Gather round, boys and girls, as I tell the next exciting instalment of one man’s struggle to not be charged for something he didn’t get. For those who missed the first part, it’s here (go ahead, I’ll wait):
So this morning it’s determined that actually my wife wouldn’t mind going to the outlet mall in Gilroy, so why don’t we head down there and sort the whole thing out now, rather than waiting until nest week? Good idea, I think - not at all the act of a man who’d really, really like an iPhone 4S, or at least closure on this poxy bag of shite.
So we schlep down there. It’s well over an hour’s drive. Not a long way in US terms, but in UK terms and why am I spending my Saturday doing this terms, it’s plenty long enough - especially as a lot of it is through deeply non-interesting and parched areas of the Santa Clara valley. After only being slightly terrified by Gilroy’s bonkers road system, my wife drops me off at the Corporate Sprint Store - no other type will do, as the RUDEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD told me over the phone yesterday - and goes off to snout around the stores. I’m told it’ll be 25 minutes before I can talk to someone but in the end it’s only about ten. So far so good. The representative I wind up with is pleasant, cheerful and keen to help. Even better. I give her an absolutely VAST amount of identifying materials, and for a bittersweet moment… it looks like we’re getting somewhere.
But then we hit the wall. Though I have proof of address from my US bank and my US insurer, and photo ID in the forms of UK passport, driving licence, and an O-Visa issued by and stamped in the name of the United States Government - good enough for Homeland Security to let me in the country for three years, but not good enough for Sprint (oh, except for when it comes to taking $500 out of my account) that’s simply not sufficient to get the account un-suspended. I may self-evidently be who I say I am, but…just not in the right way. (FYI, in the UK you can rock up to a phone shop and get a phone with a credit card and two utilities bills. But they’re like that in the UK. They’re just, like, crazy batshit. You can get free beer in pubs, too, just by promising to pay for it ‘some day’. Go on - try it).
Having given it my best shot to get around this brick wall, I finally give up and tell the representative - who has remained solicitous, in the face of a glowering Brit speaking in increasingly clipped tones - okay, this is ridiculous: let’s just cancel the account. Ah, no, she says - I can’t do that. But THE RUDEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD said you could, and in fact claimed that I had to come to you to get that done. Well, I can’t to it. So who can? You have to call this number and talk to the Fraud Department. The WHAT department? Yes, it gets even better - my account has now been marked as fraudulent, with who knows what implications for my already non-existent credit rating.
I thank her for her time, stalk out and have a furious cigarette in the baking hot parking lot. Then - wife and child still off enjoying the delights of Gilroy Outlet Mall (which, I have to warn you, is the seventh circle of hell: always vilely hot, full of nothing that interests me, and arranged with wilful unhelpfulness around a frenetic highway intersection that Beelzebub himself might regard as a touch overdone) I decide I might as well call the Fraud Department. Not least as I’m still standing outside a Sprint shop, so if the fuckers tell me I have to go to one, I can do it right there and then.
I make this call on my existing cell phone - which is English. Yep, I’m that dumb - or actually, that pissed off. The number I’d been given dead-ends me in a message telling me it’s out of office hours. So I doggedly try the number it suggests. I get through to a very helpful woman who’s as surprised as I am at the situation, and does her best to try to try to resolve it - including talking to her supervisor - and makes progress to the point where I was nearly able to put her and the lady in the shop together to thrash out a deal… but no, it turns out my ID really, really isn’t enough. So I really do have to cancel the account.
Ready by this point to take my existing phone, sharpen it to a point and stab anyone within range of my deranged, pinwheeling arms, I ask her how I go about doing that - as the RUDEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD that I spoke to yesterday said I had to cancel my account in person at a Corporate Sprint Store, though I’ve just been told by someone in a perfect example of such a store that she can’t do it. Well, the lady says… you need to get a letter from Social Security attesting that you are indeed who you say you are, and live where you do. Because it looks like someone might have tried to use your Social Security number. Or are you also called Michael Brook? No, I say between gritted teeth, I am not. Well then you need to do that, she says. And THEN what, I ask - by now smoking three cigarettes in each hand, out there in the melting parking lot - assuming Social Security will even give me this letter (after god knows how much grief and wasted time, and what the **** is this about someone trying to be me, anyway?), to whom or what and via what medium do I have to present this letter? I can’t tell you, she says, apologetically - you have to speak to the Fraud Department. She thanks me sincerely for my patience, and puts me through… to the menu system I first encountered, which again dead-ends me in a recorded message saying that the office is closed, and that I should call back between such-and-such hours.
