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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 anewscafe.com 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.