Forgive me, readers, for the recent detour that has left this site somewhat anemic, and prevented me from chasing down details about the latest in business musical chairs.
I have an explanation, and it involves the quest for new cellular phone service.
But you want to know who and what behind the reversion of the Waucoma Club to the River City Saloon, under new management formerly partnered with running the Trillium? And why the RiverTap is closed (someone said). And something, anything about the imminent Dec. 31 grand opening of the tortilla factory up next to the Pine Street Bakery.
Sorry, I’d love to share details, but I’ve been on the phone, trying to get my phone (the other phone, the cell that has replaced my landline) to work.
You have a much different learning experience when you approach a business as a customer, vs. when you approach as a reporter looking to share their spin on the awesomeness of what they are selling to the public.
This is how I tumbled down the rabbit hole of becoming a migratory cell phone customer, in search of a better deal. It all began with the end of a two-year contract with U.S. Cellular, covering two lines — one for me, one for my wife, and our smart phones, acquired at a discount in exchange for monthly extractions of vital organs.
It ran about $150 a month, and that seemed too much for me, and her, too. Neither of us is a data hog. We phone. We text. We occasionally use the phones to access the web.
It all makes sense. We’ve got desktops and laptops to access the big wide world. Who wants to squint, walking across the street in traffic, at a tiny phone screen, trying to figure out how to extract vital info from some site that isn’t really essential to our existence at that very moment, whereas paying attention to traffic IS essential to a long and healthy life?
We recently found ourselves using the mapping feature on these Android beasts, and loved it. But by and large, we have needs best covered by one of those pre-paid plans. There are a bunch. Boost Mobile. Straight Talk. Aio. $35 to $50 a month? Bring it!
After weeks of research, I learned that there are two kinds of phones — ones that work on GSM networks (AT&T, T-Mobile), and ones that work on CDMA (everybody else, including U.S. Cellular, which had sold us phones locked to its network, and non-transferrable to another. Paperweights, actually. Hence the search for both new phones and a new carrier).
After reading through countless scrolls of fine print, I figured that an Oregon-based reseller of AT&T bandwidth called Consumer Cellular would work best for us. It offers customizable usage and pricing plans that would get us closer to what we actually needed, not what the seller needed us to buy.
So I called. And lo and behold, after four rings, a human answered. In Redmond. And she kindly and gently walked me through the signup process. She was great. I was stunned. Real customer service? By people who seemed to share a common language, or at least a common understanding of my needs? Wow.
Consumer Cellular was to automatically move our phone numbers over seven days later. We could extend the “porting” process if our phones had not arrived by then. Consumer Cellular sent us several clear and helpful follow-up e-mails. And they sent us a package with the SIM cards for our phones.
But the phones? I wanted something other than what they offered. I Googled “unlocked GSM phones” and found a couple much-liked models from Nokia, running Windows 8 for mobile. I ordered them. They arrived a day before the porting was to occur. They came in a box marked with the branding of T-Mobile. Nothing in my online search indicated that these phones were locked to T-Mobile. But as my numbers were being moved to Consumer Cellular from U.S. Cellular, I noted in small print on the phone boxes that they would not work on networks other than T-Mobile’s.
Apparently, working on GSM didn’t mean they would work on GSM that wasn’t T-Mobile GSM, without an unlock code.
So our phone numbers ended up in the hands of a carrier that we couldn’t connect to because I had purchased locked phones.
You can imagine how fun it was to deliver this news to my wife, that her old phone was dead, and her new one wouldn’t work.
And then mine died, too.
And we had to rely on e-mail and the work phone to resolve the problem.
So, what to do?
Send the phones back, and extend the misery while waiting for phones that would work with Consumer Cellular?
Or cancel that service, and go with T-Mobile (which, BTW, would not give us the unlock codes until we have been customers for at least 40 days)?
Figuring all this out involved several calls and transfers to Consumer Cellular and T-Mobile, complicated by my realization that all the information to activate our new phones had been inadvertently jumbled together when I opened both boxes to get the phones charged. Nobody tells you there are activation codes and SIM codes and a number that identifies your handset. I guess you’re just supposed to intuit this critical fact.
So, I’m first text-chatting with some T-Mobile rep, explaining that I probably f—d up the activation process by entering the wrong #’s. And then he gives me a number to call, and I explain it to a woman who transfers me to another woman who transfers me to another woman, all down the hall from each other in (probably) Bangalore. And the last one connects to Consumer Cellular, and makes sure the numbers are ported over, and voila, all is good.
Except we then get text messages that we haven’t paid our bill. Not surprising. I had tried to pay the bill, in activating, but each time I encountered an error message, leading me to believe that my last technological refuge — Internet access — had failed me.
So, 48 hours after going dark, after a long night of catering a Christmas party, we went back online with T-Mobile, put money and minutes in our tank, and hot-damn Juanita — our phones worked.
Enough, anyway, to realize that we had a pile of contacts to manually re-enter, because the techie solution via Bluetooth didn’t work. And we had a learning curve with new phones. Not bad phones, from Nokia, BTW. For $80 each.
And (hallelujah moment) we’ve shed the contract.
And we’re saving $50 a month.
And in 40 days, we can save even more — and talk to people in a common language.
Remember when phones worked after you plugged them into the wall? I miss that.
But for people who never lived with that technology, this is the way it is, and nothing compares. So it goes.