Midnight musings: Cell phone blues


Recently we switched cell phone carriers, dropping T-Mobile when my son, away at college in Richmond, Virginia, lost any semblance of service, despite standing on his head and turning somersaults.

There was one spot on campus, next to the school’s lake — yes, they have their own lake — where occasionally if the moon was in retrograde, he could text us.

Eventually even that bit of service disappeared. Not a good situation. First semester of freshman year and he couldn’t reach us, we couldn’t call him. I bought him a TracFone — feeling like a drug dealer when I ordered it — so he would have a phone to travel with when he visited my parents in Buffalo over Thanksgiving. My sister, a recent convert to texting, was scheduled to pick him up.

Travel got snarled, as it inevitably does on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It didn’t help that he was traveling into the teeth of a nor’easter. Before they left the ground in Richmond, the plane was delayed twice and three times during his layover in Charlotte.

During the height of the storm, when the plane had reached a “comfortable cruising altitude,” the pilot got on the intercom and informed the passengers, “Well, we should make good time, since we appear to be the only ones up here.”

Sort of a good news/bad news thing.

Despite the fact that he was carrying two phones, an iPhone and a TracFone, he couldn’t communicate with my sister who had one of those other phones. Only with me, since I had an iPhone too —  some kind of Apple superiority conspiracy? You decide.

I was command central, the liaison between my son and sister. I was working a party at a friend’s house, furiously texting like a teenager between the two of them. All while checking a website that gave up-to-the-minute alerts on where the plane was and what it was doing, including sending texts when the pilot filed his flight plan or went to the bathroom. I’d just discovered the website the day before and it was like being in the cockpit.

I was heaving a 20-pound pan of lasagna into the hot oven, trying not to raise blisters, while my phone chimed and jangled in my front pocket like a deranged pinball machine.

Forget the fact that this was my only child, heading up the East Coast in 70-mph winds and rain/snow/sleet. When I apologized for my distraction to the hostess, a mother of two, she scoffed at me. “Hey, it’s your kid. When my kids need me, nothing else matters.”

He finally landed at the Buffalo airport, three hours late, and had to find my sister, who was circling the parking lot because the transit cops wouldn’t let her park for more than 30 seconds at the curb in front of Arrivals. Finally, they got together. He called me from the car, exhausted but happy to be off the bucking plane and heading towards a holiday with his aunts and grandparents. I winged a thank-you prayer, took the lasagna out of the oven and greeted the arriving guests.

When my son came home for Christmas, we signed up with Verizon and he went back to college in January with a fully-functioning phone. We cancelled our contract with T-Mobile and received a final bill — they had charged us for 60 days of non service. My husband called, explained the situation, and politely requested a refund. They tried to talk him into keeping the non-service plan at a significant discount. He politely refused. They promised to send a refund.

The refund arrived the other day in the form of a debit card with his name embossed on the front, just like a bank debit card. This was exciting, an unexpected windfall that we could use for a dinner out during our upcoming vacation.

It turned out to be a very small windfall. Eleven cents had been loaded on the card.

It must have cost 50 times that amount to generate the card and pay for postage.

That’s going to take a bite out of our dinner check.