BC (that's before Covid), my husband and I led a normal life in our mountain community. Driving down to the valley for the delights of the big city – returning to the peace and comfort of home beneath the cedar trees and nights of dark, clear skies sparkling with stars and planets untouched by city lights.
But for 30-some months, like most people, we stayed put, trying to survive the pandemic, working and playing from home 24/7. We didn't take risks, didn't socialize or dine out, attend parties or social gatherings. We shopped online – did grocery pick-up at the supermarket, and only went into shops wearing an N-95 mask, staying distanced from other human beings.
It hasn't been easy for us to return to what was once 'normal.' I'm still uncomfortable in crowds. If my husband has to fly for business, he's behind a trusted mask. I've honed my online shopping skills to the point that I rarely need to travel down the hill to shop for much of anything.
We've watched as friends and neighbors started taking vacations, experiencing the freedoms we once took for granted. Going to in-person meetings, chatting shoulder to shoulder in line at the grocery store. I get emails from people traveling to exotic places like Morocco, Italy, Greece, and Paris. Still, I'm not ready.
All this explanation is a preamble to my latest online buying experience, which, I believe, is yet another message from the universe that it's time to woman-up and get back to real life on Main Street.
There are some things that should generally not be purchased online – a swimsuit, a mattress for your bed, musical instruments, wedding rings, and (I've learned) rugs. But since we've not indulged in a vacation, expensive dining, or even a visit to Costco, I felt justified in spiffing up our home environment. After repainting some walls a luscious autumn gold, I ordered a new aqua tint couch, a couple of harmonious chairs, and several area rugs. Matching dog collars are in the mail.
A few of my purchases were made from a national department store known for quality products. I felt secure in buying several new rugs that began arriving within mere days. We need these for a couple of reasons – we live in a forest where dirt replaces grass, and cedar trees bleed sap that could glue space shuttle parts together. Furthermore, our two small dogs, my man Murphy and his best friend Ruby the Elder, refuse to wipe their paws after playing outdoors. More important – the little paws slip on wood floors, and there is nothing sadder than a collapsed schnauzer.
Most of my new rugs are lovely and practical. But one – the largest and most expensive – was inappropriate – imagine a creamy wool background coupled with wet boots, dirt, and eight muddy paws. So I folded the lovely ten by 12 carpet into a 60-pound bundle and decided to return it to the department store (I'll call "LostTime, Inc." in this retelling) through online "Chat Support." I needed packaging (about an acre of thick-mill plastic) and return instructions, and, naturally, a refund. I did not expect this exercise to be quick or easy, and it was not.
The Launch: I locate "live Chat" buried as a subtopic under the category "Other" in 6 pt. type on the company website. I write my brief explanatory note along with a friendly greeting to whomever (or whatever) might respond. The time is 2:10 pm. I wait till 2:23 before feeling wanting to scream at a dead screen.
> 2:30 – The screen lights up with "Hello, valued customer. My name is Valentina - how can I help you today? Thank you for being a LostTime, Inc. customer."
> I respond – "I outlined my request in my first comment. Can you see it? Thanks for your help."
> She responds: "I'm sorry, that is not my department. Please allow me to transfer you. (Queue irritating calm music.)
2:35 > New voice: “Hello, Darby Patterson, my name is Pola. I will do my best to resolve your concern while making this chat quick and smooth for you.’
> Me: "Please look at my first message, where I explained the issue."
> "I am afraid I not able to view that comment as I just arrive on your chat. Please kindly tell again."
> I comply. Pola responds. "I understand. You have a rug to send back. Please wrap up and send with all information."
> I explain to him or her or it, that the rug weighs more than a Saint Bernard and needs special packaging.
> Pola: "You received sleeves on the time of order delivery."
> I explain to Pola (who has clearly never undressed a mail-order rug), "One cannot get the rug out of the package without cutting it open - this destroys the package."
> Pola: "Darby, I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced. Thank you for being a valued LostTime customer."
> I say, "If I cannot return the rug - then there is NO return policy - perhaps you can get me to a person who can make this right?"
> Pola makes a promise. "Darby, just given me some time…" (Insert another 6 minutes of dead silence.) Pola comes to life. "I discussed with my supervisor regarding the same. I would like to inform you that there is a $99 preference charge for the return. And I will transfer this chat to my supervisor so they will arrange the sleeves for you."
> I threaten. "Well, with a return fee like this - I will NOT be a customer. I will cancel my card and shop elsewhere. Not your fault" (Me, trying not to shoot the messenger). “Please let the supervisor know."
>"Sure, Darby." Several silent minutes pass. I ask, "Am I waiting for something??"
> Pola bursts to life. "Good news Darby. I will transfer this chat to supervisor so they will help you further." Pola seems excited for me. I ask for a copy of our chat.
> "No need to worry," he, she or it writes. "Our supervisor know all the concern. They will assist you further." I picture a bott with three heads. The chat plays dead.
4:42 - Chat blinks to life. "Welcome to LostTime, Inc. Live Chat. My name is Sonya, I'm supervisor with LostTime, Inc. Give me just a moment to review your concern regarding the order. Thank you for your patience. Please allow me 2 to 3 minutes to pull the history. Thanks for being a loyal LostTime, Inc. customer."
I sit back and glare at the screen. It's 2:47, and something is happening. The colors of the chat boxes morph from pink to soft violet. I type, "Are you there? Hello?" More precious minutes pass, and the window dims to satin gray like the lining of a coffin. A black box with white type pops up. "Due to inactivity, this Chat will close soon." I frantically type, "No, NO don't do that!" - thinking those words would be like a Heimlich maneuver on a choking person. But in a flash, the entire LostTime chat system shuts down.
I end the story the way I should have started it – I call the department store in the valley, talk to a furniture salesperson, and get old-fashioned customer satisfaction. But I won't get back 37 minutes of my life, and (at age 76) I darn well care about that!
Thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope the advent of Autumn is making you feel cozy and optimistic. Up here in the mountains, the cool, sometimes cloudy weather is a relief from constant worry about forest fires. I'm very busy working on the bronze monument to honor the heroes of last year's Caldor Fire. I love doing the fun part - sculpting - but the fundraising part doesn't come naturally to me. If you'd like to see what I'm creating, please check out this page on my website - and if you can, a donation in any amount will be valued and appreciated. For now - On to Halloween and then into the spirit of giving and gratitude (Thanksgiving and Christmas in America). I'm excited to share the holidays with you - no matter where you are. I'm thrilled to have readers all over our interesting world!