Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fwash of Wightning, Kill the Modem!!!

Had me a little vacation from the internet for the past few days.

We had some nutty storms come through this weekend. And their arrival seemed to coincide with the that of one of my wife's best friends, who was staying with us for a few days. Friday afternoon, as we were waiting for Laura to arrive, the first of the storms rolled in and began pummeling the area with an unnecessary amount of rain and electrical activity. Our homes rain gutters, already partially clogged with leaves and crap from the winter, were not up to the challenge and soon there were torrents of water pouring over their edges and down into the flower beds. I'd just finished up some podcast work and decided to start shutting down the electronics before nature did it for me. Not long after I had, I was standing at my office window, looking through said curtain of rain water, when the first power outtage hit. It wasn't any big deal and didn't seem to coincide with any lightning. Less than half a minute later, the power returned and I kept watching the weather. It was raining so hard that I could barely see our trash can at the bottom of the driveway. I knew Laura was on the road already, her brother driving her here from his home in Kentucky. I hoped they were safe enough and not having to drive through the worst of it.

As I left the office and started down the hall, I heard a huge crash of lightning and, at the same time, the sound of an electrical surge that seemed to be coming from the wall outlet ahead of me.

"Aw shit," I said. Maybe I should have unplugged everything in the house. Granted, my computer and our TV setup are all on mega powerful surge protectors, but who knows how well those things really work until put into practice.

An hour or so later, I got a call from the wife at her clinic telling me that Laura had arrived and asking me to dash over and pick her up. She and her brother had indeed been forced to drive through the downpour, but they didn't look too shaken up by it. (Alaskans have to drive through mass quantities of water on a regular basis, albeit in a more frozen form.)

I'd never met Laura before. Never talked to her. When we went to Alaska, a couple of years ago, she was one of the many people from my wife's early life who we failed to see during the two days we were in the area. But she was a person who my wife grew up with and who later became one of her roommates in college. Laura's family was very important to my wife, for it was Laura's father, the school's orchestra teacher, who encouraged my wife to join and take up playing the string bass. There were several years during which the two of them didn't communicate, though. My impression is that this stemmed from some typical college roommate fights they'd had, which had kind of soured their relationship. However, a couple years back the two of them reconnected on Facebook, determined that neither could remember what it was they were supposed to be mad at one another about, and started where they left off. I stayed out of it. I wasn't even friends with her on Facebook, because I have enough of my own friends I never manage to talk to without extending my crappy-friendship circle any further.

Laura in person, however, was instantly likeable. She and my wife shared so much of their formative time together that I was kind of astounded at how close their taste in everything from clothes to music to fake clip-on hair (sorry to reveal that, ladies) matched. Even more oddly synchronous is the fact that Laura was into musicians like Taj Mahal, a fellow I know for a fact I'd been the one to introduce my wife to twelve years ago. We got along great.

Later in the evening, once the wife had come home, I was trying to look something up on the internet when I found that our home network did not seem to be working. Upon further examination, this turned out to be due to our cable modem not working. At all. With no cable modem, we also had no phones, cause they're through the cable company, too. My theory is that the surge protector protected all the electronics plugged into it, but not any surge coming over the phone lines.

This is not the first time this has happened to us. The last time was under basically the same circumstances and Suddenlink responded very quickly, replacing the modem within a day. This time, when we called, the operator told us that it would probably be at least three days, though she'd expedite the claim so it might be sooner. I wasn't terribly hopeful at this, as I've had massive corporations tell me many a story about claim expedition in the past few months and have seen no actual evidence of it. It was no biggie, though. While it was inconvenient to be without internet and home phones for a few days, we had Laura to hang out with and our cell phones to serve as backup to home phone and internet access.

On Saturday it stormed again, possibly even worse than Friday. This time it was me driving through it on my way back from a meeting out of town. It was pretty crazy for a bit there. By the time I got home, my neighborhood streets looked a lot like mountain streams, and the actual creek that moats our neighborhood had become a river.

On Sunday, Laura used my cell phone to confirm her flight on Tuesday morning through She was flying United, but the only flight she'd been able to get was at 6 a.m. She kept apologizing that we'd have to drive her to the airport, which meant leaving at 3 in the morning in order to get her there in time to check in and do security. We told her we'd live.

