A bridge too far?

December 23, 2007|By Erica Schoenberger

It seemed reasonable. My friend said, "It's easy. You just go to Radio Shack, buy a router, plug it in, and you're wireless." I did this. Yet I was not wireless. Now I could not get to the Internet at all. Luckily, there was a phone number for tech support on the box.

The people at tech support are wonderfully kind and saintlike in their patience. It beats me how they know what is happening on my computer screen 10,000 miles away, but they do. It's a Mystery. We have to accept it. It turns out I was a bit of a Mystery to them, too, and I spent several hours on the phone with a lovely woman in Chennai named Maya.

There was some critical but elusive problem and we tried many, many ways of getting around it. I say "we," but Maya was the brains of the team. I typed, hit OK buttons and turned things off and on according to arcane ritual: First turn off the modem, then the router, then the computer. Wait 45 seconds and restart the modem. Wait two minutes and restart the router. Start the computer.

Nothing got better, but we had a lot of time to chat, which was pleasant. Finally, Maya concluded that it really wasn't the router. It seemed I had to call my DSL provider and get it to switch the modem to "bridge." If you, reader, don't know what this sentence means, don't worry. It means everything and yet nothing.

I didn't have a phone number for the DSL people, so I went through the self-diagnostic program on the computer to see if I could find it. The first question was, "Are you using a router?" Already I was stumped. There was, yes, a router in the room. Whether I could be said to be "using" it was a question of such metaphysical nicety that I couldn't begin to unravel the complexities. Nevertheless, I said "yes" and spent the next 20 minutes answering more obscure questions and periodically waiting for it to test something. At the end, my reward was a toll-free number.

I worked my way through the thousand menu options to Ryan in London, Ontario. Ah, Ryan. What times we had together! Ryan walked me through the process to switch the modem to bridge possibly 20 times. Each time, we'd hit some critical snag and the open window would suddenly close itself. By now I was able to recite numeric URLs like people at one time could recite Byron. But Ryan never gave up. And his persistence was rewarded! We switched the modem to bridge.

Elated, I called Chennai and was connected to dear, dear Sanjay. He was also thrilled that I was in bridge mode and we started off together, in high spirits, to get the router to work. Some hours later, Sanjay - I imagine him now haggard and chain-smoking, his eyes reddened and sweat making his shirt cling to his back - decided that my modem was not fully bridged. "You must call back your DSL provider and say that you are only half bridged, and you need to be fully bridged." This sounds much better in an Indian accent than it looks on the page. I wept only briefly.

Unluckily, I had not written down the toll-free number for my DSL provider, so I had to go through the whole self-diagnostic program again. You can't skip ahead in these things. We had to test everything. Then I called the number and positively waltzed through the menu, since I knew exactly what I wanted. I got immediately to the tech support region and the scary automated woman informed me that my technical problem had been fixed on - and here she switched from perky to that zombie voice they use when they say numbers - "Nine. Fifteen. Two thousand seven." And then she informed me she was sending me back to the main menu.

You know how you do things again and again even when you know they're not going to work because you just can't think of anything else to do? I got back to tech support and heard that my problem had been solved on "Nine. Fifteen. Two thousand seven." And then I was whisked back to the main menu. Honest to god, I tried again. When the scary woman announced she was sending me back, I heard myself screaming "NO!! NOT THE MAIN M -"

"Please listen to the following options."

This time, boy, I listened, and buried way, way at the end was the option: "If you need to speak to an agent, say `Agent.'" I'm afraid I rather croaked than said "agent," and the scary - but polite! - woman said, "I'm sorry, I could not understand your answer." Plainly, one needed to be British in this extreme moment. Shackleton himself, I am sure, would have needed a good shot of whiskey before proceeding. I sat up straight, gripped the edge of the desk, and said, "Agent." Apparently I was whispering, because she said, "I'm sorry, I could not understand your answer." "Agent!" I said through clenched teeth. "AGENT, AGENT, AGENT!!!"

"All right!" she said. "You don't have to yell."

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