“Why No, I Don’t Mind if You Put Me on Hold”: How To Survive Hold-Hell

Made a new friend the other day. She’s 26–or she will be on November 21–she’s from Cleveland, she works near Raleigh, North Carolina, and she’s getting her Masters from UNC-G, after which she hopes to become a fashion buyer. Also her mom turned 50 just a day before my birthday. Also she loves gumbo.

Oh, and her name is Chris. But I didn’t learn this until about 75 minutes into our new friendship. Although a good 65 of those minutes were spent in silence. Holding.

See, Chris works for Verizon. I threw myself at the feet of that mega-Lucifer called that noble, worthy scion of technology last week after our iPad suddenly stopped communicating with whatever satellite is supposed to be holding its little 3G hand. (Since we’re about to embark on another road trip, we kinda need our iPad to have all its wits about it.) After holding for 26 minutes (“we are experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls,” “your time is important to us,” “did we mention, you moron, that you can get all your questions answered on our website, even though you can’t?”), I finally reached a human.

I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth of our exchanges as I familiarized her with my problem and my failed attempts to solve it via the website. She was cheery; she called me “Miss Gretchen.” Just the sound of her voice made me feel like we were getting somewhere. Except we weren’t. After walking me through several fixes that didn’t fix, the cheery Verizon rep uttered these chilling words: “I’m going to have to put you through to our tech department.”

At this point I wailed, “No, don’t leave me!” asked politely if she would remain on the line with me, so that she could explain to Tech what-all she had tried to do, rather than making me start over. She agreed.

And so began our journey of friendship. She held for Tech. I held for her. Every few minutes she would check in on me–“Still holding? Doin’ okay?”–to reassure me she was still there. The second time she did this, I asked her to tell me a story.

She laughed. “Oh, I don’t know any stories!”

“How ’bout a joke? Don’t you know any jokes?”

“Miss Gretchen, I can’t think of any jokes. Do you know any?”

“Yes,” I said, but then it was time for her to put me back on hold.

When she checked back in, she said, “I’m ready for my joke now.”

“What’s blue, and tastes like red paint?”

She chuckled. She had a lovely, appreciative chuckle. “I don’t know, Miss Gretchen! Uh…blue paint?”

“See–you DO know a joke! What’s brown and sticky?”

I got a real laugh that time. “I don’t know!

“A stick.”

When she accused me good-naturedly of stealing my material from Laffy Taffy wrappers, our bond was secure. I think that’s when I asked her where she was working from, and she said North Carolina. Since that’s my home state, a flurry of conversation erupted, during which I learned most of the material in my opening paragraph. Except her name.

What Miss Chris did not say to me. (Courtesy someecards.com)

What Miss Chris did not say to me. (Courtesy someecards.com)

The Mate came home in the middle of this exchange, and looked at me questioningly. “I’m talking to my new friend…uh, what’s your name?” I finally asked.

She laughed again. “Chris.” (Or perhaps Kris? I didn’t check.)

Of course from then on I called her “Miss Chris” for parity’s sake. And of course she put me on hold a bunch more times. And oh…Tech never did pick up. After Miss Chris and I had been on hold together for an hour and five minutes, I had to leave for a dinner engagement. Chris sounded honestly sorry to have to relinquish me back into the icy wastelands of Hold, where we both knew I’d end up when I returned to the iPad/Verizon Solution Quest.

The Mate noted I seemed pretty upbeat for a person who’d just wasted 90 minutes of her life holding the phone. He was right. Yes, the problem remained unsolved, but my time wasn’t wasted. Somewhere near Raleigh, a young woman was feeling better about her soulless job because, well, a little soul had snuck into it. I like to think she was still chuckling over my stupid sense of humor.

Along with thinking of jokes to share with Miss Chris, I also spent some of my hold-time jotting down lyrics for a new song I’m working on. Actually, I put Miss Chris to work on that topic. “Hey, can you think of a rhyme for “won’t” other than “don’t?”

I spent another hour in hold-hell the following morning, but I was in the car with The Mate, so I had him to chat with. By the time I reached a human voice, I didn’t need my hand held, so I let myself be connected with Tech all by my lonesome like a big girl. Besides, that rep was no Chris. I could tell.

