Frustration on the Verizon


In the beginning — way back before downtown Redding was cloistered in concrete, before Pine Street School became an office complex, I used a rotary dial phone. To this day I still say I dial a phone number, much as I say “roll down a car window” or “listen to an album.”

Like you, I got hip daddy-o to technology and eventually gave in and bought a perfectly fine little cell phone. Mine was a bottom-of-the-line, nothing-special Verizon number. Good enough for Doni jazz. Incoming calls. Outgoing calls. Alarm clock function when I traveled. That was about it. If I used 10 minutes a month that would be a big deal. Fact is, I had so many unused minutes each month that I could have been a minute-donor.

I blamed my cell phone ignorance and inactivity on the fact that I lived so far out in the boondocks that cell phone reception was nearly non-existent.

So when would I use it? On the rare trip out of town, or when I was in Redding on appointments, mainly to call our home’s land line so my husband — my cell phone co-owner — knew when I was heading up the hill, in case he needed something from the store or whatever.

Even as basic as that phone was, I’m embarrassed to admit that even with my cell phone being a low-frills dealy, I hadn’t a clue how to operate even a fraction of its frills. 

One day last month I practically stumbled across a Verizon Blackberry available for a song. Long story short: Justin, my niece’s husband — a former Verizon technician — had a spare Blackberry. Only used it like twice before he moved onto a snazzy iPhone.

It’s not like I was looking for a new phone. But my old one was, well, so old. And the Blackberry was new and shiny and OMG, the things it could do. If only.

Justin took me for a spin around the Blackberry. See, he said with barely controlled enthusiasm, turn it this way and it’s like the world’s smallest keyboard. Turn it the other way and the screen goes vertical! Type, type, type. Pretty cool the way it fits in the palm of your hand? Way cool!


And, oh, he said, you can use it to take pictures and awesome videos and you can even get notifications about your email and Facebook messages. (Note to self: Get back in FB saddle, asap.)  

I was smitten by that Blackberry. Sold!

Justin said I’d need to take my old phone in to Verizon and have the data transferred onto my new phone. Bub-bye clunker Verizon phone. Hello beautiful slick little smartypants Blackberry Storm smartphone.

I visited one of the Verizon stores- so many from which to choose because they’re about as prevalent as Starbucks.

I met a Verizon Angel. I swear, that was her real name.


I told her I knew pretty much nothing about my old cell phone, let alone my new Blackberry. She was most kind. She smiled and said not to worry, that with a little practice I’d be a Blackberry pro. She zipped around my Blackberry, fingers flying, as she showed me this and that. Scroll like this, answer a call like this, etc.

She made it look simple.

I asked about a headset, so I could type during phone interviews.

I ended up buying a Bluetooth.  (Hands-free ear telephone ear piece.)


What the heck. I’m a businesswoman, the publisher of an online news magazine, for heaven’s sake. If anyone needs technology bells and whistles, it’s me, or I.


Angel worked miracles. She dumped the data from my old phone onto my new one, she helped me select a least-offensive ring tone, she programmed my Bluetooth and Blackberry so they could talk to one another. She told me to come back any time with any question, no matter how stupid it might seem.

I left on a Verizon Cloud 9 — totally wired.

I couldn’t wait to show my twin, who’s a bit more technology savvy than I am. (She can take and email cell phone photos.)  

Shelly: What’s wrong with your neck?

Doni: Nothing. Why?

Shelly: You’re moving your head like a parrot with whiplash or something.

Doni: Silly! It’s my new Bluetooth. I’m afraid to move my head too quickly or my Bluetooth might fall off my ear.

In time, I got used to my tiny Bluetooth, the chafing behind my ear, the way it constantly monitored my every movement, tattling in my ear if the Blackberry was out of range. It was really a nag.

But before I adapted to the Bluetooth, I suffered a steep Blackberry learning curve that began the first morning when I awoke and lifted my Blackberry from its docking cradle to find a cold, lifeless, black-screened rectangle. I pushed buttons, I shook it, I tried everything to rouse it. Nothing worked. Had my infant Blackberry died in its sleep? Was I not supposed to put it on its back? Oh, the tragedy of it all.

