Here in the Bay Area, we have a pseudo-subway system called BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which services most of the East Bay, and San Francisco. One of the peculiarities of BART is the constant audio and visual messages about which elevators are out of service in various stations. For instance, I was waiting in the Fruitvale station yesterday for approximately eight minutes. During that eight minutes, I got four separate live audio updates concerning which elevators were out of service in all BART stations and two visual updates via scrolling text about the same. That means I got a reminder in one form or another approximately every forty-eight seconds. This sort of constant information feed would be appreciated if elevators came in and out of service on a minute by minute basis (and if I used the elevators). However, the updates all concerned ten elevators that were going to be out of service for a month and two others that were out of service for the day. On a related note, the trains on a particular line were running fifteen minutes late, and they only announced that fact once in the same eight minutes. It seems to me that most people are more interested in whether the trains are running on time, than which elevators are going to be out of service for the next month.
On a tangential note: Sarah and I often remark how Massachusetts could have used BART as a moniker for their public transit, too. Currently, Massachusetts has the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority). However, we imagine that somebody realized that if Massachusetts had named their transit system BART, the natives would have called it “BAHT” in the typical Massachusetts way.
We went to eat at an excellent restaurant the other night. Some friends were in town from various locations, and we ended up at an Italian restaurant called Pazzia. Really good food, excellent service, pleasant atmosphere. We’ll definitely be making return trips.
The other day, my boss, a fellow co-worker, and myself went to the McDonalds across the street (relatively) from our office for lunch. We walked into the restaurant, got into line, and noticed that directly in front of us were three women wearing basically nothing, a gentlemen who seemed to be their talent agent (for lack of a better phrase), and another female companion. This, in and of itself, was reasonably unusual, but on top of that the girls didn’t look more than thirty or forty seconds over18. So, we muttered between ourselves how this was reasonably unusual,even in SF, but hey, even teenage prostitutes like Mickey D’s, I guess. After a minute or so, a couple of gentlemen got in line behind us and started making reasonably loud remarks about the lack of traditional clothing on the women in front of us. After a few minutes of this, an argument erupted between the talent agent and one of his female co-workers and the gentlemen behind us as to who would be more effective at pimping out the teenage prostitutes. This argument, as you might imagine, could only be carried out by yelling. So, there we are, waiting to order a number eight (McChicken with fries) and Sprite, and we find ourselves in the middle of a philosophical discussion about the business of teenage prostitution. The really weird part of the story is that this McDonalds sits next door to the SF Hall of Justice and there were several policemen in the building, in both plain clothes and uniform. Weird,weird, weird.
Anyway, it’s supposed to be nice in the Bay Area this weekend. Finally.
I’m not even sure I can express my frustration with banks. Late in January this year, I started trying to open a checking account with Telebank. They offered very competitive interest rates and useful checking account features, and they were not based necessarily on the brick-and-mortar branch office model, so I thought, naively as it turned out, that they might be different. Well, when February 28th rolled around and I still hadn’t been able to open an account with them, I stopped trying and took my business to a pseudo-local bank (this Telebank episode followed my failed attempt to open an account with a truly local branch due to their contradictory deposit and fee rules). So, on February 28th I opened a checking account at the same institution where I currently held a savings account. At that time, they told me I would have to wait three to five business days to get my checks. No problem. March 11rolls around and I still don’t have my checks, so I call the bank. They tell me that checks were shipped out March 6 from a secret location in Maryland (what am I going to do, go there and steal checks by the semi-load???) and if I don’t have them by Monday, March 13th, call them back and they’ll put a stop payment on the order and ship me new checks. I asked about the three to five days line. The phone rep. tells me that is not the official party line. Fine, so one of the banks reps. is outright lying, but since I’ll never find out who, I accept the situation with clenched teeth and fists. Monday, no checks. Tuesday, no checks. Wednesday, no checks. Thursday, no checks. Friday,no checks. Saturday, call the bank again. This rep. explains that I should wait until Monday, again, and call them back if I don’t have the checks at that point. I explain that I’m not waiting until Monday,this issue will be resolved one way or another today. There are plenty of other banks out there that are equally incompetent and I’ll be happy to take my business to any one of them. After several minutes of this,she decides to cancel the checks and issue an order for new ones. Now I can wait five to thirteen more business days before I can get frustrated with banks again. Idiots. I fervently hope that someone, somewhere is planning an Amazon.com-style attack on the banking industry.
