Tuesday, March 28, 2006

If it Weren’t for Bad Luck…

March 28, 2006

Ever since I left NY I’ve suffered from a chronic case of Murphy’s Law Disease. I am trying to remember what sin I committed to bring about all this bad karma. Was it the underwear I bought at Sears that I realized after I got home had not been rung up with the other stuff I paid for?

(I swear, I had every intention of going back to pay the $9.98. But, because Sears sat on $2015 they owed me for a solid month after I cancelled a washer/dryer order, I was holding those panties hostage. I swear I must have made two dozen calls to various Sears numbers, in a vain effort to get back my rightful money, weeks after the delivery date had come and gone. I wasn’t about to go back to the mall to remit ten dollars in stolen panty funds until I that two grand was credited back to my VISA.)

I think that things are finally starting to turn around for me. But things were really bad for a while…. Every day when I woke up, my first thought (right after “Do I have to really get out of bed today?” and “Wahhhh”) was “What’s going to go wrong today?” And every day that instinct was right on target. This went on for weeks with no end in sight - all while moving and starting a new job and buying a house. It was stuff like….

My home builder designed a laundry room that doesn’t fit a washer and dryer - (oh, oops!) - which I didn’t discover until the no-speaka-english installation guys arrived with my brand-new LG titanium W/D set, which they miraculously managed to squeeze in, prompting me to tip them both.

However, the W/D issue led to an electrical problem requiring me to constantly reprogram my VCR. And God knows I couldn’t miss another episode of Boston Legal with all the stress I was under. Must have TV. Must escape life.

So I had to take time off work to meet the electrician at my home. The first thing he did was throw a burning cigarette out his truck window into my front yard just three days after I spent an hour picking up dozens of butts in my yard. The second thing he did (after taking off his shoes and revealing an unspeakable foot odor that kept me out of the basement for at least 24 hours afterward) was spend 90 minutes of my precious unpaid time pulling out every receptacle, light switch, and light fixture in the basement, and moving all my items away from the walls and generally making a mess. This, despite the fact that I told him the breaker didn’t start tripping until the W/D were installed and subsequently trips only when I run the washer. “Oh, but those are on a completely separate circuit. It’s just coincidence,” said the foreman when he dropped in because the idiot and his sidekick couldn’t figure it out. Finally, Tonto was at a dead end when I did that annoying finger maneuver that says, “Come here,” and lured him to the laundry room. Sure enough, there was a loose wire hanging down behind the washer that was connecting with the metal washer when it spun out of control.

But why, you ask, is a brand new $2700 W/D set spinning out of control?

The W/D aren’t balanced. The noise drives me nuts. So I spent an hour at Home Depot this past weekend trying to get them to fix that problem. Naturally, the delivery company (GE) wouldn’t take responsibility for not installing the W/D properly. (And I tipped those guys, dang it!) LG wouldn’t take responsibility either. “It’s up to the consumer to do that.” And I can’t balance them myself because there’s exactly 1/8th of an inch clearance on either side of the washer and dryer - that we were able to open up from 1/16th of an inch only after I removed the molding from the door frame.

Let’s see…what else?

Oh yeah, for the first time in the six closings, the funds for my home purchase were not wired in time for closing that day, arriving two hours after I left the attorney’s office - sans keys - in a car loaded up with stuff to move into my new place. Boy was I mad. That’s the first time in history that USAA has let me down. Actually, it was more NFCU’s fault for not getting me the dollar amount until the last minute. USAA's customer service record, in my experience, is spotless. I had to drive all the way back to Gaithersburg (outside D.C.) to get the keys during rush hour. On a narrow two-lane road coming home there was a multi-vehicle accident that left motorists like myself trapped for at least a half hour.

When I got back to my townhouse with a second carload late that Thursday night after closing, my neighbor-of-a-thousand boyfriends had parked her car in my driveway, so I was unable to unload until I found the owner and waited around for her to move her car. The driveway, mind you, is so narrow that when I step out of the car, I'm on grass, not pavement. The garage is no bigger. I am just waiting for the day that I knock off one of the side-view mirrors trying to park.

