Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fuzzy Vision

I haven't posted a customer service rant in a while, but today's excitement is a doozy. I got new glasses last week. I love them, but they seem to have blurred the letters in my mid-range vision, a.k.a. my computer screen, where I spend many hours every day working with happy obsession on my new book. The visual fuzziness, which disappears completely if I wear my old glasses, was still bugging me after three days with the new ones, so I made an appointment for a prescription check at the "vision center" where I had my eyes examined and bought the glasses.

The appointment was this morning at 11:30. I arrived at 11:25 for what I imagined would be a 15-minute thing (the original exam having taken only a minute or two longer than that). I signed in and sat patiently for 15 minutes, impatiently for 15 more, and then went up to the receptionist and asked how much longer it might be. I wanted to have a little tantrum, but I kept my goal in mind and instead reminded her politely that I'd indicated when I made the appointment that I had to be on my way by 12:15. Neither she nor any of the teen-aged "optical assistants" (well, they're probably in their 20s, but you couldn't tell that from their general callowness or their styles of dress, speech or professionalism) had any idea either when the doctor might be available or how to go about discerning that fact.

I agreed to wait another 10 minutes until 12:05, despite my strong sense that I was throwing good time after bad. Sure enough, the doctor didn't appear and no one, as far as I could tell, attempted to prompt her or find out what was going on behind her closed door. At 12:08, I requested my glasses back so I could be on my way. The receptionist said she could guarantee I wouldn't have to wait if I rescheduled for first thing in the morning or "right after the doctor's lunch." I did so, then asked if the optometrist was running so far behind because people had arrived late for their appointments. "Oh, no," the receptionist said smugly. "If people are more than 10 minutes late, we require that they reschedule."

So the deal is that if I'd walked in 11 minutes late, I would have been booted, but these jokers have no problem keeping me waiting for 45 minutes or more without apology or explanation.

This is so wrong on so many levels. First, let's get real about what kind of business this joint is in. It's plainly about selling $700+ pairs of glasses rather than $35 eye exams. We're not patients in this setting. We're customers. Being made to wait for a doctor is stupid, especially in a city where you can get any cosmetic enhancement you might desire - new glasses, new teeth, permanent makeup, a fake tan, better
body parts, etc. - on practically every corner.

Second, come on! What possible reason could there be for the delay? I can understand having to wait for an orthopedic surgeon or an obstetrician, but an optometrist?? It's hard to imagine an optometric emergency. And I know from my medical professional husband that being made to wait for medical professionals is largely bullshit except where said professionals have to handle unexpected emergencies. Doctors' offices can easily avoid delays simply by scheduling sufficient time per appointment and not double-booking.

So the vision center's got it wholly backward. They're double-booking the optometrist (where they make little money) and backing up the selling and fulfillment of glasses (where the big bucks are). In the process, they're driving away the customers they're lucky enough to have. Their vision is fuzzier than mine!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Technical Difficulties

It's really unbelievable how unsettling computer troubles can be. A couple days ago, a black border showed up out of nowhere and starting dancing around the cursor on the screen of my beloved new Mac. I grew increasingly upset and anxious, desperate even, as nothing I tried succeeded in making it disappear.

The black border drove me crazy on general principles, but it also alarmed me because I seem to recall that random geometric shapes appeared on an old laptop of mine before it died a punishing death several years ago. Punishing for me, that is, because the laptop took with it over 10 pages of freshly written material for my first book. To this day, I'm certain that the lost pages were better than the replacements I came up with. The incident also turned me into an obsessive backer-upper. When I write large chunks now, I typically email them to myself and store them on an external jump drive - all this in addition to the backup that automatically occurs on my external LaCie Time Machine, which has to be the coolest system there is. Everyone who knows about this compulsive storage thinks I'm insane, but I'll be damned if I'm ever again going to struggle through the crushing processes of grieving, failed reconstruction and, ultimately, less satisfactory rewriting.

Anyway, the black border on the Mac. After I failed to solve it on my own, I Googled the problem. This usually works like a charm, but evidently I used the wrong search words because the results weren't helpful. Then, I called Apple Tech Support and got a guy who apparently had marbles in his mouth. He ran through his standard Tech Support Script with me ("I already rebooted." "Yes, ma'am, I understand. Please shut down your computer and then we'll turn it back on."), all to no avail. He kept telling me to do things that took time, then muted the phone while he was waiting (to "help" another customer? to ask questions of someone who actually knew something about computers? to trade stocks?). Whenever I told him the time-consuming function was finished, he started talking again without unmuting his phone, so I heard silence until I said, "Hello? Hello?" Then, he'd come back, pretending nothing was amiss. ("I'm here, ma'am.") This happened at least a dozen times.

After 45 minutes of inserting discs and doing scary behind-the-scenes things to my computer, all of which had no impact whatsoever on the black border, my patience, never my strongest suit, was at an end. When Marbles instructed me to drag a bunch of things to a new place, then was bewildered when the computer wouldn't let me do so, I decided he and I were finished and called the only IT guy I trust - my son. He was at work, but I knew he'd get back to me ASAP with a solution. Sure enough, he did. We had a lot of guests over the weekend, one of whom had inadvertently pushed the buttons on my computer that activated the Universal Access feature - thus, the black border to highlight where the cursor was. A simple click to turn off that feature and, presto!, the border disappeared.

Both my original agitation and my relief were out of proportion to the actual events, but I couldn't be more delighted that the problem wasn't really a problem.
I would have thought less of my Mac had it developed a mysterious computer ailment within its first six months. Like my father, who considered a car to be ruined once it required any sort of repair, I don't like intimations of imperfection in mechanical things. I much prefer to think of them as perfect, wonderful, and not on the brink of disaster.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I'm sitting outside a nearby coffee shop, having been routed by my cleaning people. (They're as unobtrusive as any I've ever employed, but the whine of vacuuming punctuated by the occasional alarming crash is almost always enough to drive me elsewhere.) It's a gorgeous breezy day and I'm sipping a luscious green tea and wild berry smoothie - slowly so as not to get brain freeze. My laptop battery is draining its juice at a much faster clip, so in a few minutes I'll have to go inside and find an electrical outlet.

I'm writing a book about a young woman struggling with disappointment. The section I've been working on today takes place in the summer in Chicago because I can't think of a better metaphor for disappointment than humidity.
As I wrote about my character heading home from the Loop at the end of a long irritating day, I could feel the hot blasts of air like bus exhaust on the street and the close stickiness on the packed bus she takes. It's one of those allegedly air-conditioned CTA buses, so its windows are tightly closed. Everyone is limp, dispirited and, I imagine, dreaming about cool breezes, cold showers, icy drinks. I don't think my character wears pantyhose, but I'm remembering the precise physical feeling of being slimily encased in those horrible things on hot, humid summer days early in my career when wearing them at least occasionally was impossible to avoid.

Writing this segment put me so convincingly in summertime Chicago that I started to feel bad for all the people actually walking through that sticky air and packed into those stifling buses. Then it occurred to me with a jolt that the real Chicago is still in the throes of winter.