"I'm sorry, sir. I do apologize. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do."
Have you ever heard those words or a similar combination of them? Let me rephrase that—how many times have you heard those words?
A hundred? Maybe a couple of hundred? Since my brittle carcass is rapidly approaching fifty years on Mother Earth (that didn't come out right), I'm estimating that I've received an earful of that telephone bromide at least ninety-three times, possibly ninety-four.
Let me back up a little before turning the key in the old Rant Mobile. Customer service is a tough job. There.
Yesterday, morning, as is the case every workday morn, I climbed aboard one of King County's sparkly motor coaches for a leisurely ride into downtown Seattle. As usual, I greeted the driver and swiped my bus card over the sensor box without breaking stride toward the seat I've sat in for so many consecutive days, even Rain Main would admire my compulsion.
This time, however, no magical combination of lights and beeps signaled my acceptance into the bus as a fully paying customer. I stopped and tried the card again.
Nothing. My cottony mouth signaled that this exercise must normally produce some sort of Pavlovian salivation, so I tried again. The card may as well have been a Taco Del Mar punch card with only seven more burritos until a free one, because it worked with equal futility.
The driver, the same dude who's seen me swipe the card successfully for the past six months, acted as if I were trying to gain access to a room full of porn stars using a cantaloupe rind as I.D.
He glared at me. "Yood bettahdr tek car of dat cadddrd," he barked in an accent which may have native to Romania or Texas, I wasn't sure.
Yeah, no shit, I didn't say.
Evidently, the microchip inside the card is remotely loaded on a monthly basis. I'm sure someday humans will receive these types of chips implanted into them while swimming in the womb and therefore be able to withdraw funds at an ATM or post to Twitter before you can say "meconium," but for now, their plastic composition subjects them to the wear and tear of digital manipulation.
The driver nonetheless allowed me into his realm and I skulked to my seat in disgrace. I felt dirty and ashamed for this moment of non-bootstrap-picking-up abuse of the system.
Upon arriving at my work cubicle, my first order of business was to secure a new pass, so I called the customer service line printed on the back of the card. Thank God I haven't owned a rotary phone for twenty-seven years, because I wasn't able to actually speak with a customer service representative prior to punching 1, 2, 2, 1, 3 on my touch tone keypad.
And let me tell you, just because you represent customer service, doesn't necessarily mean you provide it. I suppose it's similar to the Alabama Crimson Tide being represented by an elephant. Crazy English language.
A woman answered my call and the conversation promptly assumed a rhythm. I'd ask her a question, she'd reply with, "One moment," peck away at her keyboard for several seconds and state, "I do apologize for the delay."
The first couple of times, I replied with, "That's okay," but after the fifth occurrence, I fought the urge to blurt out, "Stop freaking apologizing for something you can't control. It's like saying you're sorry about those chickens that fell out of the truck on a freeway outside Minneapolis this morning. Plus, stop inserting the word 'do" in front of apologize. I'm not saying you don't, okay?"
Can you tell that my irritation had now formed a crunchy, golden-brown crust?
"Sir, I do apologize for the wait. We will issue you a new bus card in five to seven business days. We do require a five-dollar replacement fee." There was that stupid 'do' word again.
"Hang on a second." I struggled to maintain my composure after fifteen minutes of frustration. "Five to seven business days? Does that mean you'll mail it then or I'll receive it then?"
"Sir, I don't know the answer. May I refer you to our web site?"
"No!" At this point, I began realizing that I'd been sustaining a single kegel contraction throughout the phone call. I relaxed, beginning at my large intestine and working downward and spoke more slowly. "This pass costs ninety dollars a month. Will I be reimbursed for the amount of time it takes to get a new one? Because that'll cost me about twenty-five dollars."
"No!" Too late. The same looping Barry Manilow song played as when I initiated the call, seemingly hours ago—I Write the Songs.
"Sir, I do ap..."
"I know, I know. What did you find out?"
"Sir, unfortunately, you will have to pay for your own bus rides until your new pass arrives. I do apologize."
"Seriously? Okay, that's ridiculous."
"Sir, I do apologize. Is there anything else I can help you wi...?"
Oops, I hung up. I do apologize.