***I believe I’ve mentioned how horrible people can be when calling support lines.***

Everyone has those moment in their career, no matter how glamorous and fireworks-fantastic it is, where they are aware of why they aren’t allowed to have laser-eyes or the ability to transform people into garden slugs remotely: you’d abuse those powers…repeatedly. For me, that was never more true than when I worked for a little regional ISP (I won’t insult you by explaining that ISP stands for Internet Service Provider).

Wait, back up a bit. The actual impetus for me taking a job like that in the first place is rooted in a much longer tale, one that would bore you to tears if I didn’t liven it up a bit. The basic gist is, got divorced, wanted to leave the continent but settled for the opposite coast; moved on the promise of lucrative work that evaporated once the IT bubble burst; became the worst kind of cliche (unemployed, lived with my dad, wrote horrible woe-is-me poetry); met Achebeyo. That’s when things started to turn around for me.

As all of the recruiters for my career were calling me asking for any leads on work for them, I got the impression that it would be a while before I could venture back into network engineering full-time. I was on the verge of taking a job giving sponge baths to shut-ins (anything to keep the creditor-predators at bay) when the chance to go back to work full-time as an entry level employee at a cellular service provider crossed my path. Being that I wasn’t in my right mind, I decided that perhaps I could start there and showcase my other talents in the IT realm and they’d rescue me from the pit of misery that is level-1 support. Apparently, they typically don’t hire those positions from the floor, so it became clear that I would need to become the best customer service representative of the decade…or just quit. Thankfully, Achebeyo’s many contacts made the latter more feasible.

She’s a secretive sort, our Achebeyo, so I’m not allowed to say that she’s a pilot, and that it was one of her pilot buddies who gave her the information on a local network engineering job. Some former truck-driving good ol’ boy got lucky in a small town during the BBS era and was able to morph into an ISP in due course. He wasn’t hiring, but he’d be glad to have me come in and fill out an application. Of course, that meant I could quit my miserable 200-calls-a-day support job and get back to building networks…which I did. The quitting part. It felt better than being fired for increasing grumpiness in a few more days.

I walked into the ISP’s office, a mere five minute drive from our (then) home, and was asked to fill out a pre-employment test and application. I was reminded that they weren’t hiring, but that they would keep my information on file. Blah blah blah. It was all just noise while I was still riding the I quit my job and can’t be bothered to worry about the future high. A small voice in the back of my head kept saying, “Welcome to Wal-Mart. Have a nice day.” I punched that voice in the face.

Minutes after turning my paperwork in, I was asked to see the owner for an impromptu meeting. See? the un-punched voice said. I was paraded past a small cubicle farm into the owner’s office. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I figured this is what the upper levels of hell would be like: you’d be working for eternity, but at least the boss was cool. We briefly discussed my credentials and background, then he asked me when I could start. I quit my old job yesterday, so yesterday? He figured it would be easier if I started the next day, promising that I’d be assisting with routers and DSL installs. What he didn’t explain is that would be after an extended stint on the support lines.

My first week was spent with whom I can only describe as the epitome of “redneck”. The stories this guy told me about his life made me wish I was something more of a writer back then than someone who was just looking for sympathy. There were fights over who looked at whom in a manner denoting disdain; there were shotgun drive-bys in trailer parks because of the last beer; and there were hookup near misses with relatives. Being a self-absorbed ass can really hamper your career or creative outlet options. He managed to train me in the fine art of dealing with their particular brand of customer, then set me free on my own phone in my own cubicle to fend for myself.

“These kids are making me TIDE! TEE EYE DEE EE, TIDE!” “Ma’am, what exactly can I do to help you?” “Get these damn kids out mah hair!

I’m sure she thought she was being funny, but that was the actual reason for her call. Her kids had rampaged through the house and chewed through her phone lines or something and she couldn’t connect to the Internet to find out where to sell them. And she was the least ridiculous call I ever received.

When’s the Internet coming back on?” “Sir?” “The Internet is off and I need it back on.” “Let’s start with the basics. Is there power in the house?” “NO! They keep buggin’ me ’bout the bill, but I ain’t got paid yet! I need the Internet to pay my bills!”

And probably my favorite…

“You know Shelia?” “Ma’am?” “She live over by the supermarket and she have your service. I need to talk to her.”

Those were the people who were simply not on the same plane of existence as the rest of us, but at least they weren’t straight-up evil. I can’t even begin to detail the folks who blamed me for the lightning bolt that fried their computer, or the people who blamed me for the fact that they got billed for our service every month. One “gentleman” thought it would be prudent to come down to the office and threaten our receptionist. That day was fun.

Between the owner and I, we were a veritable wall o’ flesh. Add to that the fact that I had recently started to shave my head (the least shameful way to deal with the beginnings of baldness) and was still scowlingly uncertain as to whether or not I liked it. This angry chunk of southern hospitality got very polite and very apologetic once we stepped out to confront him. The owner calmly and politely told this redneck Dr. Jekyll that his account would be cancelled and that the police would be called if he ever showed up again. This was punctuated by me walking within his personal bubble and backing him out the door. His apologies were too little, too late. In the owner’s own words, “He showed his ass,” which I’ve come to learn doesn’t mean I witnessed someone dropping trou, but rather they revealed something that once seen, cannot be unseen…and is usually bad.

There were many more calls and visitors to the office who had to be carefully shown the door (electronic or actual), but most of them are greasy smears in my memories. Eventually (two years down the road), I was allowed to start learning the job I was actually hired for, but never to the extent I expected. My time there was about up, and when a better offer came along that significantly increased my salary, I put in my notice. “We were going to give you a raise.” “This new job will triple my current salary.” “Oh, so $2 more an hour here…?” “Thank you for your consideration.”

I moved on to deal with an all-new (to me) brand of entitled folks, but I’ll never forget my time answering phones for an ISP in a small town. Any time this current job seems a bit stressful, I think about miss Tide and wonder if she ever got those kids sold.

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7 Comments on “Flash-(kinda)back”

  1. Mr. Pig Says:

    Things are really coming into focus! Thanks for sharing. Great story!

  2. Katie Says:

    HA! You have brought back all kinds of suppressed memories. Thankfully I’ve never been phone support, but try working in a bar in Sanford. Or Property Management in Raeford. Pretty much anything “customer” oriented in a town that ends in “ford” is a nightmare.

  3. Narf Says:

    Naked romps in a National park?? You have my complete attention! 🙂

  4. Dad Says:

    And here I had thought that I had turned your life around. But, hey, I’m glad that you quit that stupid customer support job; it’s given you more time to answer all MY technical questions (like: “When does the ISP come on?”).

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