Another day, I asked this young thang, Ms. chicky-chick, who stays three doors down, if she could please not park her Saab at the end of my driveway now that I’ve moved in. I kindly suggested that park it in front of her boyfriend’s home instead (over in the next row of townhouses). Her immediate ressponse to that idea was, “He’s my f---ing husband,” followed by a long rant including a sarcastic suggestion that I get driving lessons, etc. She went on like this, unloading stuff from her car, without ever looking me in the face. And the husband/boyfriend came outside so they could gang up on me and tell me it's a free country and they can park wherever they want, etc. No resolution was reached, and every day the Saab is parked directly across the narrow street from my driveway.

The truth of the matter is, New Yorkers are nicer people than a lot of these Marylanders I've met. And I hate to say it because I was actually born here.

And here’s the biggest one of all: After six straight months of battling with Hewlett Packard over them sending me one defective notebook computer after another, I thought I would lose my mind trying to convince them to take back their stupid piece of crap laptop and just give me my money back. Hey, a computer should last five years, not five weeks. Unfortunately, the very limited warranty says you can only get your money back if you return it within a mere 21 days after purchase. (Go to Costco - they give you six months to return a defective computer.)

I felt this was a corner case, especially after all the hell they'd put me through over several months, and the hundreds of hours I'd wasted setting up, installing, configuring, uninstalling, repackaging, and returning one defective computer after another to HP. But my “case manager” Curtis wouldn’t budge, no matter how many emails I sent to CEO Mark Hurd. I begged Curtis to escalate my case so I could just get my money back – a request I presented to him about 12 times. But every time I ask, he quoted the warranty to me. Needless to say, I was extremely agitated with his attitude and lack of empathy.

After multiple phone calls to (and from) the Executive Relations Office at HP, one woman pissed me off so badly (by transferring me to Curtis!!), that after I hung up, I called back and immediately asked for her manager. (Curtis claimed to not have a manager every time I asked the same. I kept telling him I know he's not the highest person in the company, but he was stone cold and would not budge one millimeter.)

Only then did I get someone who was sympathetic to my plight. It took three days before this manager and I could connect, and when I finally told him my story (for the umpteenth time), he sympathized and offered to do a buy-back. Finally!

So that was basically six months of computer hell. It’s bad enough that the HP sales guys don’t know an infrared port from the port on their rear ends, but the tech support is just as bad. This was one of the single worst customer service experiences I’ve had in my life. And because of that, never again will I buy an HP computer. Dell is the way to go. Dell has never let me down – not in 16 years. I'm typing on a Dell right now.

And finally, over the course of several weeks, I watched Microsoft stock prices closely, trying to exercise my remaining options at just the right time to get the most bang for my buck. It’s like gambling, and I hated every minute of it. I finally finished exercising all my options last week, but didn't realize that I wasn’t going to get any checks in the mail. Why, you ask, would Smith Barney not send me my money? Are they owned by Sears, or do they just get their customer service training at the same location as Sears? What's up with that, anyway?

Well, get this: The Patriot Act requires that you provide a residential mailing address to certain companies that you do banking or investing with. Because I was living in temp housing for five weeks (three different places, no less), I was forced rented a PO Box and use it as my legal address. I got a letter from one of my VISA companies telling me that I was required by law to give them a home address – but I never made that connection to Smith Barney. And guess what – Smith Barney wasn’t going to tell me! They were just going to sit on my funds (earning interest) until I called them to ask where my money was. Geez. Not only that, but you can't just tell them your address over the phone (like you can with VISA). They fax you a form, you fill it out and fax it back, then in "2 to 3 business days" they'll process it in the system. Only then will they even consider mailing you your money.

I, of course, suggested that, as a courtesy to their customers, they inform us of this requirement. But no-o-o-o-o-o. It's all about the money.

Once again, customer service disappoints me.

Meanwhile, I just heard through the grapevine that Microsoft employees are calling for Steve Ballmer’s retirement. After all, the stock has been at the same price (about $25-27) since Steve took the helm six years ago, and Vista isn’t going to ship until sometime in the next millennium.

For that story, see http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/85527/microsoft-employees-call-for-ballmer-to-go.html.

