Adventures in customer service (Part 3) — American Express

Part 1 and Part 2

What are you wearing, American boy?

I knew he wasn’t in America. His training in Midwestern Accent was good, but not good enough to fool a guy from the Ozarks. I told him what I wanted. He said he could give it to me. In the meantime, he wanted to know if the sun was shining where I was. I wondered how long it would be before he asked if I was wearing boxers or briefs. I wondered what would happen if I told him I wasn’t wearing anything.

This, of course, may require some explanation.

***

I was not an early adopter on the Phish scene. When my buddies were touring with the band, I was locked into the alt-country world, seeing shows in small venues, and using my travel time for debaucherous rolls to party towns and ski resorts. I do not regret this.

When Phish announced it was going back on tour, I approached the situation with what I hoped would be a relative level of maturity. I wasn’t a Phan when everybody else was trekking from Coventry to Japan to Deer Creek to wherever. The scene had gotten so big by then, wait times to get into the biggest shows were measured in days instead of hours. Despite my late interest in the band, I did not want to be one guy adding to a line that was already going to be painfully long. Those spots, I figured, should be reserved for the people who really wanted to see the band play again.

I have many friends who are die-hard Phisheads. They count the number of shows they have seen by the dozen. When they learned the band was going back on the road, my buddies’ normally fatalistic, existentionalist nature turned to something you might see from a 12-year-old girl when Mylie Cyrus shows up at her birthday party. I’ve never seen two malcontents so happy.

I vowed to help in any way I could.

The run-up week to Bonnaroo (a giant, insanely-good-line-up festival in Tennessee, in case you don’t know it) has Phish shows in Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN. I’m not going to any of them (I’m going to have a new baby to take care of, and such), but my friends are. And so, I set about trying to get some tickets to the shows. As you can see on Coventry, it’s not as easy as you might think.

The ticket releases for the Phish shows start with a lottery, followed by box office and online ordering. Every one of us whiffed on the Asheville lottery. When it came time for the results of the Knoxville lottery announcement, I did not get an e-mail telling me I’d again come up short like I did for the Asheville show. One buddy suggested I check my American Express account.

That’s when I met my Indian.

***

“Hello!” he said. He was much too cheery for morning.

I jumped right to the point. I needed to know if a $229 charge had been posted to my account.

“Of course, I can do that for you,” he said. “It will take the computer just a moment.”

The guy paused. I strained to hear the sweatshop call center in the back. I heard nothing. I wondered if his cubicle was soundproofed or if he was a freelancer working out of his home.

“So!” he said. “Are you having a good afternoon?”

Strike, one, buddy. It’s morning. Don’t even try to tell me you are in Detroit Rock City.

“Oh, wait!” he said. “It’s must be morning there.”

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised. In the past, the warehouse of outsourced call center workers for American companies would pretend they weren’t in India. Apparently American Express or this particular call center had given up on that.

“Let me guess what time it is there!” the guy said. Everything he said had an exclamation point on it.

“Alright,” I answered, already regretting making the call.

“It’s, uh…8am. Very early!”

“It’s 9am,” I said. “Nice try.”

“8am is very early,” he said again.

“It’s 9am.”

“9am. Well I was close. How is the weather there?”

What? Seriously. Is this part of Small Talk 101?

I looked out the window. “It’s foggy, 41 degrees, and damp.”

“How do you do it? I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed. I need sunshine.”

The computer must have kicked in. “Okay, sir. I see there was a $229 charge from MusicToday.com posted and approved on your account.”

“Good,” I said. “Thanks.”

The guy cut me off. “So, MusicToday.com! Do you like music?”

My transaction was complete. This was the call center equivalent of going to McDonald’s, getting a Big Mac, and then being asked how I feel about Rev. Ted Haggard trouncing around with young men.

“Uh, yeah. The charge is for tickets to see a band,” I said. Wait! What in the hell was I doing. Keep it at yes and no, man!

“What band is it?” said my new friend.

“It’s a band called Phish.” I was in this one deep and I didn’t see myself getting out soon.

“Fish. I haven’t heard of them,” he guy said. “But I saw a huge [insert impossible to understand band name here] show in India and it was great. I full-on enjoyed it!”

“Uh, cool.”

There was this moment of uncomfortable silence. I felt like I was 21 years old, standing at a bar, and fresh out of small talk with a co-ed.

“So, that it’s it then?” I asked.

“Unless there is anything else you need…?” my Indian friend offered.

“That’ll do, thanks.”

And then I hung up.

***

So, my friends got their Knoxville tickets. I’m happy for them. I got a new friend in India who might be downloading the 5/8/93 Durham show right now and wondering if he could get an extra to Deer Creek. If any of you guys see an Indian dude on Shakedown, tell him Otis said hi…and that he’s not wearing any underwear.