By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Sep 26, 2006 at 9:41 AM
I should've known it was coming.  I was suspicious from the moment I made my cable installation appointment two weeks ago.  Something about a 5-7 p.m. window on Monday seemed to good to be true.  That was actually (gasp!) convenient.

So imagine my surprise, while sitting in our weekly editorial meeting, when the Time Warner customer service rep called and said the technician was on his way.  It was about 4:08 p.m.

A little annoying, but I exercised "publisher's privilege," wrapped the meeting early and sped home as soon as I could, arriving at about 4:55 p.m. At 5:07 p.m., I called Time Warner to make sure they hadn't come and gone.  After 15 minutes and 43 seconds on hold, someone picked up:  "You're next on his list," they said, reassuringly.

At 6:20 p.m., I called again.  After a mere six minutes and 34 seconds on hold, they told me they'd check on the technician's status.  Of course, they had no record of the call at 4:08, but they told me they'd check into it and get back to me.  They called back at 6:35, apologizing that the tech was running late, but promised he'd be here within an hour.

Now, I'm told Time Warner has an "on-time" guarantee.  If they fail to show up within their two-hour window, you get a whopping $20 for your time.  But technically, they still had 25 minutes.

At 7:30, I called back again. This time I spent an unbelievable 51 minutes and 28 seconds on hold.  When I finally spoke to a representative, burning through my cell phone battery and minute allowance in the process, the woman on the other end got an earful.

She said the tech was en route, but I asked, not terribly politely, why I had now heard that song and dance three times?  Of course, I got the standard: "Sir, there's nothing more I can tell you" answer.

I hung up, and at 8:23 p.m. -- that's four hours and 15 minutes after they said he was en route -- the cable guy showed up.  I tried to remain calm and not vent my frustration toward the independent contractor who was just doing his job -- climbing poles in the pitch black alley and working a very long day (with another installation across town after mine).

I did let one comment slip, however.  "I was starting to think you weren't coming, since Time Warner kept telling me you were almost here."  I regret that it came out a little snotty.

"Yeah," he replied.  "You probably shouldn't waste your time calling them, since they don't know what they're talking about," was more or less his answer.


The technician worked quickly and diligently, and I helped him string coaxial cable through the basement to get the job done faster.  I genuinely felt sorry for him, as his phone rang off the hook with dispatchers asking for his location.

And then the police showed up.  Seems that being a black man, crawling up a telephone pole at 8:45 p.m. in a Bay View alley is enough to get the neighbors to call the cops. (Of course, he was wearing a yellow reflective jacket and was in an official-looking work truck.)

I was irate, embarrassed and offended that this technician, who had been working all day, was now being hassled for doing the job for which he was clearly overbooked.

But the tech guy put it in perspective, and that's when I took my emotions down a notch.

He said, "I'm only upset because it slows me down."

He didn't play the race card or the victim card.  He just kept wiring. He apologized to me for being late, then went on to his next appointment.  And I had cable TV in time to watch "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

It was a happy ending, but I plan on laughing even harder next time I see one of those cable TV propaganda commercials against satellite dishes.

Customer service, in the world of telecom monopolies, is what it is.  And I'm pretty sure that'll never change.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.