Dear Reader,

Bonjour! from marvellous, chilly Canada. The Kid and I are here for the Carnaval de Québec, or Québec Winter Carnival, which we’ve been meaning to get to for years now. Let me tell you we are both pleased as punch to be here, among friends and snow and just in time for this super-cool event.

As is usual, there are a few things one must take care of before going on a long trip… for this one, we had to gear up with new long johns (this is a winter carnival, after all), pack the car with all manner of food, drink, and goodies for the drive, and oh, yeah, buy a cheap, “throwaway” phone for the week, because my cellphone carrier doesn’t allow calls to be made from Canada. We won’t use it for much, but I’ve got to be able to call back a few times during the week for some very necessary appointments, and even more critically, if (heaven forbid) anything should happen to the car, I want to have a cell for calling for aid on the road.

No problem. Verizon (oops, did I just name them?) offers just such a phone. Right in their literature for pre-paid, outrageously expensive but very short-term phones, it outlines how much it will cost to make calls from Canada. Perfect, but last year I made this trip and my phone company assured me No Problem, only to find out too late, when I got here, that the phone did not, in fact, work from Canada, only to. So I’m still officially skeptical and before committing to the phone I call Verizon to be certain.

I got a delightful woman on the phone. I explained, when asking for third time to be sure I understood the phone, the plan, and their capabilities, that it was because I’d been hung out to dry by my cell phone company (I’m normally very happy with them but they blew it on that). I just want to be sure that we’ll be safe and covered, even though it will be costly in the short term.

Yes, she assured me repeatedly. Told me to remember to call *XYZ for customer service if anything went wrong; told me to be sure to sync the phone to the local Québécois phone towers by dialing *ABC when I got over the border.

Great. I purchased the phone, called customer service again to activate it, and made sure with another delightful person that it had been explained to me properly and there was nothing further I needed to do to be able to make calls from Canada once we got there. I got the very same helpful reassurances. You’re all set, Ms. Erickson. Anything else I can do? You have a nice day now.

Can you sense a plot twist coming?

Over the border, The Kid copiloting from the back seat. Somewhere past Montréal, I tell her it’s okay to turn the phone on and see how many “bars” we have. Full power, says the copilot, and I tell her she can make a call to let the friend we’re meeting know that we’re an hour away. She makes the call and my last worries are gone.

When we arrive at our destination I must call one of those necessary appointments. Ring ring, much French, going too fast for my limited understanding, and then in English, “if you’re trying to make a long-distance call, dial the area code first, then the number.”

I’ve just done that, but maybe I went too fast and missed a number. I dial again, more carefully.

Same message.

One more time, same message, then I remember—oh, yes, sync to the local cell phone towers. So I dial *ABC.

“The number you have dialed is not a valid number. Please check the number and dial again.”

I’m getting a bad feeling. I dial it again, and get the same message. I can’t sync to the towers! So I dial customer service at *XYZ to find out why.

“The number you have dialed is not a valid number. Please check the number and dial again.”


Now I have no choice but to locate a landline for the call I need to make, then get on the web to find a regular telephone number for Verizon customer service so I can get help getting this phone to work. (Finding that phone number wasn’t too easy, either.)

The telephone tree is the most inhumane torture I have ever been put through on a phone. Why when I wanted sales and setup was it so much easier than when I want support? It took me almost ten minutes of jumping through hoops, listening to choices that weren’t even vaguely my rather specialized problem, trying “0” to no avail, to get through it. Finally I’m put through to a very nice gentleman in Tuscon, Arizona. I guess they tell you that so you’ll feel assured that an Arizonan can fix your problem. I don’t care if he’s in Tuscon or Timbuktu if he can get me what I paid for, but maybe some folks do. It bugged me, vaguely, to think that’s why they were telling me… but that was not my focus.

The gentleman in Tuscon did a lot of “huh” and “mmm” as I described exactly what had occurred, from being assured pre-sale and during setup, to the fact that it worked to a Québec number, right down to the exact fail messages I heard on the recodings when trying to call the States. “Well I guess those star-whatever numbers won’t work in Canada,” he came up with.

You guess? Yah. Me too. Let’s fix the main thing, okay?

Puts me on hold for a while. Comes back. “Can you put the phone on speakerphone and dial that number you were trying again?”

“Well, I did tell you everything the message said…”

“Yes, would it be all right to put it on speakerphone and dial it?”

“Well, it would be embarrassing if it went through, since I already spoke to him, but I can’t imagine what would have changed, so all right.”

I put it on speakerphone and dial. The same thing happens. Ring ring, much French, and then in English, “if you’re trying to make a long-distance call, dial the area code first, then the number.”

The nice gentleman in Tuscon sneers, “Is that in French?” before listening to the full message. Maybe he’s one of the people who cares whether somebody’s in Tuscon or Timbuktu. I ignore him while the message goes through to the English portion.

“I’m going to put you on hold for just a minute more,” he says. So far it’s twenty minutes of my vacation; what else have I got to do? Sure, go ahead. He comes back. “Let me make sure I understand, before I send this up to tech help, you’re in Québec?

Yes. Still. And not holding my temper as well as I was twenty minutes ago, but I don’t mention that.

Well, at least I’m going “up to tech help.” That’s got to be good.

But the same gentleman comes back on the line a few minutes later.

“Well, that phone can’t call to the U.S. from Canada on a prepaid plan.”

“What? Can you wait just a second, since I’ve waited so long?” Sure he will. I get the book, which I brought with me in case I didn’t understand something about the phone, and I read to him the section where it explains that I can call, and exactly what my phone calls will cost from Canada.

“Oh, yeah, the phone can, but not on a prepaid plan.”

But this phone was only sold with prepaid plans. It doesn’t come any other way. And the brochure where I first made certain this would work wasn’t for the phone, it was for the prepaid plans. And the book I’m reading to you from is for the phone, describing the various levels of prepaid plans it can be used with.

“Well, yes, the phone can, but not on a prepaid plan.”

And that’s it, folks, into broken-record-mode he went. My mentioning that I had been assured by others that it would work, detailing their instructions to me, reading from their own printed materials, and explaining that this is unacceptable and unless I now go and spend vacation time and money to buy a second phone here in Canada, even leaves me feeling unsafe (since safety was a big part of why I wanted it), all fell on deaf ears. I suppose I should be grateful for the warm and fuzzy 25 minute call, mostly spent running through the telephone tree and on hold, and shut up about it.

“I’m sorry about that, Kelly, the phone won’t do what you’d like it to. Have a good night.”

He hung up on me.

So for a while, I had to shut up about it.

And then… I had to write this post.

The moral of the story:

I hope there is no Vacation Rant #2.

And I hope Rogers makes a nice, throwaway phone that can get me through the rest of my trip without any hassles. Speak French slowly and be patient with me, mes amis, I’ll be in the store first thing in the morning.

(You got the morals, right? Make sure your printed materials are correct. Make sure your customer service is competent, because if the guy tonight is right, then two previous people very nicely screwed me into a useless purchase. Your telephone tree… aaargh, your telephone tree. Please make it just as wonderful to use post-sale as it is when you still want my money. Don’t *ever* let customer service hang up on people, particularly folks who are just discovering that your company has taken money for nothing and made them feel less safe in a new environment with The Kid. A little empathy goes a long way if it’s all you’ve got left to salvage the company’s long-term image, even in a short-term customer’s mind.)


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson