Want some light beach reading that'll keep you laughing? Buy an autographed copy of my book, "My Wife & Times." A mere $15, postpaid.

One Cingular Sensation
(or, what's that sucking sound?)

I'm pretty sure the people running Cingular Wireless have watched one too many episodes of "T.J. Hooker," because dealing with them is like being stuck in endless reruns of "Good Cop/Bad Cop."

I should have suspected something of a company whose motto is, "Raising the bar" because 1) that tells you the bar was set so low it has room to go up, and 2) they could choose to raise it just high enough for you to trip on.

The bad cops are found in retail stores (or hiding in their corporate lair). Stores seem to be staffed mostly by teenagers whose main qualification is that they were unqualified to work at fast food chain.

Their vocabulary only needs to consist of two words: "No," and "Sorry," though you can still get hired even if you can only master the first word. They also seem to have been given an MTV video course in how to best use the phrase, "We can't do that," as authoritatively as they can while chewing gum (I hope it was gum) and listening to the song stylings of "Rat Bassturds" on their Bluetooth headsets.

I'm surprised they even bother with live employees at the stores (and I'm using "live" in a generous way). I imagine the next step in their customer service plan is to replace the actual humans with audio animatronic figures, perhaps exotic birds from Disneyland's Tiki Room. It would certainly make the store experience a more pleasant as they chirpily offer to download bird-call ringtones for $2.99 plus applicable taxes.

They could even then have real live people in Bangalore answering your questions through the birds. "Hear the robin speak for Ranji!" Some of the best phone service I've ever received from HP has been from their Indian call centers. Sorry American kids, your days of "no experience necessary" jobs at the nation's largest wireless carrier may soon be over.

Cingular's good cops are all locked away in remote call centers in the Southern United States (either that, or the Indians are doing great impressions a Southern accents).

The operators, once you get them on the line ("your call is important to us, there's an approximate wait time of 22 minutes, while you hold, please enjoy listening to us trying to sell you more stuff") are uniformly cheerful and competent. Friendly, even.

OK, so it takes them 15 minutes of talking to their supervisor to give you a $2 credit for voice mail call forwarding charges you weren't supposed to receive while apologizing for the "mistake in our system..." but they do it. And it's only later you start to wonder if the "mistakes" are "part of a cunning plan by former Enron programmers (Cingular's parent company is also in Texas) to defraud people of millions by secretly siphoning off minutes in a way you can only discover if you accidentally stumble upon it online."

If you're wondering why I put up with this, and didn't run screaming to T-mobile (which even has better rates) it's because Cingular is the only company that serves my rural area. They bought AT&T (and then proceeded to treat AT&T customers like unwanted step children, suffering from scurvy: they act like they could catch if they talk to you for too long). Can you say "monopoly?" Unfortunately I have learned to.

Former AT&T customers can count on being told, "We can't help you because they're two different systems." I'd counter with "But you're one company," only to be told, "But they're two different systems," as if this was my problem--which of course it eventually was.

One store employee who was high on Red Bull actually admitted I might be able to go to Craigslist.org or eBay and find someone to "unlock" my AT&T phone so it might be used on Cingular, though he added "I can't promise anything," right before his caffeine high wore off and he had take a permanent break in the back where you could glimpse more teen employees skulking.

Eventually I gave up and got a new phone and plan. When the phone arrived, I followed the instructions to the letter, trying to activate the phone only to have it fail. Repeatedly. I finally got hold of customer service (after being given the wrong number by the automated system), and spent a chatty hour on the phone with a lovely woman named Jolene, only to be told I needed to go to a store. (Oh, no!). When I was on the verge of tears at the prospect of being relegated back to Cingular store purgatory, Jolene finally figured out that the phone came activated before it was shipped with "instructions that were out of date." Another two hours wasted.

The last time I called I waited 25 minutes on hold, then heard a surprising new message, "Due to an emergency the building has been evacuated, we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause." Clearly I wasn't the only disgruntled customer, but I promise it wasn't my fault.

All this has caused me to spend too much time thinking of ways to get back at them. What I do now is wait for a holiday weekend to call "Customer Care," and their nice call center people. They have to talk to two supervisors and apologize, saying it won't happen again, unless it does, in which case I should just call them again and wait for another 30 minutes on hold to get my $2 back.

I figure they have to pay the operators holiday-weekend time-and-a-half or double-time pay, which should cost them at least $30 ($32 if you add my $2 credit!), which is more than I'll pay them in a month of Sundays.

They can expect to be hearing from me on Thanksgiving and Christmas day, too. At least until another carrier builds some towers in my area, in which case I'll be gone like my air time.


Read about my latest movie role (you read that right), here!

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Help give food to the flood victims by
donating to Second Harvest, America's largest and most respected food bank network.

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One thing my new phone does well is send and receive text messages. But in trying to figure it out, I discovered that one thing most people don't do well is figure out how to send and receive messages.

It's actually easy--at least to send text messages from your PC to your mobile phone. All you need is the right e-mail address or URL.

Each of the following web pages let you send a text message to any phone on their service, from any web browser. Just go to the pages, enter the phone number, write your message and off it goes to TXT message/SMS land.

You do have to know what carrier someone's phone number is on--and their phone number, of course, but that's all. Here are the main carriers (at least in the US) and links to their "send a text message from this web page" pages.

Cingular: http://tinyurl.com/6f444

Verizon: http://tinyurl.com/2lrsb (you can also send picture mail from here)

T-Mobile: http://tinyurl.com/bspu8

Sprint: http://tinyurl.com/7yzgq

In a later issue I'll explain how you can send e-mail with pictures to your cell phone's multimedia messaging. I know the one for Cingular: your phone number followed by @mms.mycingular.com -- it'll accept GIF and JPG pictures up to about 40K.

If you know the @MMS address of your carrier, send it to me and I'll share it with other readers.

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http://www.heifer.org/ You can change lives and bring hope and possibility to the people who need it most by giving the gift of an animal to a needy family. Heifer has helped more than five million families become self-reliant. Gifts start at $20 for chicks. It's a great gift for the person who has everything, for the person who doesn't. http://www.heifer.org/ or call them at 1-800-422-0474.

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One Final Word

If you're in the US, make sure you put your cell phone number on the "Dot not call" list so you don't have junk calls from telemarketers. You can do that here: https://www.donotcall.gov



Like the stories? Buy the book!

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2006, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.