I rushed its still body to Verizon’s guardian Angel who went immediately to work.

The Blackberry fluttered open its eyes for Angel. Be still my heart.

Angel patiently showed me all the things I’d already forgotten, and don’t ask me why the Blackberry died in its sleep that first night. All I know is Angel revived it. No problem, she said, that’s why I’m here.

I weaned myself down to just one more meeting with Angel, but this time I brought brownies. It was the least I could do. My Blackberry was so frustratingly foreign to me that I literally answered it upside down a few times, because I couldn’t tell the top from the bottom.

After my last Angel visit, I relied on Justin’s technological help at every family gathering. He kindly talked me through the process of using the key pad, which made me feel as if I had big mitts for hands because whenever I tried to press one key I’d hit about four at once. Justin kept at it, coaching me … no, don’t press so hard, relax, use the back key, it’s your friend, easy, easy, that’s right. Deep breaths, loosen your grip on the phone …

As an aside, I have noticed that Justin comes around less and less these days. He must be pretty busy, which is too bad, because I wanted to ask him why my phone seems to have a mind of its own. I want to know why my Blackberry dials random numbers while it’s inside my purse, and I want to ask him if, for example, I accidentally dial numbers – such as, hypothetically, Cafe Maddalena, my favorite Dunsmuir restaurant – can they tell who called them? If so, I have some apologies to make. (Apparently, my Blackberry programmed Cafe Maddalena on speed dial No. 2, so every time I typed a phone number that began with a “2” I’d dial Cafe Maddalena.)

It’s true that with time and practice, everything, even my Blackberry Storm smartphone, becomes easier.  

Not that I know everything there is to know about my Blackberry now, because that’s far, far from the case.

I know barely enough to do just the basics: outgoing calls, incoming calls, voice mail and the alarm, which sometimes recognizes when I try to hit snooze, yet mostly it just ignores me.

Come to think of it, I use all the simple things on my fancy Blackberry that I did with my old cell phone. What about all the other functions, like the calendar and the media center and instant messaging and email and speed dial and all those other buttons?

I have so many questions, such as why Verizon made a key pad that only someone with a praying mantis-sized index finger could operate, and how the heck do I get the phone to stop chirping every time one of my 690-something Facebook friends leaves a message.

Surely an angel has the answers.

But first, I have some brownies to bake.

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Northern California in the tiny town of Igo.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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17 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon says:

    "Hello beautiful slick little smartypants Blackberry Storm smartphone" and "I have so many questions, such as why Verizon made a key pad that only someone with a praying mantis-sized index finger could operate" are just about the best sentences I have ever read. 🙂

  2. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Sigh. I FINALLY gave in and most reluctantly bought my first-ever cell phone (this only after driving around Vacaville for 20 minutes looking for a pay phone; it finally dawned on me that they are an endangered species). I discovered if you want a cheapo-cheapo phone with NO plan, stores treat you with distatste and aren't going to extend any more assistance than they absolutely have to.

    It's down in the bottom of my purse along with crumpled receipts, torn Wash'n'Dri wrappers, old kleenex, pennies, a Tide Stick, two pens that don't work… in other words, I'm exiled it to no-man's land. I'm trying to pretend it doesn't exist.

    I'm thinking of painting it hot pink and sticking beads on it to see it that'll make me like it more.

  3. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    My cell phone has tendency to send text messages while I'm still composing them. I can't tell you how many times I've sent out text that say something along the lines of "I can meet you for dinner at" or "Yes, but first you need to". I love my cell phone, but it's a fussy creature sometimes.

    I'm waiting for the day when they create a rotary cell phone and I'm all over that.

  4. Avatar Josh says:

    Great column.

    Really enjoyed it.

    I have a droid that thinks it's the smartest thing on earth, so when I'm texting it will replace words I type with, "what I meant to say". People ask if I'm drunk a lot thanks to my phone.