For the record, my iPad’s still not fixed. Still workin’ on that one. But I’ve definitely learned my lesson about such moments: I get to decide if my time is wasted or not. I choose not.

Do you have your own Hold-Hell stories or strategies to share? I’ll hold.

Techno-Trep: Because Phobia is for Losers

My Stairmaster is testing me.

Bet you think this is one of those “Oh-no-I’m-already-breaking-my-New-Years-exercise-resolution” posts, huh? Nope–not that kind of testing. I’m hard-wired for exercise.

What I’m NOT hard-wired for is fixing things…especially anything hard-wired. (Whatever that means. I just like how it sounds.) I’m not phobic about technology, I’m just…trepidatious. I’m a Techno-Trep. Which is why I was OVER THE MOON two years ago when my beloved, ancient Stairmaster went on the fritz and I fixed it ALL BY MYSELF.

OK, not entirely by myself. I googled the problem: pedal drop (meaning you’re mastering those stairs like a pro and all of a sudden, bam–one pedal dives to the floor, breaking your stride and messing with your concentration as you try to anticipate how many more steps you get before the next jarring drop. The Co-Dependent Genie Google (thanks, Kristen Lamb, for that appellation) took me to a video by a nice man named Mark in Texas. Mark’s video said I had to inspect and perhaps replace my drive shaft.


But, for three dollars, Mark walked me step by step through the fix-it and even offered to connect by phone if I needed more help. I did. Mark was wonderful. He told me exactly what tools to get (needle-nosed pliers, some kind of clip-thing, and…hey, remember, I’m not good with this stuff), and told me, “You can do this.”

"You're MINE, Drive Shaft."

“You’re MINE, Drive Shaft.”

And…I did. I took that thing apart, saw that the bearings crumbled away at the touch, ordered a new drive shaft, and installed it. Stairmastering never felt so real to me.

Time passed. I used my machine. Then, one day, I moved it. Bad idea.
Stairmaster ANGRY.

This time, though, the problem was apparently electrical, not mechanical: the screen said “Program Error 1” and refused to say anything else.

Back to Google. Mark was nowhere to be found on this problem, unfortunately, but I did find an online manual which told me to check the voltage. So I bought a voltmeter, took the machine apart again, and tested the battery. It was FINE.

This is when I decided to apply the number-one strategy of the Techno-Trep: I waited to see if the problem would fix itself.

Hey, machine, you wanna pout ’cause you got all jostled when I moved you a few feet? Don’t you dare give me that “Program Error 1” look. You stay in your room till you’re ready to act like a piece of exercise equipment.

So, after two months of ignoring my machine (it helped that it was summer–who needs stair machines when there are sunny trails to run?), I went back in there, stepped up, and…

Machine: “Welcome. Please Choose Workout.”

Me: HA! YESSSS!! I knew you’d come around.

Now, a year and a half later, it’s cold and windy and I’m looking for an excuse not to have to run in the sideways rain. It’s Stair Time. Except…

Machine: “Program Error 1.”

Me: You’re kidding. What did I do? I never touched you!

Machine: “Program Error 1.”

Me: Is that it? You’re mad ’cause I’ve been ignoring you?

Machine: “Program Error 1.”

Me: Fine. I see how it is.

I’m not worried. I have a working strategy. In a couple of months, the pouting fit will be over. Who needs Mark in Texas? We Techno-Treps have it all figured out.

What about you? Are you a DIY fix-it stud, a caller-for-help, or a wait-and-see Techno-Trep like me? Or does it depend on the machine? I love hearing your stories.

Why I’m Not Blogging From My Bike in Greece

Multiple choice:  As you read this, I am

a) riding a bicycle around a Greek island

b) stuffing my face with feta cheese and olives

c) sleeping off the results of a) and b)

d) not blogging

Correct answer: any of the above, although not all simultaneously.

I surely tip my hat to those of you hardcore bloggers who somehow stay in touch, live, from Paradise. But that is SO NOT ME. My version of Paradise includes nothing digital, except the digits of my hand, which I hope will be clutching only handlebars, or food, or my husband’s digits, for a full nine days.

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

That’s why I wrote this post well in advance and scheduled it. Yay for scheduling.