We had a blast during the visit. Laura and my wife caught up with one another, told old stories from their childhoods, including a couple I really ought to retell here some time, and basically had us all in tears laughing. She was such a kindred soul that I made her watch the first episode of Firefly just to spread that infection of joyousness. (I should have given her some Sandman while I was at it.)

At 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning we awoke to drive Laura to the airport. As I was driving, I'd headed to bed early, but the wife had stayed up to help Laura pack--paying special care to safely pack the six jars of home made apple butter we were sending home with her in her check luggage. We made the drive to the airport in Charleston. Instead of just dropping her off, doing goodbye hugs and driving away, we escorted her inside to the United check-in counter. And there Laura was told that she had no ticket reserved for her particular flight. I missed out on the early parts of the argument between Laura, my wife and the United desk staff, because I was headed back to the wife's car to retrieve her lint roller so that Laura could divest herself of the half a dog of dog-hair coating her black skirt. When I returned, though, they were in the thick of it.

"But I have a confirmation number," Laura said.

"That number ain't gonna do you any good," one of the women at the desk said. I later learned that this was probably the fourth time the lady had said this and that my wife was on the verge of jerking her across the counter because of it. With no print outs, Laura had no other numbers to instantly give to prove the ticket was supposed to be there. Her name wasn't in their system at all, so the ticket agent had begun treating her like she was somehow trying to scam a ticket. Laura kept explaining that she had a ticket, she'd paid nearly $1000 for it and had confirmation and flight numbers to prove it, which were, unfortunately, stored in her email. So she and my wife began looking up what information they could in her email account, via my phone. The desk agent again told her that the confirmation number "aint gonna do you any good." Then, when given the flight number, the agent said that was only the flight number for the first leg of the journey, the one bringing Laura out of Alaska, and was not for the flight that morning. Oddly the email confirmation did not seem to have the second leg's flight number at all.

The other and more reasonable of the United ticket agents offered their United Customer Service hotline phone to call. The person on the other end kept telling Laura that the ticket was supposed to be printed there at the desk, but the rude desk agent kept throwing up her hands and repeating "There's no ticket to print," and "You need to call whoever it is you bought the ticket from" two or three times per phrase.

"Yes. Thank. You. For. All. Of. Your. Help," my wife told the rude agent.

Laura looked up's number and gave them a call. They couldn't figure out what was wrong either, as their records showed she had a ticket and there was no reason it shouldn't be showing up in United's system. Meanwhile all of the other passengers had checked in and were off to security. The rude lady told her flat out that she was pretty much too late to board. Then the rude lady departed, presumably to see to some other rude detail of the flight, leaving the less rude lady at the desk and Laura on hold with When Cheaptickets came back on line, it didn't sound from her side as though they had found anything conclusive. Laura kept telling them, "But I've paid nearly $1000 for my ticket!" We don't know what they said in response.

Then, the lady at the desk called Laura by her first and last name. We looked up to find the lady standing there holding a freshly printed boarding pass. The lady had no idea why it had happened, but the passes had just printed. We gave Laura very quick hugs, because she was off at a dash toward security in order to try and make the flight after all. The wife and I stood by, infuriated that the rude ticket agent had not been present to see Laura proven right.

We returned to Borderland, though only barely. The wife drove on the way back and was nearly asleep at the wheel during the last 10 minutes. I offered to drive, but she didn't want to stop. We fell into bed and were quickly asleep.

At nearly 10 a.m., my cell phone began to ring. It was the Suddenlink tech trying to find our house. He soon arrived, giving me enough time to get dressed. The tech brought a new modem into the house but he explained that he couldn't install it until he'd not only tested the old modem to make sure it was fried (yep), but had also contacted his supervisor to ask permission. Sounded easy enough, but apparently Suddenlink has made it policy that their technicians are not supposed to use their cell phones to actually call the home office for permission, but are supposed to text for it. This guy did, but nearly 10 minutes went by with no response. He said this was, sadly, not atypical. After texts went unanswered, the tech finally had to use his phone to actually call a series of tech staffers (one of whom went on break in the middle of the installation process). All in all, I was happy with the tech guy, but what should have been a 10 minute installation took over half an hour due, seemingly, to the company policy communication issues. Perhaps this was also due to the many jobs Suddenlink had at the same time, but the policy just seems to be ill-advised. Smells like an upper management idea that fails to take into account real-world workability.

We now have phone and internet once more.

Laura made her flight, though only barely, and returned safely to Alaska. Her luggage containing the apple butter has yet to materialize.

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