February 4, 2000

Communication Breakdown

Filed under: Media — schroder @ 12:00 pm

A few years ago, a salesman (who was also a cousin) from one of those new telephone companies talked our newspaper into switching our local and long distance service to them. Promising huge percentage reductions in our phone bill sounded great, but whenever we needed work done on our lines (which in our growth stage was frequent), they had to call our old service provider (you know, those Big Guys that used to be our only choice).

Weeks later, one of the Big Guys would show, pull out a piece of paper and say, “Oops, looks like your provider ordered the wrong phone line to be worked on. They’ll have to call back and send another order through and then we can come back and work on it.”

“Hey,” I said to this same technician who had serviced us when we were with his company. “You used to show up the next day and if we had to add or change our order, you’d do it on the spot. Now it takes weeks of bureaucratic requests to get anything done.”

He then gave me a wry smile, leaned back and whispered to me: “You’d get that kind of service again if you would switch back to us.”

So, after a year of hassles, we finally switched back to the Big Guys and all was well again. Except the other company kept billing us for service we no longer had. The bill got up towards $40,000 with fees, interest, penalties, etc. I kept slipping the bills under the windshield wiper on my cousin’s car, who parks in the same lot as I do. He said they had a new billing computer and they were having trouble communicating with it.

Last summer, another new phone company wired our building and promised even better rates. Always willing to support the little guys (as we are), we signed up. But they had a miscommunication between their sales and production departments, resulting in our office having no phone service for a week. Talk about stress: I spent each day on my cell phone, working my way up the management chain of this new phone company, begging for help. Finally, I got the cell phone number of the company’s vice-president, who was in a convention in New Orleans. Soon, service was restored and my employees could once again talk to our customers.

A few months ago I went home and found that line not working. Thus began a four-week odyssey of calls to customer service reps and conversations with technical people who came to my house.

For two days, I did have service, but I started getting calls for some woman I did not know. Then, when I called my daughter, she looked at her Caller ID and asked if I was dating this same woman. I assured her I wasn’t. My next call was from the mystery woman herself, who told me she too had been without service for two weeks and I somehow ended up with her line.

My line went silent the next day and stayed that way until one of the techs who reappeared at my house asked what business I was in.

“Newspapers,” I said.

“I didn’t say this,” he said. “But if you wrote a story about this, you’d get service real quick.”

That afternoon, I called the media relations department and explained to a nice woman I was writing a story about several households – including mine – being without service for weeks at a time. The woman didn’t believe I had been without service for a month. “Let me check into is and I’ll call you tomorrow,” she said.
The next day she called and said her boss had verified my story, dispatched three trucks to my street and told them not to go home until I had service restored.

That night, I picked up my phone and called my daughter. She was happy to hear I had moved back home. Now that I have phone service, I think I’ll stay.

February 1, 2000

The Southern Club

Filed under: Atlanta — schroder @ 12:00 pm

I would be a terrible restaurant critic despite the fact that one of my favorite activities is eating. I’m pretty good at it, too, but the problem is that I have yet to meet a piece of food that I didn’t like. Even when I had to eat chitlins, I just smothered them in ketchup and grinned my way through a plate. Probably the only time
I’d ever give a restaurant a bad review would be if I walked away hungry.

With that criteria, one restaurant that never got a bad review from the sophisticated palates of my hungry friends back when we were in college was called The Southern Club. This was in the days when Atlanta still had boarding houses. Located on 11th Street in Midtown, The Southern Club was probably one of our city’s last official boarding houses. Boarders could rent a room for a night or forever and enjoy the other amenities of the place, including perhaps a library, a living room and, of course, a dining room. Kind of like today’s bed-and-breakfasts, except that boarding houses served a whole lot more than breakfast. It just so happened that at this boarding house, the dining room was open to the public and for those in the know, it was a great secret indeed.

During the summers back then, my friends Charles Driebe and Mike Egan and I formed a company called the Buckhead Bricklayers (with our famous motto “We Lay for Less”). On days when we visited the club, we would warn our clients that we had some supplies to pick up during lunch and we might be gone for two or three hours.

We’d walk into the Club, pay $2.00, pick up a glass of sweet iced tea, grab a plate and help ourselves to an all-we-could-possibly-eat buffet. On Monday through Thursday, meats included wonderfully cooked fried chicken or pork chops or ham. But Fridays were special because for $2.50 we could eat all the roast beef we wanted. Vegetables were all our southern favorites: mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, collard greens, green beans, lima beans, pole beans – about every kind of bean.

Before, during and especially after every meal we helped ourselves to the club’s signature item: hot, flaky, homemade biscuits. I had experienced good biscuits before, but never quite like the ones they served at the Club. They were huge and steaming hot. And while I had experienced the joy of slathering butter across a hot biscuit before, it was at the Club that I was introduced to one of God’s gifts to biscuits: honey. The Club placed big jars of honey on every table. We’d pour it on top of the melting butter and lower the top of the biscuit so the honey would have dripped out except for the fact that we knew to eat them before the honey hit the table. We would eat these biscuits all during the meal, but after our plates had been cleared away, we’d focus solely on the biscuits and butter and honey.

After a long morning of laying brick and an hour at the Club, we would then drive to a park, lie in the midday sun, make occasional grunting sounds as we snoozed away another hour, dreaming about our next trip to our favorite little five-star restaurant that exists today only in our memories.

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