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

I’m not a techno-phobe. Techno-WUSS, yes, definitely. But I got nothing major against smartphones, tablets, all those other devices that chain us to society when we most need to be freeing ourselves to feel our inner spirit and reconnect with the natural world or other people allow us to stay connected.

OK, maybe I have a LITTLE something against those devices. Or against the pressure they manage to exert.

I’m on VACATION. I will check back in when I get home and tell you how wonderful it was. In the meantime, thank you for putting up with my curmudgeonliness listening to my opinions.

(orig. photo courtesy publicphoto.org)

(orig. photo courtesy publicphoto.org)

What about you? Do you stay technologically connected while on vacation? Is it hard not to? Whom do you get more impatient with, people who can’t disconnect, or people like me who grouse about disconnecting?

Please DON’T Draw Me a Sheep

the-little-prince-11Little Prince, anyone? Le Petit Prince? I admit, I only read it because my 9th grade French teacher made me…but like a lot of folks, I learned to love that story with a sweet, painful nostalgia.

My favorite line: “Please, draw me a sheep.” (“S’il vous plait, dessine-moi un mouton.”)

The Little Prince wants the narrator’s help in doing something he cannot do himself. The narrator complies. The sheep is drawn and the story moves forward.

But the Little Prince has not learned how to draw his own sheep. Good thing he only needed the one.

Technology these days feels to me like a whole herd of sheep, each one of which needs to be drawn in some detail. And that, for me, is the problem. Here’s an example.

Me: I want to make my blog look cooler.

Friend: Oh, I just use ***app-of-the-month supplied by new company with a name that sounds like it was coined by four year-olds****. You should try it!

Me: Uh, sure, if it works for you…

Friend: Oh, it DOES. Get it.Try it. Use it. ***other assorted verbs that make technology seem as effortless and graceful as Fred Astaire tap-dancing***

Me [three hours later, after struggling to figure out how to download said app, walk my way through its steps, realize that the cool stuff isn’t free, give app-people my VISA number, then get welcomed to a home page telling me all the AMAZING stuff I can now do but not giving me the slightest bit of tutorial on HOW to do it so I have to figure it out for myself..].: Next time, can you just come over and do it for me?

Once more, technology has disempowered me, in the ironic guise of making it seem as though the world is at my fingertips.

Sometimes I think my friends are tired of my techno-stupidity...

Sometimes I think my friends are tired of my techno-stupidity… (courtesy someecards)

Problem is, my fingertips don’t know what to DO with all that possibility. I want someone to TEACH me.

Teaching–THAT I know. After 20 years in the classroom, I understand about step-by-step, repetition, guided practice, the sequence of I do it/we do it/you do it/you teach someone else.

Here’s a radical idea: why can’t website tutorials be more like teachers?

Friends are busy; I understand they don’t have the time to walk someone like me through every step of every new “thing” you can do with your computer. But if tech websites offered a page or two of practice sessions, I could quit bugging my friends.

I  wonder if anyone else out there shares this frustration when someone airily tells them, “Oh, just get this. Try this. Use this.” I wonder if anyone else wants to LEARN to draw the damn sheep, rather than needing to ask each time for someone to draw it for us.


Climbing That Slippery Hill

“Where has she been?” I imagine all my imaginary readers thinking. “It’s been nearly a month since the last post! Is Gretchen really gone for good this time?”

Nope. Gretchen’s been taking a class about blogging to try to get comfier with this new (to me) way of relating to people. And, by the way, traveling at the same time. Turns out an iPad is not the easiest tool to use in manipulating the components of a blog…at least for this woman.

So…I find myself mostly frustrated every time I try and fail to post something. Right now I’m using a real, grown-up-sized computer (my dad’s–yup, even at my age my daddy can still come to the rescue) so I’m able to write this. But I’ll be leaving here soon, and right back in the mud of frustration when I try to post again.

So, until I get a teensy bit more time to put my newly-learned posting skills to use before I leave my parents’ place, it may be another couple of weeks before I’m able to check in again.

Here’s a question to chew on until then: Do you like reading about other people’s frustrations with technology? Do you enjoy that sense of misery-loves-company? Or would you rather people like me just shut up if we can’t say anything nice? (Not promising I will if the answer’s yes, you understand…just curious!)