In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. As smart as he was, I doubt he could've envisioned that I would have the following conversation on his device 132 years later:
Phone company guy: Welcome to the biggest, most bestest, multiconglomerate super-duper-sized phone company in the universe. How can I help you today?
Me: We're "bundling" our services, and I need to activate some cell phones.
Phone guy: OK, I can help you with that. This process should take about 10 minutes.
Me: OK, let me make sure of some things first. We get free long distance with this? And we can keep our old numbers?
Phone guy: Yes.
Me: And we get unlimited text messages?
Phone guy: Let me check. Umm ... nope.
Me: The sales guy told my wife we would.
Phone guy: It's not on here, sir.
Me: Can we get that? My stepson sends about 3,000 a month. I don't know why.
Phone guy: Yes, sir. I can give you unlimited text messaging for $29.99 a month.
Me (in my head): Here we go. Here's where the robbery starts.
Me (to him): OK. We'll still be saving money by switching, I think. So do it.
Phone guy: OK. So that's the family plan with 2,100 minutes and unlimited text messaging added for $29.99. Anything else?
Me: What about our discount? My wife is a federal employee and gets a discount.
Phone guy: I don't see any discount listed.
Me: Can you find out about it?
Phone guy: Let me look.
About 10 minutes later...
Phone guy: Your discount will take two to three billing cycles to show up.
Me: Why can't they do that now?
Phone guy: I don't know, sir.
Me (to myself): Just hang in there, Nate. Switching is going to save us money.
Me (to him): Will we get the difference credited back to us when the discount does show up?
Phone guy: Let me check.
About five minutes later...
Phone guy: You won't get that money back.
Me: So they put off the discount for a few months just so they can charge me more, even though they admit we get a discount?
Phone guy (in an ultra-rare moment of customer service honesty): It would appear so, sir.
Me: (Big inhale and exhale) OK. Let me make sure I've got this straight. We're going to have our cell plan with you. We get a discount on that, but not right now. We're also going to have our home phone, long distance, Internet and satellite TV through your company. And all that will cost me what?
Phone guy: I wouldn't know, sir. I'm in the wireless division.
Me: Who would know?
Phone guy: I don't know. If you call about your home phone you get someone in that division. If you call about internet you get those people.
Me: So you're sort of like the KGB? Keep everything compartmentalized, don't let anyone know what anyone else is doing, especially me?
Phone guy (in another honest moment): Uh huh. I just have to give the answers they give me.
Me: Got it. Is there anyone in your entire company who could look on one screen and tell me exactly what services I'm buying for you and for how much?
Phone guy: I'll check.
Five minutes later...
Phone guy: The number for combined billing is 1-800-blah, blah, blah.
Me: And this guy will be able to tell me what I'm getting and what it will cost?
Phone guy: Yes, sir. But not for one to two billing cycles.
Me: I wouldn't expect anything different.
Phone guy: Ready to activate those phones?
Me (in my head): No. Never.
My wife, showing me where she added it all up: Here's how much we'll save each month.
Me: Two hundred and ... (then to phone guy) Yes! I'm ready to activate them.
Phone guy: OK. I'm going to transfer you to the computer now.
Phone guy: A computer will take care of you from now on. But since you want to keep your old numbers, don't hang up when you get finished. That'll put you back in the call queue and you can talk to someone about porting your numbers.
After 10 more minutes on the phone with the computer...
Phone girl: Welcome to the biggest, most bestest, multiconglomerate super-duper-sized phone company in the universe. How can I help you today?
Me: I need to make sure our new cell phones keep our old numbers.
Phone girl: OK, I'll have to transfer you to someone who does that.
Me: You don't do that?
Phone girl: No, sir. I'm in cancellations. I can help you cancel.
Me: Don't tempt me.
Phone girl: Sir?
Me: I need to keep my old cell phone number.
Phone girl: OK, sir, it'll only take a few minutes.
Me: That's what the first guy said.
Phone girl No. 2: Welcome to the biggest, most bestest-
Me: I have six cell phones sitting on my table. I don't know which ones work and which ones don't. I need one to have the new number, two to keep their old numbers, and I need this to happen before the Sugar Bowl comes on.
Phone girl No. 2: OK, sir. It should only take a few minutes.
Nate McCullough is the copy desk chief for the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.