Almost a fiasco…

Saturday morning I discovered that my local Apple Store had in stock availability of their new flagship, iPhone X. I wouldn’t usually venture anywhere near a mall two days after Thanksgiving, but the desire for new and shiny tech got the better of me. Stunningly, I arrived five minutes after the mall opened and parked within 20 yards of the door. It seems that their “holiday hours” are poorly advertised and almost no one realized they were opening an hour early. Fine by me.

I was an AT&T cellular customer since back in the mists of time when they were known as Cingular. I was generally a satisfied customer, too – until I moved to Fortress Jeff, which is located in a black hole of their coverage map. I could make and receive calls over wifi, but when wifi was down, my cell was pretty much an expensive paperweight. Unacceptable. With this change of phone, I wanted to make the jump to Verizon, who neighbors promised had at least a bar or two of coverage even the local power and cable is out. It happens more often than you’d imagine out here at the end of the transmission line.

Without going into details, I’ll just say that AT&T, Verizon, and Apple corporate policies all threw up roadblocks to converting from the Apple Upgrade Program under AT&T to the same program under Verizon. The guy I was working with, though, was an absolute bulldog and took the problems first to the floor manager, who was as confounded as we were. The floor manager then elevated the issues through two layers of management “in the back.” Finally they decided there was actually no way to get from Point A to Point B using existing policy and procedures. That’s they point where one of them decided “we’re going to break the rules” to make the sale.

I can’t say for sure if any rules were broken, but if the number of Apple employees standing around looking concerned while they fiddled with various entries on their tablet is any sign, they were certainly doing something unusual. In the end it took six people and almost an hour to make the sale.

It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t seamless, but in the end I walked away with exactly what I wanted. I appreciate that level of tenacity when the easy answer was “we can’t.” I appreciate it even more when I’ve got two bars of service when the wifi’s off. Well done, Apple. It’s a wonderful lesson for other business out there that customer services really, truly doesn’t have to suck.

Ten Years of iPhone…

I’d be hard pressed to point out any of the flagship iPhone versions that I haven’t had on my hip at some point over the last ten years. As our friends in California rolled out their latest and greatest this afternoon, I can only sit in awe of their ability of convincing me to part with a large chunks of cash on a near yearly basis. It’s a pretty slick business model if you can get people to go along with it. Based on the numbers that Apple keeps putting up every year, a lot of us agree with them.

Because I was late in getting my hands on the iPhone 7, I’m a few months out of cycle for my regularly scheduled replacement. It means I’ve got some time to ponder the next purchase – which is rarely a good thing when it comes to “need it now” devices.” Then again $1,000+ on something that’s going to live in my pocket, locked in a metal case at the office, hooked on my belt, or repeatedly fall off the dash onto the floorboard, and then be traded in twelve months later maybe it should be more of a thoughtful process. It’s the very definition of a depreciating asset. 

I’m planning on changing carriers (thanks AT&T for sucking so bad while I’m sitting in my own living room) so I’ve also got that mess to figure out. Based on the estimates of availability, there’s going to be plenty of time to sort out those details too.

A big part of me wishes there wasn’t, because as usual, I’d really like for Apple to just shut up and take my money.

Customer service…

Often enough I’ll put companies that fail to deliver even basic customer service on blast here online. More rarely I get to give the good word when a company does something right. Tonight, fortunately, is the latter.

Last week I stopped by Wawa for a sandwich. That’s not unusual. It happens about once a week. Their consistency is one of the biggest reasons I like the place. I know what to expect when I open the wrapper. Creature of habit that I am, that means a lot. Last week’s sandwich was an outlier, which was why I ended up Tweeting at them in the first place. I didn’t expect anything to come from it other than making myself feel a little better about the lunch I threw away because it reeked of banana peppers.

Thirty minutes later though, I got a note from one of Wawa’s social media team who quickly gathered up my information, appologized, and offered me a sandwich on the house. Again, I didn’t think much about it and didn’t expect anything to come if it. Sure enough, though, this evening there was a letter containing a Wawa gift card in my mail box and they were good to their word.

It’s the one bad experience I’ve had with Wawa in four years of being a regular customer and they made it right without arguing, or elevating it to a manager, or making it seem like the hardest thing in the world. They’re doing customer service right and I just wanted to take this chance to say so.

Capitalism doesn’t work…

I’m never quite sure how to respond when someone tells me “capitalism doesn’t work” or that it only works for the uber-wealthy. I generally deflect the issue, because even in a well-reasoned discussion there’s virtually no chance of them changing their position – and there’s absolutely no chance of me changing mine. I’m not a philosopher and I’m not an economist. I’m just a guy from coal country who got a decent public school education and has had some life experience. I accept that my experiences are different than others, but I don’t consider them particularly unique to me in any way.

Growing up I was never in danger of being described as ultra-wealthy. I’m not in that position now, either. Thirty-seven years hence, that still doesn’t seem likely to be the case – though I do still buy a weekly Powerball ticket in case the fates have declared otherwise. At best I’m part of that vast swath of people who consider themselves middle class. I’m somewhere in the middle part of the curve of income distribution.

I made about $30,000 as a first year teacher. That first year I put $25 every two weeks into my IRA. That’s $50 a month towards what was then a very distant idea of retirement. Some months that $50 was painful – and in that first year as a “professional” I still ate a hell of a lot of ramen and lived in an efficiency apartment way off the beaten path because that’s what I could afford. Still, over that year I was able to scrape together a very modest downpayment. I found a mortgage company who was willing to take a risk on someone with little real credit history and bought a condo for $72,000. It was a 742 square foot, ground floor bunker of a place, but it was mine. Instead of paying rent I was building equity and paying 5.25% (which at the time was a real sweetheart deal) interest for the privilege.

