Our first taste of Pacific Hell
I really don’t remember much more about Texas, just that the wheels of the car droned on and on until we stopped in El Paso for the third night. On Day 4 we hit New Mexico and Arizona, and blessed relief from the monotonous Lone Star terrain. But I don’t remember much about these two states because halfway through my cellphone rang.
It was Pacific Bell.
Let me preface by saying that our moving plan included that I would run my part of my firm’s business from my new home office in California. This was back when DSL was state of the art but ISDN was the most common way to get Internet. Working from home necessitated some 4 or 5 phone lines, including my residential line, an ISDN line for faster Internet service to connect with the firm’s server in Tampa (until summer, when my new neighborhood would get DSL service), a fax line and a business/800# line.
What Bob & our office manager assured me before we left.
I had heard that demand for phone lines exceeded supply in Silicon Valley, but even though both Bob and my firm’s office manager had faced a challenge in getting all this coordinated with Pacific Bell, phone numbers had been assigned and I was armed with tons of notes, order numbers and confirmation numbers, all a week in advance. My installation date was to be Thursday, the day after we arrived. No sweat. Smooth sailing ahead.
I was happily driving through New Mexico, admiring the red rocks, when the phone rang.
“Hello, Ms. Cassara?” the voice asked in a controlled monotone. “This is Kim from Pacific Bell. I’m calling to let you know that we are experiencing difficulty with the availability of lines in your area. We will be checking with our engineering technician to come up with a solution.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. “What exactly are you telling me?”
“I’m calling to let you know that we are experiencing difficulty with the availability of lines in your area,” she repeated in a monotone. “We will be checking with our engineering technician to come up with a solution.”
“Yes, I heard that. What does it mean?” I asked.
“I don’t understand your confusion,” she said. “I’m calling to let you know that we are experiencing difficulty with the availability of lines in your area,” she repeated in that same monotone. “We will be checking with our engineering technician to come up with a solution.”
“Kim, dear,” I said.
Ok, so I didn’t call her “dear”. At least I didn’t call her “bitch”, which was what I felt like saying. “Are you saying that I will not have ANY of my four telephone lines AT ALL?”
“I’m saying that we are experiencing difficulty with the availability of lines in your area,” she said. “We will be checking with our engineering technician to come up with a solution.”
“KIM.” I screamed into the phone. I could hear the cats moving about uneasily. They knew what that scream meant. “Enough of this bureaucratic bullshit! What’s the bottom line here?”
Back in the day, when desktop PCs were that huge.
I thought better of it.
“Never mind,” I said. “This is unacceptable. I need to talk to a supervisor.”
“I can have a supervisor call you back within 24 hours,” she said in that familiar automaton’s voice.
“Have a supervisor call me back TODAY,” I said.
I picked up the walkie talkie and updated Bob. I could tell he was delighted to be in the truck and not in the rice rocket with me.
Several hours later, the cellphone rang again.
“Hello Ms. Cassara? This is Ramila, a supervisor at Pacific Bell.”
Thank God. I explained the situation to Ramila, explained she had reached me on a cellphone while I was driving through the Continental Divide on my move.
She told me that Pac Bell had run out of lines and that I had run out of luck. I wouldn’t be getting ANY telephone service at all, much less the 4 lines and seamless transition we’d promised my clients.
Not that she KNEW about the other 4 lines. She knew about one line — her department didn’t handle “the big picture”. Being good at deductive reasoning, I drew my own conclusion.
I begged and pleaded. She asked me to give her the order numbers, which were in Bob’s truck, behind me. I clicked on the walkie talkie and alerted him. We stopped so I could look them up and call her back.
She called back several times, after checking with others who had the “big picture”. Apparently, job security is ensured at Pacific Bell by making sure that customer records are not integrated. You’ve ordered 4 lines? You have 4 separate records, unlinked in any fashion. You would talk to 4 different people, 4 different times. Everything in fours.
Now I knew what the mark of the devil really was.
It was 444.
I needed a kit like this.
At one point Ramila wanted to give me her phone number, while I was driving 70 mph atop a mesa. I explained how that was going to be difficult, but finally figured out a way to write it down on the back of a box in 3 number segments, putting the phone down between segments as I drove, and replacing it with a pen. This is the stuff of which CHP nightmares are made.
Finally, she said she’d try to get a tech out to the house.
“Will you be home this afternoon?” she asked.
The rice rocket is quick…but it’s not THAT quick.
“Ramila, dear,” I began. “As I told you earlier, I am driving through the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is not within a day’s driving distance of San Jose, California. No, I will not be home this afternoon.”
How close to Calif. does the Continental Divide look?
Perhaps, I thought unkindly, had she been a United States citizen, she might have known that.
A few hours later the phone rang again.
“Hello, Ms. Cassara?” I heard a familiar, controlled monotone. No, it couldn’t be.
“This is Kim from Pacific Bell. I’m calling to let you know that we are experiencing difficulty with the availability of lines in your area. We will be checking with our engineering technician to come up with a solution.”
I was truly nice as I’d pointed out that I’d been racking up roaming charges like crazy on the cellphone discussing just this very topic, and that Kim, herself, had called me just a few hours ago with that same scripted paragraph.
“Oh, I thought you sounded familiar,” she said. “I’m calling about another phone number you have ordered.”
She was nothing, if not bright.
I realized that I was going to get a call from Kim that day on each of my 4 lines: 4 calls. I explained to Kim that she didn’t have to call again, that the two calls she’d made already, along with the 17 from Ramila, would suffice. I was nice.
We stopped somewhere for the night. I was in despair. How would I deal with no phone lines? Then an idea: I could keep my Tampa cellphone temporarily, at least until I got a real business line and the 800#, and I’d get a San Jose cellphone for friends and west coast business associates. That would work. The only thing missing was Internet access. Perhaps I could set up shop at Kinko’s. But I needed the software on my home PC to access the office network. It wasn’t a total solution. My business would flop, thanks to Pac Hell. Finally, I slept. In self defense.
Morning broke on Day 5 and we could see light at the end of the tunnel. Almost home, whatever that would be like.
Around midmorning, Ramila called again. The goddess of mercy had managed to get me one phone line, but new construction in the ‘hood was needed to install the others. The earliest date this could happen was April 6, 2000. We were in March of that year. So a month. Or so they said. . I knew this probably meant May 6, or possibly April 6 of 2001. I tried not to think about how this would all work. Or not work.
Grateful for that single line, I thanked Ramila profusely and promised to light a joss stick when I got to California. Perhaps I should have burned some before we left Tampa.
We drove through Bakersfield, took the deadly Pacheco Pass at sundown, emerged safely from Gilroy and approached our new home with high hopes.