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Tuesday, June 20, 2000

United Sucks; Muddy without a Shower

My bag finally arrived Friday night, and I was looking forward to writing a positive Journal entry, but alas the Entropy Cherubs are not yet appeased and have demanded another bitch fest of me.

United would not give me the phone number of the Carlsbad terminal (it's just a mobile home style micro terminal in a little airport, servicing puddle jumpers and private planes). I told them I was trying to track down my bag, but the woman on the line said they just don't give out those numbers -- they're not even in her computer. So I said "So, what if I had just been there, and accidentally left something behind? Who would I call?" And she gave me the "lost items" number for that terminal, which, of course, rings the one and only phone they have there and so is the number I asked for in the first place. I called and asked if my bag was there, and it was, or had been, and-- deja vous--"You should have gotten it a few hours ago. He won't drop it off if there's no one there." "There's been somebody here all day." So she called the driver, and got an estimate of around 7:30pm. It's a good thing I called, as I had been planning to leave at about 7pm. Why did I have to be a sleuth just to find out when my bag was going to arrive? What's the point of their automated baggage tracking system which kindly tells you after five minutes of entering information that "Your bag has not yet been located. Please call back later."? I gather United's customer interface strategy is "If we make it difficult enough for them, they will give up before we have to do anything."

So I called their customer relations number today to ask for a refund on the leg they didn't provide. It's the only non-toll-free number they have, and their system estimated a twenty minute waiting time. ("If we make it difficult enough...") But the initial message had said, after the first four options, "If you are calling about a previous flight experience, please visit our web site at www.ual.com (pause....) or press 5." Clearly, they wanted me to submit this issue through their web site. So I went there. No obvious links to customer relations. Under Contact United, they list the following email addresses:

No "Customer Relations", no "Complaints", but I guess Refunds... is the appropriate link? So I click.. do they give an email address? No, it's a web form, with a 31x7 character box in which to describe my request. ("If we make it difficult enough...")

So I call their reservations number, if for nothing else to make sure they don't cancel the rest of my itinerary because I missed one leg (they did this to a friend of mine recently). When I conveyed part of the story to her, she said I should contact Customer Relations via their web page. I sat there with her on the phone, asking her where it would be on the page... she didn't know, but insisted it was there. I saw a Search link off one of the pages, so I tried that. It turned up a few pages, only one of which was related. A quote from that page:

United's Commitment:
Our director of Customer Relations will ensure that we respond to customer inquiries and correspondence within 60 days.

Contacting United

Action: Establish a toll-free customer relations number In addition to offering customers an email and mailing address at which to reach us, we will establish in early 2000 a toll-free telephone number so they can contact us regarding the status of their concerns. We also will publish contact information in Hemispheres® magazine; on our Web site, www.United.com; in our System Timetables and in a computer profile accessible by employees who may be asked for the information.

Sixty days? Certainly doesn't help someone who's mid travel. Early 2000? They're right up there with Microsoft on their release dates, because it's mid June and said number doesn't exist. How long does it take to get an 800 number that goes the same place as their current toll number for customer relations? And there is no "email address" that I've found -- just a little 1.5" x 1" box which by its very size says "Fuck You if you have any complaints!"

On the left side of the United's Commitment page, there's a list of links which imply that I am on the "Customer Complaints" page, as if I'd clicked that link from elsewhere. But I haven't found any other page on their site yet which provides that link as an option. It looks to me like they unlinked "United's Commitment" from their site entirely, and forgot to blind their search engine to it. After all, why listen to customer complaints when they can just pretend there aren't any?

The woman in reservations basically said there's no point in contacting them anyway -- "It's a non-refundable ticket. If a passenger chooses to provide their own transportation..." "CHOOSES!? CHOOSES!?" Yes, Unitons will receive first termination priority.

Michelle got an Olympus brand smart-card reader, which you hook up to a USB port and it acts like a disk drive for your digital camera "film". On her computer, she can download a full set of pics from her 32meg card in under a minute. I hooked it up to my computer, and it mounted the card, showed me a list of all my pics, but when I dragged them to a folder on my local disk it got part way through the first image and then crashed my machine. :( I rebooted, tried again, same results. I definitely have bad digital camera karma.

Saturday morning I started digging for the source of the water leak that's been supporting the algae growth on my driveway. Within a couple of inches, I hit large roots, so I had to switch to a hand trowel. Within a few more inches, I reached more smaller roots, and had to switch to hands. After a few hours of digging and clawing and sawing roots, bloody knuckles and fingernails, I uncovered an old rusty valve, a 1.25 inch valve feeding a 1.25 inch pipe going toward the street but fed from the .75 inch pipe coming out of my water meter. ??? I turned on the shutoff valve at the meter to see if it was the valve that was leaking, and it was. So I cleared some more dirt away with my hands, found a large pine tree root sitting on my .75 inch line... turned on the shutoff valve again and PPPPPSHHSHSSHHSSHH! Clearing the dirt away had allowed the pine tree to snap the .75 line right at the water meter -- leaving the threads jammed in the city's shutoff valve.

Uh oh.

Naturally, Home Depot did not carry a replacement (and naturally, they claimed they did, but it turned out to be some cacophony of random parts that would never have fit in the space where the city's shutoff valve came from, even if it did mate with the water meter, which it didn't). So it occurred to me the city must have an emergency number -- I mean, what happens if there's a geyser shooting out of the middle of the street? Sure enough, on the back of my last water bill there's an emergency number. I call it. "Bee bee beep! We're sorry, the number you have called has been disconnected."


So I call the daytime number to see if they list their emergency number on the message. They do. It's a different number. So I call it. "Bee bee beep! We're sorry, the number you have called has been disconnected."


So I go back outside and finish digging and sawing so I'm ready to fix it quickly when the time comes, but night falls and exhaustion sets in... so I crawl back inside, caked in mud, hands raw and stinging.

In a last-ditch effort, I tried looking up "water emergency" on a web phonebook, under Oceanside, CA, and it turned up a listing named, simply, "City of Oceanside". What the hell -- I called it. It turned out to be the police dispatch number. So I asked them if they happened to know the number for water emergencies, and they said "We handle those." ?? Turns out, they are the ones who handle after-hours water service dispatching (not that anyone would have any way to know this). But the water guy would not come out this late -- I'd have to call him in the morning.

So I took a shower at a friend's house. Peed in my yard. Stayed away from high fiber foods. And called the Police and Fire (and Water) dispatch the next morning. "Name!" "Address!" "Phone Number!" "You should receive a call in the next fifteen minutes!" ("Sir, Yes Sir!") Sure enough, a jolly black fellow called, came by, took one look at the valve, chuckled, gave me another one, and drove off. I dug some more, cut some more roots, measured various pieces of PVC pipe, put it together in two stages with the last being a frantic jig to assemble three different joints simultaneously, with a glue that dries in about thirty seconds, since that maneuver was the only way to make the relatively inflexible ends meet.

Half an hour later, I braved to turn on the shutoff valve, and Voila! I could wash my hands! Take a shower! Pee! Eat solid foods again! It was a strange sensation to turn on my shower valve and actually feel awe and accomplishment that water was coming out. (Oh, and I have no idea where that 1.25 inch pipe was going... I just cut it out of the system altogether, and everything in my house still works fine [yes, including the sprinklers]...)

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com