Good night!

p.s. I can't post any photos until I find the misplaced USB cable that goes with my digital camera....which doesn't surprise me one bit.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Please Don’t Call Me Ma’am, Ma’am

March 1, 2006

I miss New York. A lot. And when I shiver in the bitterly cold weather here in northern Maryland, it makes me miss the temperate climate of Seattle.

Talk about culture shock. It’s one thing to move from Seattle to New York City – such excitement, awe, fun; so much to look forward to! But to move from the Big Apple to a place south of the Mason Dixon line, well that’s another story. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. This one is going to take some time and extra adaptation efforts.

For one thing, the next person who calls me “ma’am” is going to be taken out behind the barn and shot. To me, ma’am is derogatory, if not patronizing. The truth is, it's just downright geriatric. Why does everyone use that term when addressing a woman down here? The one time I caught myself accidentally calling another woman “ma’am” on a New York subway last year, I immediately took it back, “I'm sorry, I didn’t mean to call you ma’am.” She appreciated that!

Another thing they do down here that drives me nuts: People I speak with on the phone or otherwise regarding some service they’re providing for me just love to call me “Mrs. Bernard.” I guess that, by default, it’s assumed that any woman my age is married. Even after I correct them, they still call me “misses,” as if I ought to be married. What ever happened to calling people by their first name? Mrs. Bernard makes me cringe every time I hear it. Aaaaagh! I’m beginning to feel very OLD living here.

And the bodies behind the barn are going to start piling up.

But my biggest pet peeve of all is what I call the TMI Factor. I think it’s OK to socialize at work, as long as you keep it brief and don’t impede on your co-workers’ time. But here in the South, many people seem to be oblivious to the fact that other people in the office are there to work. They act like it’s a Tupperware party, boring their co-workers to tears with their extensive personal medical reports and incessant jabber about their kids.

There’s this woman I work with who has a super-fantastic attitude. I like her well enough. But she talks a mile a minute and is the most verbose person I’ve ever met. Being a mom, she only works 24 hours a week – and she works most of those hours at home, so I do get some reprieve. But my god, whenever she’s in the office all I can think is “Please go away. Go away now. Do it before it’s too late. Can I show you to the barn?”

Example: She walks into my office (where I’m peacefully concentrating on my work, which involves heavy research and writing); she immediately launches into how she has to go to the doctor later because the mucus she’s coughing up got thicker over night and her coughing kept her husband up and now she’s had this cough for six weeks and has been through two rounds of Amoxicillin and just can’t seem to shake this thang and she pulled a muscle in her back [insert lengthy description of how that happened] and blah, blah, blah. My God, woman, too much information.

I’d only met her once when she whipped out a miniature photo album with at least three dozen pictures of her kids. I am not joking – she carries this thing in her purse! Her family must spend every weekend at the local Olan Mills portrait studio. Kids in costumes. Kids standing by a picket fence holding a plastic flower. Kids on their bellies. Kids on their sides. Kids in chairs. Kids with Mom. Kids with Dad. The whole family in front of a blue backdrop with painted-on clouds. And of course, I have to be told their names, ages, and the details of their most recent illnesses.

After one visit with her I’m ready to scream. As soon as she leaves, I shut the door to my office and turn the lights off.

The problem is, it’s hard to say “TMI” to a co-worker when you’re the new kid on the block. So I generally smile and nod. Well, I did that the first few times. Now I turn around and start typing on my keyboard. But that doesn’t seem to help. Southern people will spout off to the back of your head for just as long as it takes before you plug your ears.

So, needless to say, I miss the abruptness of the typical New Yorker. In New York, things get done. Heck, I worked on Wall Street for a year and a half and never knew a single intimate detail about a co-worker’s medical history. And I can’t imagine any of those hard-working guys forcing me to sit my cubicle and listen to them carry on for 30 or 60 minutes about their personal lives while I’m trying desperately to get back to my hectic job. They just aren’t that inconsiderate in New York. They actually work at work.

It is strange. Not sure how long I’ll last here. I’m sure I’ll feel better about life after I get moved into my townhouse, get unpacked, get all the furniture delivered, and actually have time to spend exploring D.C.

In the meantime, I continue to feed my homesickness by watching as many episodes of Law & Order as I can squeeze in before bedtime every night.