Column: If you’re mad as hell, please hold

I’m starting to think those Tea Party folks are right: Los Estados Unidos is going to hell in a handbasket.

What other conclusion could I possibly reach after my experience this week with an unnamed cable television company that isn’t Cablevision? (This most unfortunate episode took place in another state, where the former Joan Giger Walker and I are selling a piece of property we purchased some years ago with the proceeds from a small inheritance.)

I sincerely believe Cablevision itself is capable of such consumer-be-damned atrocities, mostly because said atrocities seem to be, increasingly, the rule not the exception with corporate America.

So here’s the setup: With the final sale of the house days away, we scheduled a service call wherein the cable guy would remove his company’s various television/telephone/Internet paraphernalia. (Yes, we, too, fell for the old “triple play” ploy.) He would arrive between 8 and 11 a.m., and he would call my cell phone about 30 minutes prior to his arrival.

That was key, because we’d already moved our stuff out of the house, and we were staying across town temporarily before returning home to the North Fork.

So far, so good. But good turned to not so good when the cable guy didn’t show up or call by the appointed hour of 11 o’clock. When I called the company’s 800 number to inquire about his whereabouts, I was catapulted into a voice mail hell that repeatedly routed me to the “main menu” despite my repeated attempts to inform the machine that the company’s representative had failed to appear for a scheduled appointment.

Finally, I got another recording that said I would speak to a real, live person in approximately a minute’s time. Twenty minutes (yes, 20 minutes!) later, a real, live woman came on the line to inform me that a subcontractor hired by the cable company was the source of the problem, and that he would call me “within the hour” to advise me of his precise, nay, guaranteed, arrival time.
Ninety minutes later, still no call (or visit) from the cable guy. And having now waited some 270 minutes for his arrival, my mind began to wander into some pretty unsavory territory. How about, I wondered, letting the air out of not one but two of his van’s tires while he worked upstairs?

Or how about seeing if a retired attorney friend of mine would help me sue the cable company for breach of (oral) contract and mental cruelty — in return for 50 percent of the proceeds? That might teach the mooks to value their loyal customers, I theorized.

But then I decided to take executive action by disconnecting, removing and re-packing the equipment in its original boxes. (I knew I was not supposed to be doing this, but by this time I was not a man to be reasoned or trifled with.) Then I carefully placed the boxes on the front porch with a note that suggested what the cable guy might do with his company’s equipment — if and when he ever arrived.

Then I chickened out. What if a homeless persons wandered by, saw the equipment on the front porch, spirited it away and sold it for scrap? Would the cable company charge me thousands of dollars or, worse yet, sabotage our credit rating for decades to come?

So I called the 800 number again to let them know what I’d done. Only this time I wasn’t going to go through voice mail hell again because I pressed the “1” key on my phone when the machine asked if I wanted to upgrade my service. Guess how long I had to wait to get a real, live person on the line this time? You guessed it: less than a minute. Which says as much as anything I can think of about how corporate America treats the consumer these days. Call to ask why an appointment has been missed and you’re put on hold for 20 minutes. But call to say you want to spend more money and they could not be more responsive or attentive.

Yes, I know this reads like the ramblings of a grumpy old man who thinks his time is as valuable as the cable guy’s. But that’s because my time is, in fact, as valuable. And I’m grumpy. And old.

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