Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Letter

Every time I’ve ever tried to call customer service I get passed through an endless progression of automated menu systems until I finally get to the dead end called “for all other calls, please stay on the line for the next available agent”. Then I get shunted to perma-hold where I am repeatedly informed that instead of pestering them on the phone I could accomplish everything more easily on their web site. So when my health insurance premium was jacked up to over $1000 per month – that’s right, per month; second only to rent as my highest expense – I decided enough was enough. I obediently went to their website to cancel my policy.

Turns out you can’t cancel your policy on the website. I searched through page after page and never found the option to get divorced. So I gritted my teeth and called. I was greeted with the non-news that I should listen carefully as the menus had changed. Like I remembered them from the past? I tried the old trick of immediately pressing zero to bypass the nonsense but they were having none of that. Now you have to speak your answers to the professionally recorded voice that asks you if you want to make a payment or inquire about a claim or find a doctor near you. I responded by reading from a novel that was open in front of me until I hit the jackpot. “I’m sorry. I can not determine how to route your call. Please hold while I transfer you to an agent.” After an interminable wait I finally got a human. As it turns out, you can’t cancel your policy over the phone either. You have to send them a letter. In the mail.

Mail? Who uses that anymore? All my invoices come by email and all my payments are made on the internet. Oh sure I know the U.S. Postal Service still exists. I know this because my whacked out mailman periodically buzzes my intercom, demands that I come downstairs so he can inform me that my name label has faded and is no longer legible. I don’t know why that should matter since the only thing that ever comes to me is addressed to Current Occupant or Our Friends At…

I searched my apartment and found an old box of envelopes and a few assorted stamps. I have no idea how much it costs to send a first class letter these days. Apparently it was 22 cents the last time I bought stamps. I decided that to be safe I better go to the post office and get a new stamp. I used the internet to figure out where the post office is located. I got there at five minutes past five, which was five minutes after the service window was locked up for the night but there was a vending machine in the outer lobby.

It wasn’t any old vending machine. It looked more like a high end copy machine with a touch screen and all kinds of bells and whistles. The welcoming screen asked what it could do for me today. The obvious choice was “mail a letter or package”. I didn’t know there were other reasons to go to the post office. I had to enter the zip code to which the letter was addressed and plow through about ten more screens and place my letter on the scale and finally was informed that it would cost 44 cents and asked if I would like to buy a stamp now. Duh. How many? One. Uh-uh the minimum purchase is three. OK fine. This is getting tedious.

I mailed my letter and took my two unwanted extra stamps home. I threw them in the drawer with the other odd stamps that will never be used. But at least I had officially notified the insurance company that their services would no longer by required. Or so I thought.

Two weeks later as I was leaving my building the whacked out mailman was in the lobby. “Do you want your mail?” he asked with no hint of irony. He thrust a battered and torn envelope into my hand. It was from the insurance company. They were informing me that my premium payment was late and that if I didn’t mail them a check immediately they would cancel my policy. Sometimes I don’t know why I even try.

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