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We got a letter the other day. I don’t like letters from US West. It’s got to the point where I check to see my wallet’s still there every time I see the name. Anyway, US West sent this letter to all of us who have party lines. It starts off cheerfully enough: “Dear David & Mary.” Heck, I hardly know these folks. They sure are friendly. I relax my grip on my wallet. So I look to see who signed it. Nobody. No signature at all. Pretty rude for a letter that begins “Dear David & Mary.” I check my wallet again.
It’s also pretty demanding: “YOUR RESPONSE IS NECESSARY BY OCTOBER 17, 1994.” Bold faced, yet. Right away I have a question. What’s the hurry? My private line is still just a stub of wire sticking up out of the ground, not connected to anything. And I bet it’ll be that way until the spring thaw and maybe later. If it had been in by the 17th I don’t know what I would have done. Let’s just say I’d have been damned surprised. Then it goes on to say things like “You are required…” When I retired from the USAF I made a promise to myself that I was never going to blindly obey another order. These sound pretty much like orders to me.
Then the letter talks about options. I like options; they aren’t orders.
Option 1: “One” Party Flat Rated Service
“Fixed monthly rate of $14.79 includes one party service, TouchTone Service and unlimited local calling privileges.”
Right away, I’m suspicious. Why is that “One” in quotation marks? Is it really one, or is it something else. If it isn’t something else, why is it in quotation marks? And then there’s that “Rated.” What’s that about? A flat rate I understand, but what’s the past tense about, anyway? And why is TouchTone all one word with a capital letter in the middle? Am I getting defensive about this?
Option 2: “One” Party Measured Service
“Fixed monthly rate of $9.39 includes one party service and TouchTone Service. Each outgoing local call is a charge of 5 cents for the first minute and 2 cents for each additional minute.”
Hang on while I whip out my calculator. Let’s see, I could make 49 four minute calls for $5.39, plus $9.39 equals ---$14.78. Not bad. Still, if I’m going to make more than two calls a day, I might as well go for the “flat rated.” And I don’t like being charged by the minute; I don’t want to keep track of it, and some of my friends are pretty long winded. Some even say that about me.
Option 3: “One” Party Message Service
“Fixed monthly rate of $9.39 includes one party service and TouchTone Service and a call allowance of 50 free local calls. There is a charge of 11 cents for every local call over 50.”
Lets, see. If I pay $9.39 and get 50 free local calls, then I could make 98 unlimited length local calls every month for the same price as “flat rated” Option 1. If I make fewer than 50 calls it’s the same price and maybe a bunch less than Option 2. Option 2 is beginning to look really bizarre. Now we’re talkin’. But what about that “Message Service?” What’s that about? It doesn’t say anything about messages
Finally, the letter says my Rural Zone Increment charge will increase. There are three zones, and the Zone 1 rate will increase from $3 to $5, Zone 2 from $7.20 to $12.00 and Zone 3 from $12 to $20! Some increase. I hope like hell I’m not in Zone 3. But I don’t know. This person who knows me well enough to call me Dear David and doesn’t sign his/her name apparently doesn’t know what zone I’m in. The mail-merge program apparently doesn’t have that information.
Down at the bottom, however, is a phone number I can call if I have any questions. Do I have questions?! But it takes me three days of sporadic dialing to reach a Business Office Representative. Why have they told me, a rural person, to call a Business Office Representative? I have no idea.
Anyway, I talk to this nice young woman who tells me I’m in Zone 1, thank God, and she doesn’t know why Option 2 is there, because she has never talked to anyone dumb enough to select it. As for “Message Service,” she has no clue. “It’s just a name,” she says.
So I tell her I’d like Option 3, please, even though that “Message” thing still worries me. She says I don’t need to send in the postcard with my choice, and she sound very reassuring. Maybe too reassuring. I check; my wallet’s still there. I decide I’d better send the postcard anyway. With US West, you can never be too careful.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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