Call waiting of a different sort raises drama and suspense at home

March 04, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

AS EVERY homeowner knows, this is not exactly the golden age of service calls in this country.

It's not enough that the cable company or the utility company or the phone company expects you to carve out a four-hour block of time and sit home twiddling your thumbs until one of their "service representatives" arrives to solve whatever horrendous problem you need solved.

Now you also have to be there for "the call."

I realized this the other day while making an appointment with the cable company to have someone come out and replace the cable modem on my home PC.

"A service representative will be there tomorrow between 9 and 1," said the agent when I phoned.

"That's a tough time for me," I said. "I'll probably lose my job. But I guess that's a small price to pay to get back on the Internet."

"Someone will call first to say they're on their way," the agent continued. "Will you be there to get the call?"

"The call?" I said.

"If you don't pick up," he said ominously, "they'll assume you're not home. Then they won't show up."

"When will the call come?" I asked.

"I really couldn't say," he said.

"Could the call come in the morning?"

"It could," he said. "But it might not. Hard to tell."

"But the call could come in the afternoon, too?"

"Oh, sure," he said. "Lots of our customers get the call in the afternoon."

I didn't sleep well that night, and by the next morning, I was feeling tremendous pressure not to miss the call.

Every time the phone rang, I sprinted across the room to pick up.

Once it was the Fellowship of Law Enforcement Agents or whatever they call themselves, putting the arm on me for a donation.

Another time it was a lawn service, reminding me that spring was just around the corner and that, if I didn't mind shelling out a few hundred bucks and having a thick sheen of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer laying atop the lawn like swamp gas, I could have a front yard that looked like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. But "the call" itself didn't come.

It didn't come at 9. It didn't come at 10. It didn't come at 11.

By 11:30, I was so nervous I was pacing around the house with the cordless phone, trying not to hyperventilate.

I phoned my wife at her office and said: "The call still hasn't come. What do you make of that?"

"Did you miss the call?" she said. "Were you in the shower or something?"

"Of course not," I said. "Everybody knows you can't take a shower when the call's coming."

"Don't go anywhere," she said. "Don't take out the garbage. Don't go to the mailbox. The call could come at any time."

"You really think so?" I said.

"Absolutely," she said. "For God's sake, don't blow this one."

I said I wouldn't blow it. I said I would stand there in the kitchen, stock still, with the cordless phone in my sweaty hand, in case my pacing was interfering with incoming calls.

Finally, a few minutes after noon, the phone rang again.

I picked up on the first ring.

"Are you still having problems with your cable modem?" a voice asked.

"Yes!" I cried. "Many, many problems! Oh, you should see the problems!"

"A service representative will be there shortly," the voice said.

Then the line went dead.

Oh, let me tell you, there is no joy like being there for the call!

It was all I could do not to turn cartwheels across the floor.

I felt like celebrating. It was only noon, but I felt like popping champagne and lighting a big, fat cigar and throwing confetti.

I phoned my wife.

"The call came, the call came!" I said.

She said she was very happy for me. Then she said not to bother her anymore, that she had work to do.

A half-hour later, a white van pulled up to the curb. And 15 minutes after that, I had a new cable modem and was back on the Internet.

It cost me four hours, on a work day. And I feel the beginnings of an ulcer coming on.

But at least I can catch up on all the spam e-mail I missed.

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