  5. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    I can totally relate to sending out cryptic messages when my phone will auto-correct. . . I have sent some interesting ones!

    Doni, I hope you will learn to use the Blackberry. My iPhone is one of the most amazing things I own. The applications are endless – pedometer, cookbook, phonics for kids, etc. I was reluctant at first, but now being without it in my pocket feels naked.

  6. Avatar BrookeB says:

    Keep at it- you'll get it!

    These 'smart' phones…last night a friend on facebook wrote from her phone, "i thought thongs were supposed to be getting easier." Why it thought she meant to say 'thongs' instead of 'things', I don't quite understand.

    • Avatar Grammalyn says:

      Brooke, I had the EXACT same thing happen with the word "things". I'm 61years old – surely this smartphone is smart enough to know that "thong" is not in my vocabulary (or drawer).

      • Avatar pam says:

        Love your comment about the thong thing! so funny.

        I dont have a cell phone. Yes there are times when one would be really handy and i probably will give in…but have not yet.

        Dont have an ATM card either….Dark age or new age….free spirit..ya think?

  7. Avatar pmarshall says:

    My cell phone is so old, it is turning green, and so am I. I don't think I could ever get the hand of blackberrys; now there is something called "droid"? Oh, the next thing I also hear about is the "kindle". I need to know more about Kindle. Also, I can't get the "hang" of Facebook yet. The times she is leaving me behind.

  8. Avatar Igo Rancheroes says:

    Beautiful piece. Thank you.

  9. Avatar shelly shively says:

    Great piece, Doni, with so many LOL's…I'm sure anyone older than 40 with a cell phone can relate. If only Alexander Graham Bell could see how far his telephone has come…..mind boggling.

  10. Avatar Philbert says:

    I'm making this comment from my BlackBerry. Do you hate me? Good.

  11. Avatar Karen C says:

    Doni, I can relate to the praying mantis sized fingers…maybe I can train one to type. maybe not!

    I love my Droid and am constantly amazed about what it can do. I love the GPS and the lady who tells me exactly when and where to turn. I use it just for fun sometimes, even when I know when I'm going. I downloaded an application called Weather Bug, love it. I always know what is happening with the weather and it even sends me Alerts! I've learned to take pictures and email them to our kids, so fun.

    The whole thing behind the learning curve is to play with it at every opportunity. I use it in Donna's shop when I am waiting for her to arrive, or when my husband is driving. Just play with it, it won't blow up.

  12. Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

    Great column, Doni. I am currently due for a cell phone upgrade and keep putting it off. I am fascinated by the Droid, but would be happy with any phone that let me type an "s" without having to hit the button 4 times. I'm glad to see that I am not the only one that remains a "tecno-not."

    Philbert – Yes.

    • Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

      Oh Lord, someone just showed me how to type in words on my phone. Red faced, but triumphant…who needs a new phone now?!

  13. Avatar Monique Gaido says:

    Thanks, Doni. I really enjoyed the article.

    I have not yet moved into the Smartphone world, although I am sometimes tempted. But I have to smile when I observe the new social phenomena surrounding these new phones. Yesterday I observed a group of friends who got out of a meeting, stood in a circle with their Smartphones, and silently checked their messages. We joked that this was a new way to express friendship or comradery.

    I've heard lots of jokes about multitaskers, but I'm starting to think that uni-taskers could become a dying breed, along with public pay-phones as another reader so accurately observed.

  14. Avatar Margaret Vincent says:

    Although I bought my pre-paid cell phone originally for a different reason, it was the "life-saving convenience" that told me in an instant it was all worthwhile. I was approaching security at the airport when I realized I had left my purse moments before at the restaurant I had just had a pre-flight breakfast with a friend (the purse that had my ID and boarding pass). I quickly fired up that cell phone and called my friend who ran back to the restaurant, got the purse and rushed it back to me so I didn't miss my flight. Forget the youthful folly of staying in quick communication with all of your millions of friends. Plain and simple, its about convenience.