February 24, 2020

Call Waiting

When I answered the phone the other day a woman asked to speak to “B Marks.” I knew this was not a social call because only two people in the world refer to me as “B,” and I knew this wasn’t “F” or “L.” I thought, “This person must have gotten my name from the phone book.”

I answered, “I be B.”

She said, “Hi, this is Melissa from the local phone company, how are you today?”

Even though she asked, I could tell she really was not interested when I told her about how the cold and damp weather was causing havoc with my bursitis. I started to tell her that I had slept wrong the other night and was getting over a stiff neck when I paused to take a breath, and she jumped into her spiel. “I’m calling today to make you aware that for a limited time you can have Call Waiting installed without an installation fee.”

Right then I stopped listening, but my mom taught me that it was impolite to interrupt, so I waited. She went on, extolling the virtues of Call Waiting, finally reaching the point of asking if it was all right to sign me up for the service.

I said, “I don’t think we’re interested.”

She launched into script number two, listing all the nifty features I would miss out on if I rejected the offer. This time I interrupted, “I don’t think we’re interested.” (My wife lets me make decisions like this for both of us as long as I say, “No.”)

Talking rapidly, Melissa then said, “OK, well if you change your mind, call one eight eight eight . . . have a nice day.” Click.

This little episode caused me to think about how the services that are generally referred to as “utilities” such as phone, electricity and TV service (cable or satellite) companies are the only ones that do business this way. They charge you a fee to install something, then monthly fees whether you use it or not. You can go away on vacation for two months and still have to pay just for the right to having those little electrons poised to jump into action at the slightest flick of a switch.

I think that if they’re going to charge for a service, they should only charge if you use it. For electricity I’ll pay for every kilo-watt I use, but if I don’t use any, I shouldn’t have to pay just because I could use some if I wanted to. Otherwise, I should be able to charge them rent for the pole they stuck in my back yard. I should also be able to charge them a fee every time they park in my driveway to read the meter.

For call waiting, they should only charge me when I get two or more calls at the same time. Seems only fair to me. When that second call comes in, they know if I have call waiting or not, and if I do then they can charge me. But if I live the rest of my life without ever getting two calls at once, why should I have to pay for it?

Imagine you hired a plumber to add a bathroom, and he charged you an installation fee, and then $1.34 a month even if you didn’t use it. How about if he says, “And if you sell your house, the new owners will have to call to have the bathroom re-installed under their name.”

What if some of the special features are “Pay per use” and you must call ahead to schedule a time? I can see it happening–it’s bath night for the boys, you forget to call, and there’s no hot water in the tub. Or your contract only allows a certain number of flushes per month before you have to pay extra. They may charge more per month if you have a Jacuzzi tub just because it’s possible to have bubbles tickle your butt.

The worst scenario of all: you’re at half-time in your Super Bowl party, a great deal of beer has been consumed, your toilet service goes out, and your guests experience a special feature called “Bathroom Waiting.”

And when you call the plumber you get a busy signal…because he doesn’t have call waiting.

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