Leaving Provo

provoSometimes when I travel I find myself wanting to create an alternate origin story for myself, skew just a few details to make my story a little bit more even-keeled.

Today on the flight to San Diego, I sat on the back row of the plane. We flew out of Provo, Utah, departing from a tiny little airport surrounded by dry fields and, farther off, breath-taking mountains. My car in the long-term parking lot was just across a small road from a literal cow pasture.

I was placed in the middle seat, and the woman to my right snored gently as the baby across the aisle cooed and cried, alternatively. The girl to my left, I later learned her name was Kimber, dutifully scrolled words in her leather bound diary as I read my book, the autobiography of Greg Louganis. She was gorgeous, a shapely blonde with her hair in pigtails under a ball cap, and she wore only a modest amount of makeup, something rare for Utah girls. I glanced at her moving pen from time to time and caught glimpses of angsty words.

Why can’t the world understand that people are just people and I’m so tired of having my heart broken and I just wonder what Heavenly Father has in store for me.

About halfway through the short flight, Kimber cleared her throat a few times, gently trying to get my attention. I could tell she wanted to talk. When we made eye contact, she opened our conversation with a casual “So are you from Utah?” and within minutes she was telling me her entire life story. I have the odd ability to get strangers to open up to me, likely my social work background and my empathic nature; sometimes I love this about myself, and sometimes I don’t.

Kimber talked about being the youngest of four kids and growing up in southern California with her single mother after her father left when she was a child. She talked about playing softball in high school and dealing with getting teased for being a lesbian all the time, even though she wasn’t gay. Her eyes flashed to the cover of my Louganis book, and then she glanced back up, seemingly trying to tell me that if I was gay, she was okay with that. She said she joined the Mormon Church when she turned 18 and moved to Utah for college.

As Kimber peppered me with a dozen rapid-fire questions about myself, I found myself filling in the facts wrong, creating a slightly different timeline for myself with the basic facts of my current life staying the same but my past vastly changed. I told her I grew up in Missouri, went to college in Seattle, and moved to Utah to launch a business. I told her I was a single father of two sons, that I was a therapist, and that I taught college.

Kimber leaned forward in the small space, her eyes alive with wonder, as she told me she served a mission in Oklahoma and had been home for two years, when she began therapy herself, and it changed her life, she said. She held up her journal and said it had become her best friend and her best coping mechanism.

Her voice lowered as she began asking me questions. She had an insider, a therapist as a captive audience for the rest of the flight, and she was going to take advantage of it. Is porn addiction real? she asked, as she confided that her current boyfriend had problems. Is it true that Mormons have more depression and teen suicides? she asked, as she talked about a suicidal friend. Is it normal for girls to want to wait until they are 30 to get married? she asked, as she talked about wanting to explore the world before she took the plunge. Is it more important to be in a relationship 100 per cent, or to have a life outside of the relationship? she asked, as she told me about her desire to be a career woman and not a housewife.

At one point, Kimber held up a finger to stop me. She had to write this down, she said, and began furiously scribbling notes in her journal as the flight attendants announced our landing in San Diego. I showed Kimber pictures of my sons, when she asked, and she commented how they looked just like me.

As we stood to gather our bags, Kimber and I exchanged names, finally, belatedly, and wished each other well. She gave me an extra sincere look in my eyes as she firmly shook my hand. “It was an honor to meet you,” she said, and her intense gaze seemed to convey the subtext that this meeting was meant to be, orchestrated in the pre-existence by God himself perhaps. I smiled at her genuineness and sincerity.

I gave Kimber a bright smile as I walked away. “Kimber, you’re my favorite kind of Mormon,” I said, then turned to the waiting San Diego sunshine, ready for adventures ahead.

absolutely electric

Lightning1.jpg

In my most powerful moments
when lightning flashes outward from my fingers, toes, and eyes
and I float evenly in the center
kept aloft in the night sky
seeing over every horizon
in those moments, I am
limitless
bulletproof
invincible
free
I rise higher, willfully
with clouds at my feet
absolutely electric
in time
I grow chilled
and lonely
and weary of the winds and jets and birds
and I return
to mud, to dirt
to safe holes in familiar glens
to roots and dust
to burrowing aphids
to warm damp subterranean space
and there, safe, I dig my toes into the soil
and I sing into the darkness
hearing the life forms plodding on the ground above me.
they have no idea I’m here
not until I’m ready
again
for the sun and song of the surface.