It’s at the point where I realize that actually I *AM* CALLING BETWEEN THOSE FUCKING HOURS that I murder everyone in a hundred mile radius, set fire to Brazil and go back in time to destroy all of human civilisation. Though sadly only in my imagination. Instead I just end the call, to find I’ve spent twenty five minutes on an international cell phone.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take to sort out this thing via phone calls, visits to Social Security and possibly another drive to ****ing Gilroy. I don’t know whether Social Security - whom I’m loath to tangle with, as I’m not an American citizen - will understand what I need, or give it to me. I have no idea who I have to present it to, or how, even if they do. And all I wanted was an iPhone.
To be clear, if companies need certain specific forms of ID, I get that dem’s de rules, and fair enough. Verizon and AT&T bounced my attempts, presumably on that basis. My point is that Sprint… did not. They took my money, and they took that iPhone order out of the pool. Now they have my money, and I genuinely do not understand what I have to do to get it back, despite having talked to four customer services reps on the phone and one in person and made a three hour round trip to visit a store.
Sprint, you’re shit. Taking people’s money when you’re not going to give them anything in return… is shit. Making it apparently impossible for them to get their money back, is shit. Thus - and I can show you the working on this, if you’re interested - Sprint, you’re shit.
[As per the last missive, in the unlikely event anyone from Sprint reads this and would like to help position your company as something other than a pile of toss, please do get in touch via Twitter @ememess. Otherwise… I actually have no idea why I’m posting this. I would be much better off walking down to the ocean and shouting at it. In fact, I may do that. Goodnight.]
I’m venting here, so bear with me.
I moved to California two months ago, as some (assuming anybody out there ever even reads this) will know. The sharper and more au courant of you may also have picked up that pre-orders started for the new iPhone last week. As a certifiable Apple stalker of many years’ standing, I was on that like a pack of rats. I had the Verizon pre-order page sitting there waiting that morning, and filled it out with trembling hands. It all seemed to go fine (despite me having to use a UK passport number to prove my identity rather than a US one, as I don’t have the latter), but then I got an email saying there was a problem and could I call, and blah blah blah. This didn’t totally surprise me. As a new resident in this country, I don’t have a credit history.
Oh well, I thought, never mind.
Yeah, right. This sanguinity lasted maybe five minutes. Actually, about the length of a cigarette. Then I got straight onto the Apple Store page and tried to pre-order a phone from AT&T instead. They at least only needed a Social Security number (which I had already gone to the trouble of getting, as without one I couldn’t have got car insurance), rather than the California Drivers’ Licence number that Verizon had also wanted. But the order still failed, and I was told that I’d need to come in store.
Oh well. I thought. Maybe it’s just not to be - though I made a mental note that I do need to sort out this credit rating issue or I’m going to spend my time in the country living in the retail stone age.
Ten minutes later I was on the Sprint Web site. And it went through! Good for Sprint, I thought - evidently you’re coming to the world of Apple products with vim and pluck and an open heart. I got an welcoming email with a tracking number ten minutes later. I neurotically checked this all week, augmenting it with the UPS tracking number as soon as it became available. In the meantime, Sprint sent me four further emails confirming it had sucked nearly $500 bucks out of my account (within hours of ordering), that my autopay system was now set up, that here was my new phone number… culminating, on this very morning of the brave new iPhone 4S dawn, in yet another email welcoming me to Sprint and cheerfully informing me what next month’s bill would be.
But… there’d been a nerve-wracking sub-plot running in the background over the last 48 hours. The UPS tracking had been a bit… wobbly. For a while yesterday morning it looked like the delivery had been put on hold and marked for possible return. Then that appeared to clear, and yesterday afternoon and evening I happily tracked my phone as it reached Oakland, and then set off for Santa Cruz…
I leapt out of bed this morning, and… waited. The UPS van did stop at our house, eventually, but to deliver something unutterably dull. No iPhone. In fact, signs on the UPS Web site now seemed to show it was on hold again, but more definitely, and in fact waiting to be sent back to ****ing Kentucky.
“WTF?” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I waited another hour - double-checking the Sprint order status, which still claimed everything was fine, and then called Customer Service. A woman confirmed that there was a problem with the account. Using every reserve of restraint, I enquired as to what that might possibly be, for the love of Christ. She was unable to help me with that, but knew a woman who could. I waited on hold for fifteen minutes, and was then put through to the RUDEST WOMAN IN THE FUCKING UNIVERSE. This belligerent robot, who had evidently been programmed to only say one thing, confirmed that my account had been suspended because they wanted further verification. To attempt to get my phone, and un-suspend my account, I needed to get to a Sprint Corporate Store, there to present proof of address, two forms of ID and my letter from the Social Security office. Yes, seriously.