More stories from the bank front. I decided to try and get some Italian lira today before going to Italy so that I wouldn’t have to get off the plane, stand in the Customs line, stand in the baggage claim line, and then stand in the currency exchange line. In Massachusetts,this was relatively easy. Go into BayBank, sit down, tell someone what you need, and get what you want. Easy enough. I decided to call my bank, before going down there, to make sure they could do something similar. Hmm, the local branch’s phone number is unlisted, so I have to call the 800 number. Call one: “Hi, I was wondering how I could order some foreign currency.” “Oh, you need to call your local branch for that.” “Well, I was going to do that, but I couldn’t find their number. All I could find was this number.” “Okay, let me give you their number. Their number is xxx-xxx-xxxx.” “Okay, thanks.” Dial the number, listen to a recording that basically says, “Hi, call our800 number. BEEP.” Call two to the 800 number: “Hi, I just called to see how I could order foreign currency. I was given the local branch number, which I called, but it’s one of those numbers nobody answers.”“Okay, I can call the branch for you. Please hold. (wait, wait,wait) Okay, sir. The branch said it would take three business days, but you need to speak with them directly to order the currency.”“Okay, can you transfer to them.” “Sure, hold on a minute please.” “Thanks.”wait, wait, wait, ring Pacbell Operator: “If you’d like to make a call please hang-up and dial the number again.” “Aaaaaaarrrrghhhhh!” Call three to the 800 number: “I’ve been trying to get information about whether or not it’s possible to get foreign currency. However, I’ve called twice and been given bad information once and hung-up on once. Can you help me with this?” “Sure, if you can tell me the name of your local branch,I can call them and find out how long it takes them to get foreign currency. (wait, wait, wait) Okay, they said it takes two-three weeks.” “Oh, the representative who hung up on me said it took three business days.” “Hmm, well let me call them back and I’ll transfer you to them. (wait, wait, wait) RING. Hello, US Bank, can I help you?” “Do you work in Alameda, CA?” “No sir, I work in Portland, OR. Can I help you with something?” “Well…(I recount the long sordid tale so far).” “Sir, let’s talk to them together with me on the line.” wait, wait, wait, ring PacbellOperator: “If you’d like to make a call please hang-up and dial the number again.” “Aaaaaaarrrrghhhhh!” Call four to the 800 number: “Hello, US Bank, Can I help you?” “Please transfer me to a supervisor.”“Sir, can I help you with something?” “No, I doubt it. Please transfer me to a supervisor.” “Sir, can you tell me why I need to do that?” “(Insert long sordid tale here with plenty of derogative adjectives thrown in for effect.)” “Okay, hold please.” “Hello, this is SomeMoron, can I help you?” “(Insert long sordid tale here with plenty of derogative adjectives thrown in for effect that grows with every transfer and disconnected call.)”“Okay, sir. Let me call the branch, and get you the piece of information you need. (wait, wait, wait) Sir, I spoke with BranchMoron, and she said it would take three weeks.” “Okay, thanks. Can you tell me why it took four phone calls and twenty minutes to get that simple nugget of information?” “No sir, I cannot. I’m a SeniorBankingMoron, not aSupervisorMoron.” “Why was I transferred to you? I specifically asked to speak with a SupervisorMoron.” “Sir, we only have three SupervisorMoronson duty today and they’re busy fucking up other people’s accounts right now. Can I take your phone number have them not call you back?” “When will they call me back?” “Within one business day.” “Well, today is Saturday, and since you don’t consider this a business day for any other service, are you saying that they’ll call me on Monday or today.” “When would be a good time for them to call you back?” “Today or Monday?” “When you be a good time for them to call you back?” “Today or Monday?” “Sir, when would be a good time for them to call you back?” “Well, let’s pretend that they’re actually going to call me back. If they want to call me today,they can call me within the hour. Otherwise, tell them not to bother because I seriously doubt that they give a damn anyway. It’s pretty obvious nobody else there does and, in my experience, that sort of attitude flows down, not up.”
I guess the whole point of the story here is that, on average, banks are filled with morons. For instance, whoever the genius was who said,”Let’s make the branch phone numbers more Top Secret than the government’s nuclear launch codes” ought to be exported to Cuba in pieces that would fit inside Pringles cans. A two minute phone call to the branch (“Hi, how long would it take me to get 400,000 Italian lira?” “Oh, about three weeks.”“Okay, thanks.”) would have saved me time and effort. It would have saved the bank money on their 800 number, it would have saved the time of numerous people on their end, and I wouldn’t feel like I’m keeping my money in yet another bank staffed with idiots.