Archive | January, 2012

It’s the people not the things…

31 Jan

This is my husband, Steve, standing in front of the Tower Bridge in East London . . .

Living in London is amazing.   Having moved from a small rural town in North Carolina, I have to admit that city life is all I had hoped and not much of what I had feared.  The restaurants, museums, monuments, ethnic markets, public transport and all the all other accoutrements of modern urban planning, design, and development layers over centuries of rich history are amazing.  In addition, I feel safe and relatively healthier and happier than spending hours every day in my car trying to get work or wherever I needed to go – leaving a huge fossil footprint and traveling the same roads, over and over again.  But there is a down-side.

I came here to accompany him: the guy in the picture.  I love him and after all things considered, living apart was not really worth the toll, especially on him.  Plus, an opportunity to live in this amazing city with all its history and art and architecture, not to mention proximity to other amazing places, just could not be passed up.  But I came without a plan, without a mission and without an anchor except him.  Weeks into it, I have not made much progress with finding a “raison d’etre.”  Everyone keeps telling me I will.  I am keeping an open-mind.

A close friend recently sent me a note and asked if there was anything from home I missed that she could send in a care package. Such a sweet offer, but the answer is simple: I miss my friends and family terribly.  I don’t really miss any of the stuff or even the places of home.  It’s the people not the things, I miss.  What fun is all this if I can’t share it?  Being the super-extravert I am, I find little joy in doing things alone.  I thought Facebook would be a great venue to quip back and forth with people about the experience, but its not really turning out that way.  A picture does not allow for that moment of pushing your elbow into someone’s ribs and saying “Did you see that?”  Many of things I want to share — like the way people dress (women who wear leggings, boots, coats and not much more, men who have obviously attended scarf-tying school, and these beautiful children all dressed up in school uniforms riding scooters everywhere) well, it would be strange and inappropriate to be snapping pictures of them.

The guys who hang out on the Common and drink beer all day did ask me to take their picture.  These two posed and even invited me to join them.  I am not at that point, yet — though they do seem to be having a lot of fun.

So much of my day really is a “you had to be there” kind of thing.  Facebook especially can’t convey the absurdity and hilarity of the moment when I realize someone is speaking English but I can’t understand a word of it.  I guess I am too old and self-conscious to just burst out laughing alone. So, I am saving it all up, hoping lots of you get your passports and make a plan.  I am right here waiting to share it all.

My 2 cents on the Occupiers

10 Jan

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has happened during the most busy, hectic, full-on disruptive chapter in my life, so I have not followed it closely. My excuse (and I say this sheepishly) is that my most recent residence did not have a TV, my former residence was a hotel with only Direct TV and the three moves have left me little time to read intelligently about what is going on.  I now live outside the US and should have time to read and get caught up, but at the moment am more inclined to write than read. From the few snippets I have caught, I have to say that I am pleased that a group is trying to collectively find a voice about an issue that is close to my heart, corporate bullying.

As a public educator, I have a lot of experience with bullying.  In my work life back home, I saw plenty of it: kids bullying each other, adults bullying kids, adults bullying other adults.  The power plays and intimidation are demeaning for the victims and revolting for everyone else having to function in that culture.  Most experts agree that the best way to turn the tide on a culture of bullying is for the bystanders to stand up and say “Enough!”  One article that I did read about the Occupy Movement was calling attention to the fact that many of the people involved had not been directly affected by the recession and implied, “What business do they have in the movement?”  I would like to imagine that those people who may have considered themselves bystanders were standing up for those of us who have been the victims of corporate bullying.

Here’s my story:

In 2006, I had been a loyal Verizon Wireless customer for about six years.  My kids were turning teen-agers and it was time to “add a line for $9.99.”  I had added my oldest son with no problems, but when I went to add my youngest about eighteen months later, all hell broke loose.  For the first part of the debacle, I will take some blame.  I was trying to save a buck and thought that Sprint was offering a better deal.  I called Verizon to make sure I would not be breaking my contractual agreement by moving my number to Sprint and was assured that I had met my agreement and was free to leave.  So, I ported numbers over to Sprint, spent a week with little to no cell signal in the area I lived, went back to Sprint and said, thanks but no thanks and ported my numbers back to Verizon. When going back to Verizon I went to my local Verizon store and explained the whole story to them, got reassured that they were thrilled to have me back and that they were simply activating my former account.  In the week that followed, I received two separate bills from Verizon: one for over $300 which included cancellation fees and one for over $200 that included initiation fees.  This prompted a one hour phone call during which I was transferred to no less than three technicians and a member of management to straighten it all out.  As I said, I was willing to accept part of the blame at that point for bringing Sprint into the mix, and at the end of the conversation, whipped out my credit card, paid an agreed upon amount that included some of the initiation fees but still seemed a hell of a lot of money, and was assured that it was all straightened out and I could expect to pay just less than $90 per month for the three of us to have excellent cell phone service. Let me just mention at this point that Sprint never charged me a cancellation fee and they refunded my initiation fee since I decided not to stay.

