America: back to salesmen and standing in line

dial phone

We’ve been steadily checking off our list of things to do to become normal US citizens again. First things first in America: a car. From the airport, we were dropped off at a house we were going to stay at for two weeks until more permanent housing became available. The lady in charge of the house said she would stop by to see us around 11 the morning after we arrived to see if we needed anything. I intended to ask her for a ride to a car rental agency. 11 came and went. 12 gave way to 12:30 and I began to wonder if I should have made other plans. Of course, I didn’t have a phone or Internet access or a car, so there really was no way to execute a Plan B.

I finally decided to venture out into the great unknown because sitting and waiting was obviously not accomplishing anything. I steeled myself for a long walk into town. Thankfully, I found the lady at the office nearby.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were here,” she said. “I drove by and didn’t see a car so I thought you weren’t in.”

Because, of course, to be human in America is to have a vehicle. How could I forget.

I got a ride to the rental agency. Car (check). Phones (check). A bank account (check). And on the list goes.

Unfortunately, Internet access at home was slow in coming. To compensate, I started to burn through the bytes on my cell phone’s “unlimited” data plan. The soft cap on my data arrived awfully quickly and felt much harder than the term implied.

Thankfully, I discovered that some stores now have free WiFi including Target and Macy’s. Checking email while dodging make-up displays and chasing kids worked for quick internet needs but wasn’t conducive to job searches or any serious work. So I began to frequent our local Dunkin’ Donuts and camp out in a corner with my laptop.

I made the mistake of coming during the morning rush one time.

What’s this line of cars doing here? I thought. Then I realized they were in line for the drive-thru. Once I squeezed past the lengthy line, I found plenty of parking and almost no line inside.

Americans. I mused. We prefer waiting in line for 15 minutes to get breakfast rather than taking 5 minutes to eat at home. Even parking and walking in would be faster than that line.

My new debit card finally came in the mail yesterday, representing yet another link in this reintegration process. I was eager to activate it. I quickly dialed the toll free number and was surprised to hear not the boring, metallic bank voice but a phone survey about vacation preferences.

I guess Bank of America has caved in to advertisers just like everyone else. I grumbled. Now I have to do this obligatory survey before I can activate my card.

To my surprise, at the end of the survey the computer voice told me I had been randomly selected to win a free cruise.

Oh my gosh! My heard leapt. never win these things. (I was the kid that filled out the little sweepstakes cards in Reader’s Digest, hoping to win it big. The prizes they boasted about were so huge, it seemed like I couldn’t let such an incredible opportunity pass me by. I never won.)

This is almost too good to be true. My thoughts raced. Abby is not going to believe this. 

My call was being transferred to a holiday cruise representative. Bye bye B of A and boring debit card activation (which will just have to wait a few minutes). Hello, Bahamas.

Since my Reader’s Digest days, I’ve become wiser or at least less naive. I realize now that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

But this is Bank of America, my mind told me. They may have decided to make a little money by letting advertisers hold callers hostage for a few moments, but surely these are classy advertisers. This might actually be legitimate.

I spent the next 15 minutes on the phone with a smooth-talking holiday cruise line representative. The spiel was well-crafted and well-rehearsed. My common sense questions were casually yet carefully put off or avoided.

When the salesman heard I had kids, he offered me a free vacation in Florida that only cost $500. I was being lured into a net. Apparently I hadn’t come as far a I thought since Reader’s Digest. Hurriedly, I scribbled details about luxury vacations on the back of my debit card envelope while my wife looked at me curiously. She hushed the kids and ushered them out of the room, assuming I was on an important call with the bank.

“Abby,” I whispered breathlessly. “I think I won a cruise. Plus, we could all take a vacation to Florida for $500.”

“We don’t have that kind of money,” she said matter-of-factly, and I was snapped back to reality.

“We can’t afford that,” I told the salesperson. He must have sensed that I was getting wiser by the second because he quickly hung up and undoubtedly moved on to troll in more promising waters.

A bit sheepishly, I called back, this time resolved to activate my card and move on with my cruise-less life. The same phone survey. I dutifully answered the questions and waited by a familiar, boring, efficient bank voice.

“You’ve been randomly selected to win a free cruise!” Again!!! The survey announced that I was being immediately transferred to a representative to assist me with my prize. Wait a minute, I thought. This is really fishy. I felt duped. I hung up.

I called for the third time. I made sure I answered “No” to all the questions.

“Do you want to go on vacation in the next six months?” No.

“Do you enjoy getting a good deal on a vacation?” No.

“Do you like warm, sandy beaches?” No, I like damp, rocky caverns.

“Do you ever want to go on a vacation again for the rest of you life?” No. Just let me activate my stupid card.

When I successfully passed the minefield of questions by making it absolutely clear that I hated everything bright and beautiful, the call dropped. I was mad. I was mad at Bank of America for putting me in this catch-22. I was mad at them for wasting my time.

“I can’t believe it,” I steamed to Abby. “If I say ‘Yes’ to the survey, I get redirected. If I say ‘No’ the call drops. How does B of A expect me to activate my card?”

Then my eyes fell on the phone number on the bank’s letter. 1-888-….

I had dialed the number correctly except that I had started with 1-800.

Sure enough, dialing 1-888 led me quickly to Bank of America’s automated debit card activation system and I was done in a matter of 30 seconds.

Welcome to America.

By the way, call now because for a limited time readers of this blog can win an all-expenses paid…

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