A few years later I took another job (another risk), and rented out my little condo for $200 more a month than I was paying on the mortgage. Some months got awfully lean while I was waiting for a new tenant or the refrigerator needed repair, but you see, that’s capitalism. I used my own money to build value over time. I still have that little place and today it’s renting out for more than twice the mortgage payment. That’s capitalism… and I hardly feel like I’m taking advantage of the person who’s paying the rent. I’m still the one taking the risk that the air conditioner won’t conk out or the building won’t burn down.

I’m still making twice a month deposits into my retirement accounts. Planning for that part of my future is my responsibility. Despite the “correction” of the last few weeks, all told those accounts are still doing well over time. The growth of those early deposits, driven by overall increase in stock prices and the beauty of compounding interest is simply staggering. Some months are obviously better than others. Risk is a real mother like that. Sometimes she gives and sometimes she takes away. Even so, I don’t blame JP Morgan, or Citibank, or GM for doing what they do. There’s a reason we have the phrase “it’s just business.” They all seek to maximize profits at the macro level the same way I do on the micro level with my small rental property.

Populism and distrust of big business and big banks has a long history in this country stretching back to well before William Jennings Bryan’s cross of gold. Socialism hasn’t had it’s roots here quite as long, but it’s no spring chicken in America either. I’ve done the reading. I’m not sold on either model.

I choose to believe in my own experiences – of every time Amazon sends me a check for selling a short story and every time the rent is deposited into my account and every time a stock pays out a dividend. So I have no idea how to respond to someone who says capitalism doesn’t work. I’m seeing it work every single day.

There anyway…

I’ve seen a commercial on television for the US Postal Service over the last few days. I’m going to set aside the fact that there has been a postal service in this country since the revolution and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least bought a stamp or received a letter at some point in their lives and focus on what I really find odd about seeing the post office on TV.

The ad is clearly trying to drum up package handling business for the USPS; trying to remind their customers that they do more than “mail.” That’s well and good. The real issue of the thing is how they go about it. Whatever ad agency they paid millions to for this campaign didn’t focus on things like accuracy, on time delivery, or even cost. Instead they went an entirely different direction, literally having one of the people in the spot say the line “We’re going to be there anyway” while urging us to use them as our parcel deliverer of choice.

We’re going to be there anyway. It doesn’t exactly fill me with lofty visions or assurances of my package getting where it’s supposed to go. It feels like the barest step up from “Give us your stuff and hope for the best.” If they’re trying to swing my business away from UPS or FedEx, I’m afraid the post office is going to need to try something a little more confidence inspiring in their approach.

The truly disturbing part is that somewhere deep in the bowels of Post Office Headquarters, a committee of thoughtful and well compensated people thought that ad was right on point – the very best their money could buy. Maybe it was the least bad of several options, but still I think I’d have gone in a different direction. Then again, they got me to spend a whole 30 minutes thinking about the Post Office. Even if I’m not going to use them, that’s something.

Christmas Freebie…

RetributionThis will be old news for anyone following along my “official” Facebook page (because they get breaking news a day early), but in the interest of getting the word out to as broad an audience as I can muster I’m going to post my Christmas Freebie here too… mostly because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

From now until the end of the year, you, your friends, family, father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate, whoever, can get your very one copy of Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds at absolutely no cost. Well, no cost except for the opportunity cost of the time you spend going over to Smashwords, signing in, adding the book to your cart, applying the coupon code, and then checking out. Yes, aside from that, your copy is absolutely 100% free.

Many people aren’t as familiar with Smashwords as they are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple, but I can tell you it’s a great place to find some writers who won’t get a lot of play from the big e-publishers. Think of them as the small, local coffee shop of e-book retailers. They’re doing good work and I think you should support them when you can.

In any case, to get your free e-book from yours truly, just click over to my Smashwords page, add Retribution to your cart, enter Coupon Code: KY37R when you check out, and you’ll be all set to download your copy in the reader format of your choice… and if you want to leave a review or even just a comment, feel free to go ahead and do that too.

If you’re feeling especially generous, give this post a “like” or even share it on social media… Think of it as a gift for all your friends who might enjoy a little fire and brimstone with the Christmas celebration.

The end of an error…

Having gotten the final call from my realtor a few minutes ago I can state for the record that as of 5PM EDT today I am no longer a property owner in Memphis, Tennessee. I send the new owners good tidings and best wishes and hope that they have better luck with the place than I did over the last four years… but I’m super glad they didn’t call from the closing table wondering what I was going to do about a dripping gutter on the patio roof. Honest to God after the concessions I gave those two already I would have torpedoed the deal at closing just as a matter of principle. I’m glad that between their relator, mine, and the closing attorney they were able to talk them out of that particular course of action.

What I can tell you tonight with certainty is if there’s anything harder than selling a house long distance, it’s probably being an absentee landlord. Like grad school, though, I suppose it’s only a lot of work if you actually do it. God knows I did the work… an entirely new driveway, rerun sewer pipe from the house to the street, every painted surface inside and out redone, tile, backsplashes, tripled the size of the patio and roofed over the whole thing, and more work on the interior than I want to mention or even think about at this point. It’s all their egg to suck now.

Although I’m not quite out of the landlord business, the one that kept me awake at night is now a thing of the past. Let it stay there, ending the longest running and most expensive error of my life to date. Consider that lesson well learned.