Things were fine for about two weeks and then I again received two bills from Verizon.  One showing a credit balance of $87 and one showing an overdue balance of $87.  This seemed easy enough.  I explained it to the representative, got transferred to billing, explained it again, 30 minutes later, I was assured it was  golden.  Fine.  Three days later while I was rushing from work to soccer practice, I dialed my husband to make sure he had the other kid on his radar and I get a recorded message – “Your phone service has been disrupted due to non-payment.  Please call  blah, blah, blah with your credit ready.  You will be charged a $25 fee on each line affected.” Really?

The next phone call with Verizon was held on speaker phone with my husband and myself, and we used a recording device to catch all the details and promises. Again, it took well over an hour, we walked back through every detail of every charge, and Verizon again concluded that I owed over $150 to reset our accounts and get it all working again.  Do you get the sense here that I am the kid having their lunch money taken?  Okay, I said, but I want you to say it – this pays up my account for this month, and hereafter, my bill for these three numbers will be predictable?  “Yes, Mrs. Mahaley, this should clear everything up and I am so sorry for your inconvenience.”  Cheap words from Bombay.

One week later, I was about to get on the interstate starting out on a one hundred-eighty mile trek to be with my mother who was having surgery, and called my husband to go over the intricacies of all the schlepping for the week to come.  Imagine my utter rage when guess what my phone told me?  Yep –  “Your phone service has been disrupted due to non-payment.  Please call  blah, blah, blah with your credit ready.  You will be charged a $25 fee on each line affected.”  What the?  Who has the time or energy to deal with this?

I had three hours to think about it.  Clearly, at this point Verizon is the one who has broken their contract with me.  I paid (and paid) for a service that they are not providing, have twice inconvenienced me, wasted hours of my time on the phone trying to straighten it out and I had spent over $300 in the last month for cell phone service I still did not have.  ENOUGH!

I gathered all my records, wrote a letter chronicling my endlessly frustrating saga ending with “I am done with Verizon.”  I made three copies of it and mailed it to Verizon at their billing headquarters, their corporate headquarters, and my local billing address.  I went to Alltell and opened  a new account with all new numbers.

A little over a week later, I got a call on my home phone.  “Hello, Ms. Mahaley?  This is Dan Orsibel from Verizon Wireless Headquarters.”  I have your letter here and I want to apologize for all this.”  Just as I was about to give a little exhale and accept his apology, he went on.  “And I want you to know that I am willing to let you out of the contract if you agree to pay half of one of the cancellation fees – $175.”  Even though I was seeing red, one of my strong suites is to remain calm in the moment.  “Mr. Orsibel, I won’t be paying Verizon another dime – you see I did not terminate my contract, you terminated my service without cause.  You broke the contract, not me.”

“Ms. Mahaley, I am making a very generous offer.  Believe me, you don’t want to take on my company.”

“Seriously, Mr. Orsibel.  It sounds like you are threatening me.”

“No, I am simply saying that you will regret this decision. Best wishes.”

After we hung up, I was blind with indignation.  How dare he?  I went into our office and looked at the phones. They were all lined up, dead as door nails on the credenza where I had laid them to rest after signing up with Alltel.  Suddenly, they came to life – all three showed bars on their antennae indicating service.  For three months, I got regular bills from Verizon charging me with service, late fees, cancelation fees, finally totaling around $780. Each month, I copied my manifesto and sent it off to the billing department.  The last bill I got warned me that the matter was being turned over to a collection agency.  “Bring it on.”

I had never been late on a bill before.  Even in the darkest of times, I have always managed to pay my bills.  A couple of times, due to an oversight or carelessness I have been charged a late fee, but never ever had a utility cut off or been referred to a collection agency.  It started with a semi-threatening letter which was easy enough to ignore.  The next was a phone call from a woman who was pleasant enough.  I stopped her midway through her speech and said, I am not paying it.  I told her a shortened version of what had happened and she apologized for bothering me.  I enjoyed a few weeks of being left alone, then a new collection agency started in.  I consulted my brother who is a lawyer.  He wrote a letter to Verizon and the current collection agency telling them to back off or I would file harassment charges.  The second collection agency handed it off to a third collection agency.  This one was more ferocious in its approach and started calling me at work, harassing the school secretary.  This is a long story, and I can’t make it any shorter except to say that this went on for three years.  I copied and mailed my manifesto no less than ten times.  During this period, I bought a car, got credit cards, even refinanced my house and was assured by my bank that they could care less about my dispute with Verizon because I am an excellent customer.

The rub, however, is that I did end up sending Verizon my money after all when they bought Alltel!  Oh, the wicked irony!

My point in all this is that as an individual I was powerless to stand up to Verizon.  Lucky for me, the damage they tried to inflict was minimal, but had I been just a bit more precarious in my credit standing, it could have been much worse.  As consumers, we are all really powerless to stand up to any large corporation unless we have laws on our side that protect us.  The current policies are insufficient and the political climate is not headed in that direction.  If Occupy Wall Street is bringing this issue to the forefront, if people are really willing to say, “Enough!” then I think we all have something to gain. I liken a society fueled by corporate greed to a school that is ruled by bullies.  Would you want to send your kids there everyday? Isn’t it time we all said, “Enough!’?