The nearest such store, she grudgingly revealed, is in Gilroy - nearly an hour away. And what if, instead of trying to regain my phone, I want to tell Sprint to stick a shark up its arse and cancel the account and get my $500 back? You guessed it - I have to do the exact same thing. Half a day of my time and a very big chunk of what patience I possess, to get back money that they shouldn’t have taken in the first place… and still end up without a phone.
So far, so what, I’m sure you’re thinking (if you’re still even reading what doubtless sounds like the ranting of a whack job on a street corner). But there’s a bigger issue here than a lone obsessive and his non-phone. I am led to suspect that Sprint pre-bought an awful lot of phones, and decided that rather than pre-checking credit like other carriers, they’d grab and process orders first and then pull them at the last minute from people they suddenly decided they weren’t sure about - people who’d been under the impression all week that they were going to get a lovely new phone. Taking hundreds of their dollars first, of course - and then making them jump through ridiculous hoops to get their money back, and to unscrew themselves from two year contracts.
As customer service and corporate policy, that badly, badly sucks. If it’s not fraud - in the shape of taking money on false pretences - then it’s pretty bloody close.
I’m not just an Apple fanboy, I’m an Apple fundamentalist. As such it is utterly essential that I have an iPhone 4S, and so I shall by-God have one. If I can’t sort out the Sprint situation then I’ll cancel the account, then wait and get an unlocked phone in November. My beef is not with Apple, let’s be clear: and my concern is that, especially now the company has lost, in Steve Jobs, not just its inspiring genius but also its protective PR Rottweiler, it needs to avoid being tainted by third parties. This kind of behaviour and customer service from a company is not what it needs right now.
So. Anyway. At some point next week, when I’ve calmed down and have the time, I shall schlep down to sodding Gilroy and do battle with the Sprint shop there. If you start seeing breaking news reports about mass slayings in the area, you’ll know it didn’t go well.
[In the unlikely event that anyone from Sprint reads this and would like to help, feel free to tweet me at @ememess. Otherwise, run and hide. Everyone else, feel free to retweet.]
I was never a fan of home computers and mobile phones; very late adopter and user of both. I picked up my first Windows PC in the mid-90s, mostly to see what this new internet was all about and to use a comic cataloguing program I’d inadvisedly bought from a comic shop. My first phone was quite advanced, but I only used it to call and text people, and to take the odd photograph. The problem with both devices being, I didn’t want to have to learn how the things worked in order to operate them. My attitude was the same as for playing video game consoles - shove the game in, play the game (my attempts at playing PC games did not last very long).
The first six issues of West were written in Word on a Windows laptop, and lettered and produced using Photoshop. I’m proud of them, and they’ve been well-received, but they are simple, insular tales of western adventure, and the notes I’d made to myself were in a separate Word document to which I had to constantly refer.
The thing is, about those pre-Apple devices (because, yes, this is a Steve Jobs memorial post) - the only time I had an emotional connection with them was because they didn’t work. When they crashed, or froze, or caught another damn virus. The only feelings I had towards them were anger and frustration.
Almost three years ago, my laptop caught its last virus. I went out and I bought a MacBook. When I turned it on it showed me a video of flying through the solar system that would have flat out killed my previous machine on its best day, located my wi-fi signal, and asked me what I wanted to do.
For the first time, I knew what I wanted to do - I wanted to do everything.
And I could.
I later upgraded my Archos MP3 player to an iPod, and today I have an iPhone, and making calls and sending texts is the least of what I use it for. It’s my Filofax and address book, calendar and scheduler, and social network interface; I have a bunch of cool games on it for whiling away spare moments and a couple of apps (Hipstamatic and Instagram) that actually turn the unsatisfactory camera into a strength by imbuing the photographs with the feeling of the time they were taken.
And that MacBook is still going strong, and hasn’t given me a second of frustration. Because on the very few occasions things weren’t proceeding as expected, I could figure out how to solve it myself. Not through technical knowledge, but through common sense.
And West is now written in a program called Scrivener (now in Windows beta, but a Mac-exclusive when I first bought it) that gives me multiple drafting windows, index card plotting, HTML and PDF research pages, audio and video panes - all in the same program in one window - that have made volume 2 of West a far more intricate and cohesive story than it ever was before.
There are a lot of tech people eulogising Steve Jobs on the net today. I didn’t teach myself BASIC as a kid, or go into I.T., graphic design or professional writing as a career. I just wanted to write the best comic I could, access the amazing things computers could do, without having to understand how they did it, or how to fix it when it went wrong.
Steve Jobs figured all that out, so that idiots like me wouldn’t have to.
Thank you, Steve.