago when Ila and I visited our favorite eating place, Costco. Where else can a guy take his girl for a sumptuous repast and feel like he’s gotten a bargain? Two kosher dogs smothered with deli mustard and onions, coupled with unlimited Diet Coke, is yours for the asking at a mere $3.50. The same price as one grande coffee from Starbucks.

Must have been a special Costco deal that prompted us to sign up for that Citibank card many years ago. Maybe it was three hot dogs for the price of two, or a lifetime supply of deli mustard in a sealed five-gallon container that defied opening. In any event, we became the proud possessors of his and her cards. A dozen years later and a million dollars poorer, my card was still swiping and inserting all over America.

Anyway, three weeks ago as I was having my morning coffee, my iPhone X emitted the characteristic sound that tells me I’ve received a text message. My speed at opening text messages is legendary. A twin to my penchant for being early to social events, reading a text message has the same assigned priority as diving under the kitchen table during a nuclear attack.

“Good morning”, the text seemed to say. It then went on to blithely inform me that eleven hundred dollars had been charged to my card by some merchant whose identity was unknown to me. I found the elusive merchant on the web and assured myself that nothing it offered had any appeal for me. Uh oh. My card’s been hacked.

I’ve had this happen before and so I didn’t panic, much. Doing my civic duty, I alerted Citi to the fraudulent activity and, promising me a shiny new card, they immediately sent my now useless card to the depths of Hades. Phyllis, the customer service rep, also suggested that I temporarily use my other card, the one that had gone unused since well before Ila’s passing, while the newly minted replacement was wending its way to my mailbox. Good idea, I thought, and dutifully shredded my old, now worthless, card.

Always the obedient one, I found Ila’s card and began to abuse it by inserting it, chip first, in an array of card readers designed to extract funds at an unprecedented rate from my meager assets. No grass was going to grow under my chip.

Not satisfied with merely enriching Ojai’s business community, Jackie and I toured New York and I left my temporary Citi card imprint all over Manhattan. It’s only plastic, I told myself. From bagels to buggy rides to Bloomingdale’s, my card impressed them all.

Returning home and feeling that I needed to punish myself for my wanton display of monetary foolishness, I visited the Citi website, logged in to my account and tried to find a history of the purchases I had made during our trip. I found the charges made to my old, now defunct, card but I was unable to view the purchases made with Ila’s card. My initial reaction was that Ila, in some kind of weird parlor trick foisted on me by her ether-like persona, was playing games with my head. Maybe to teach me another lesson and remind me of her continuing presence.

After assuring myself that there must be an earthbound explanation to my inability to view the transactions, I called Citi. The kindly customer service person, Cindy, informed me that Ila was the principal cardholder and that I had not been authorized by her to see the charges made to her card.

I asked Cindy how we might correct that oversight and was told “Just put your wife on the phone and we can get her verbal authorization to view her card activity.” Still suffering from jetlag and beset by muddled thinking, I said “That would be a neat trick because she passed away a year and a half ago.”

Sarcasm has always been the bane of my existence. And this time it bit me in the ass. “My condolences. But because of your wife’s passing we are going to close your account. All your cards are now ca-ca.” Cindy evidenced not an iota of sympathy. The thought of being without my card was like withdrawing from a year long course of opiate binging. No amount of pleading, begging or requests for mercy would sway Cindy from following the Citi procedures manual with a steadfastness equal to that of a dog on a bone.

Cindy suggested that I apply for a new Costco card where I would be the principal subscriber. I reluctantly agreed and was routed to Marilyn in the new accounts cabal. “What’s your Costco membership number?”, she asked.

“Oh, you mean the number that was on the back of my old, now shredded, card?”

A search of the Costco internet site and two phone calls later, I was rewarded with a new Citi card. Remembering that I would need to pay the charges on the old cards, I called Citi again and asked my new friend, Rachel, how I might go about settling my old account. “I’d be happy to do that for you right now. Just give me your bank routing number and your account number.”

Wishing to end the agony of this journey into the depths of credit card hell, I did as I was told and received a confirmation number as evidence of my obedience. And I waited for the funds to be miraculously withdrawn from my bank account. And I waited.

Days later with no funds withdrawn and fearing a mountain of late charges and the descent of my credit rating into the low teens, I once again called Citi and spoke with Judy. Feeling as though I was destined to meet every Citi customer service rep, I inquired about my supposed fund withdrawal. “Oh, your account has been turned over to our collection agency. You will need to speak with them.”

Collection agency? Citi’s monthly bill hadn’t even been generated and I was to be dunned? I called the agency and spoke to Ralph. A nice change of pace. “I’d just like to pay my bill.” Hardly responsive to my plea, Ralph informed me that I had the right to employ the services of the attorney who was handling my wife’s estate.

“Look Ralph, I just want to pay my bill. Please take my money.”

Set on a course that permitted no side trips, Ralph offered to settle the bill at eighty percent of what I owed. I said “Look Ralph, I just want to pay what’s owed. I don’t need any incentive.”

As though I was speaking Latin or some other dead language, Ralph insisted that I take his offer. Not wishing to prolong things and sensing that Ralph had bigger fish to fry, I graciously accepted his offer. And I dreamed about how I might most efficiently dispose of this new-found wealth.

And, to that end, my new Costco card arrived yesterday.


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