Customer Disservice

airplane

“Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM, and Air France.” The call started so well. A friendly female electronic voice asking me to speak prompts into the phone regarding the nature of my call. She sounds like a Lorraine to me.

“Are you a Sky Miles member?” No.

“All right. From here, you can say ‘check flight status’, ‘review my reservations’, or ‘representative’. Which would you like?’” Representative.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Would you—“ Representative.

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Would you—“ Representative!

“Okay. I’ll connect you to a representative. But to be sure I get you to the right person, I’ll just need a bit more information first. Which of these are you calling to do? Say ‘Shop for a flight’, ‘discuss my existing reservation’, or ‘do something else’.” Something else.

“You’re calling about ‘something else’, is that right?” Yes.

“Are you calling about travel within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands?” Yes.

“Okay, let me connect you to a Delta representative. One moment please. So you know, your call may be recorded for quality assurance. To help improve your experience, would you like to take a one minute survey at the end of this call?” No.

“Okay. Just a moment.” After a few clicking noises, a different woman’s voice speaks. “Thank you for calling. All of our representatives are assisting other callers. Rather than wait on hold, we can call you back when it’s your turn between 25 and 40 minutes from now. You will not lose your place in line if you choose to use this service. To receive a call back, press 1.” I enter my phone number and record my name, then wait for 25 to 40 minutes for a call back.

Displeased woman on phone

When Christina from Delta Airlines calls me back, I can hear in her voice that she has had a long day and has made a lot of call-backs. I make an extra effort to be friendly, but it does nothing to cheer her mood. She introduces herself and asks me to explain the reason I am calling. I explain to Christina that I had made a reservation online a few days before and that I made a small mistake. I meant to book my departing flight for November 9 and my returning flight for November 17, but that I had just noticed that the departing flight was for October 9. I needed to change it to November 9.

After taking my confirmation number and looking up the flight, Christina, sounding bored and disinterested, asks me to hold, then comes back on the line. “Chad, to switch your flight to the right day, that will be a total charge of $251.”

My brow furrows. “Excuse me?”

“I said to change your flight, it will cost $251. That is a $200 change fee, and $51 for the difference in prices.”

“What are you talking about?” I do my best to keep my voice calm. “I clicked one wrong day. I am giving you more than three months notice that I need a change. The entire flight, round trip, cost me $200. And now you want to charge me double that, plus 50, to change one day?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You want me to pay $451 for a flight that cost me $200?”

“Yes, sir.”

I breathe out slowly. “Christina, look, you can understand my frustration here, right?”

“Chad, I didn’t make this error, nor did my company. This was a user error. You had 24 hours to make changes, and you didn’t. So yes, it will be $251.”

“I clicked a wrong button. I am not blaming you. But I will not pay that fee to make one change. I could buy another flight for less than that.”

“That’s your choice, sir.”

Okay, I’m angry now. I grip my leg and squeeze and steady my breathing. “Christina, I would like to talk to your supervisor, please.”

“Okay. One moment.”

A second’s pause, then click. A dial tone. She hung up on me! Wait did she just hang up on me? She hung up on me! Oh, there’s going to be hell to pay. I furiously re-dial the number for Delta Airlines.

aggy

“Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM, and Air France. Are you a Sky Miles member?” No.

“All right. From here, you can say ‘check flight status’, ‘review my reservations’, or ‘representative’. Which would you like?’” Check flight status.

“I can help you review your itinerary or select your seat. Are you calling for either of those reasons?” No.

“Are you calling about travel within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands?” Yes.

“Okay. I can pull up your reservation using your six-character confirmation number. Go ahead and say that number now, like P-as-in-Paul, M-as-in-Mary, 7, Q, 6, 4. Or say, I don’t know it.” C12ZRT.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Please say your reservation number.” C-as-in-Cat, 1, 2, Z-as-in-Zebra, R-as-in-Red, T-as-in-Turtle.

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Please say your reservation number.” C! 1, 2. Z! R! T!

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Let me connect you with a representative. One moment please. So you know, your call may be recorded for quality assurance. To help improve your experience, would you like to take a one minute survey at the end of this call?” NO!

