Kirby: Cracking the code behind cell-phone bills
My 9-year-old grandson watched the 1982 movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" for the first time last week. According to him, the movie is old because it was filmed back "in the one thousands," meaning pre-Y2K.
It's still a good movie. "E.T." features a stranded space alien, secret government agencies and flying bicycles. Know what riveted my grandson's attention the most? The telephone.
Gage: "Why do they have to go inside to call someone?"
When I explained how telephones worked before the age of wireless service, he couldn't get his head around it. Why did a phone need all those wires? Why was it so big? It was ridiculous.
The kid's 9, so I don't hold his technological superiority against him. We're all hostages of the age in which we were raised. I certainly am. You will be. I don't care how on top of technology you think you are right now, the day is coming when you'll be as sharp as fudge.
When I was 9 not only were there no buttons on a phone, if you wanted to call someone in another state, you had to go through an "operator."
An operator was â¦ well, let me see if I can offer the right perspective. A telephone operator would be similar to a website monitor. They facilitated communication, listened in and yanked the connection if you didn't behave.
Getting a phone then was complicated. You called the phone company, stayed close to the house for a few days, then waited until a service guy showed up, drilled, pounded, sawed and finally left you with a phone the size (and weight) of a generator.
Note: Later, we were thrilled with the table space-saving convenience of a wall-mounted version.
Today, I carry a phone around in my pocket. It comes with a GPS, speed dial, music, voicemail, pictures of my grandkids and a calendar.
What I don't have is any @#$% idea how to read my phone bill. This month, it was $101.55. Last month, $158.60. The month before that, $88.05.
I took the phone and the bill down to the local office of my cell provider. For purposes of objectivity here, I'll just say that the name starts with a T. I've also used services that start with S, A, V and one I forgot immediately after hurling the phone into a reservoir.
The guy at the cellphone store was about a day older than my grandson. He looked at my bill and patiently explained my options.
Apparently, I was using all my "after-plan minutes, of which I had a 129 left, in wander mode, outside of Cylon coverage, in Zone 3 with unlimited texting. I would be much better if I switched to a Z contract, which featured two extra wart-bytes of zap" at this point he switched to either German or Chinese.
The kid, bless him, kept pointing at the monitor like I would understand. Explaining my cellphone bill was even worse.
I stopped the kid and asked him to imagine I had just been found by archaeologists. Pretend I'd been dug up a minute ago, had the dirt slapped off me and was told to come in here and buy a phone.
Me: "OK, start again."
Kid: "This one."
Note to cell companies: Don't call. I'm sure there is a perfectly simple and logical explanation for my cellphone bill were I inclined to believe horse#%*. I'm old but I know when I'm having my pocket picked.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.