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Has anyone, anywhere, ever had anything positive to say about their cell phone service provider? I called Verizon to see about suspending service on C2’s line while she’s in Chile. Why, of course: they can certainly do that, and they even have two options for my convenience:

1. Suspend the line, but continue to pay the $9.95 a month for that line, and no time will be added to the contract.

2. Suspend the line, suspend the billing, but the time suspended will be added to the end of the contract and there will be a $15 reconnection fee.

I suggested that the first option rather violates the spirit of what one might consider the conventional definition of suspension. Oh, no, ma’am, because no calls or texts can be made from that line. That unlimited calls and texts are included in our service plan doesn’t count. So, I can pay the same bill I pay now and the only benefit is that no one can use the phone. I don’t really care about the contract time because there’s no getting around that indentured servitude, especially on a family plan with contracts that end at various times. Verizon has the best coverage for us, so I’ve made an uneasy peace with long-term contracts. And a little-known secret we discovered when one of us needed a new phone before the end-of-the-contract discount applied: A $20 fee and the discount was ours. I don’t know the details and I’ve never heard that offer before or since (although the sales person acted as if it were common knowledge). I just know that an extra $20 changed hands and the phone was purchased at the new-contract discount.

One thing cell phone service providers are really good at is making people like me so angry that we’re likely to end up paying more money just so we don’t give them the satisfaction of falling into their little traps: pay about $50 to not suspend the service on a phone that won’t be used. Which, of course, puts us deep into the jaws of their alternate trap: pay $15 and five months to reactivate the service. I once had to help arrange a funeral for someone who died with less than no money. Not one to buy into the whole funeral-industry machine that prospers by making grievers feel guilty for not burning Mama in the finest of pleated silk and solid oak, I perused the à la carte list of burial services, and I mean perused in the conventional prescriptive dictionary definition, to read with great care, not that hippy-descriptive casual definition of to glance at. The funeral industry is much smarter than I am: there is no combination of à la carte services that is cheaper than any of their outrageously priced package deals. I don’t want to think of my cell phone service as akin to planning a funeral, but they use the same tactics. 

I bought an unlocked cell phone on Ebay, and a local Chile SIM from Telestial. For use in Atlanta during the layover, I bought an AT&T Go prepaid SIM so she wouldn’t have to bring her US cell phone with her and keep track of it and its charger while she’s gone. That wasn’t necessary because she’s a big girl and can navigate flight delays and specious TSA rules by herself, but I consider the fifteen bucks I paid for my peace of mind worth it because we are not seasoned world travelers and I like to keep in touch. I over-research everything, so if there is a problem it’s likely that I’ll have a clue about how to handle it quickly. C2 used the phone from the US with one SIM, then used another SIM upon arrival in Chile. No contracts. No penalties for cheating on the original service provider. She likes the phone and would like to use it here when she gets back home. But, no, we’re tied to phones whose operating systems are crippled by Verizon to prevent customers from taking advantage of all the hardware and its resident software has to offer, all superior to the overpriced Verizon offerings, all free out of the manufacturer’s box before Verizon gets their hands on it.

I talked to C2 a couple of times yesterday about some housekeeping details like her safe arrival and trying to figure out how to make the long distance card play nice with the Chilean SIM and now I’m wondering: Do people younger than me involuntarily say, “It sounds like you’re in the next room” when speaking to someone far away? Or do they take it for granted that talking from the US to a cell phone in Santiago is going to sound clear? If I say “It sounds like you’re in the next room” do others hear an old lady in a wee-stained skirt saying, “I remember when this was all trees”?