“Okay. Just a moment.” After a few clicking noises, a different woman’s voice speaks. “Thank you for calling. All of our representatives are assisting other callers. Rather than wait on hold, we can call you back when it’s your turn between 25 and 40 minutes from now. You will not lose your place in line if you choose to use this service. To receive a call back, press 1.”

416991834_934078da8e_b

I wait another half an hour and wonder what happened to customer service in my country. I have a fake argument with Christina in my head, and I wonder what my grandpa would think of customer service nowadays if he were still alive. I furiously wash some dishes. In time, I get a call back from Shawn. Where Christina sounded bored, Shawn sounds aloof. Maybe he’s playing Candy Crush on his computer while he talks to me, because I have to repeat the information three times. I explain that I have now spent 90 minutes on this call, and that I’d been hung up on. I explain the simple change I needed to make. He puts me on hold for three full minutes before returning and telling me that will cost $251 to make the change. I don’t argue. I ask for his supervisor. And he hangs up on me. He hangs up on me! Again! I feel like I’m in junior high school!

I literally scream at the ceiling and make my third call. There is hell to pay this time. I’m a man on a crusade. I’m a Viking warrior about to pillage their entire village of ridiculous policies and bad customer service. Hang up on me, will they? That electronic recording will be the first to feel my wrath. Lorraine, don’t even try to mess with me.

airport-delay

“Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM, and Air France. Are you a—“ REPRESENTATIVE!

“All right. From here, you can say—“ REPRESENTATIVE!

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Would you—“ REP! RE! SENT! TATIVE!

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Would you—“ REPRESENTATIVE! GOD-DAMN IT! REPRESENTATIVE!

“Okay. I’ll connect you to a representative. But to be sure–“ AAAGH!

“You’re calling about ‘something else’, is that right?” AAAAAGH! REPSRENTATIVE! NOW!

“Are you calling about travel within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands?” My nostrils flare into the phone. This has to be some sort of cosmic joke. Lorraine seems to sense that I am beyond my capacity, and decides to let me get by without answering this one.

“Okay, let me connect you to a Delta representative. One moment please. So you know, your call may be recorded for quality assurance. To help improve your experience, would you like to take a one minute survey at the end of this call?” No. No. No. No. No. No. No. NO!

I go through the process of entering my phone number again. Some Viking warrior I am, I have to wait for a call back. I want to take an axe to their computer system. Dynamite would also be effective. The cruel gods of Delta, KLM, and Air France play one last little joke on me and increase my call-back wait time to 35 to 50 minutes this time. And they wait until minute 49 to call back.

When Pearl calls back, my fury has changed from a loud violent fist-clenching energy to a cold and simmering boil. I explain the last two hours of my life with a tone that conveys an extreme frustration, a strong backbone, and a subtext that lets her know that if so much as one more feather falls on this precariously strained scale, then I’m about ready to drop an atom bomb.

And then Pearl shocks me beyond belief. Is this happening? Are there still people like this out in the world? “Wow, Chad,” she says. “I’m really sorry for how you have been treated. I apologize on behalf of my coworkers. That is terrible customer service.”

My fury is gone, like a balloon pricked with a needle, and I sit back on the couch, exhausted. Pearl assures me that she is going to help me out. She looks up my flight. Then, within seconds, she gets permission from her supervisor to change the dates on the flight with zero charge to me. She apologizes again. I thank her, ask to speak to her supervisor, and make sure to give Pearl a glowing recommendation. “She is amazing!” I say. “Give her a raise!” I say. The supervisor laughs and promises to make sure my recommendations make it to her file.

Reflecting on this overall experience, I can’t help but think how large the impact we have on others in our day to day interactions can be. Neither Christina or Shawn wrote that ridiculous policy, nor did either of them set out to ruin my day. But in the course of their lack of interest in my situation, or in their need to be catty or right, they both treated me terribly. They even hung up on me. Pearl, however, spent a few seconds to be empathetic and kind and it made the rest of my day better. How easy is it to brighten the day of someone around us with just a little bit of kindness or customer service?

But don’t get me wrong, I still don’t plan on flying Delta again. Nobody should have to work that hard to correct such a simple mistake. What has the world come to?