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“I Understand How Frustrating This Is For You…..”

It’s no secret that if there’s anything that’s likely to ruin my day and cause me massive amounts of anxiety, it’s dealing with large corporate entities, bureaucracy, red tape, and hearing phrases such as “company policy” and “I understand how frustrating this is for you” repeatedly. I don’t really care too much that the people who are somehow screwing me over and ruining my day empathise with how pissed off I feel about it. I just want them to fixit, and to fix it now, not when they get around to it, not when they run through the necessary procedures or speak to the correct person, and not in the 2-14 days it takes for processing. When I screw things up that affect other people, I have to fix them immediately. I believe that everyone everywhere should be held to the same universal standard of accountability.

Yet, somehow, the larger the corporation you happen to be dealing with, the less importance your problem has to whomever you’ve gotten on the phone. Accountability and even apologies for screwing with your life aren’t necessary, and are often not offered. If it were possible to kill people with thoughts and repressed rage, there would be a lot of customer service representatives no longer with us.

This is why my attempts at finding a nice, normal job in the world of corporate America have repeatedly failed. It isn’t that I’ve chosen professions where I wasn’t good at my job, but because—and let’s just be honest here— I’m never going to be the type that’s going to follow copious amounts of rules and detailed procedures regarding how I am supposed to operate. I don’t like busy work. I don’t like red tape. I don’t like solving problems by passing the buck to someone who isn’t me and making it that person’s problem. Most certainly, I *despise* being micro-managed. I tend to be a creative, optimistic person that takes initiative, so former employers have always allowed me more leeway than they likely should have in tolerating my refusal to follow instructions and guidelines, but in the end, it was just never a good fit.

I am reminded of that every single time I need to call the utility company, the bank, the credit card company, or complete some paperwork-oriented task that feels like a waste of my time. Inevitably, I end up putting this stuff off into the “later” pile, on account of how much I hate it. I even hate the automated menus. I feel like there should be an option that says “If you’d like to engage in confrontation with one of our representatives, press 3 now.”

I am especially reminded of this when I travel, and something goes wrong. I do not take a laid-back, Zen, “these things happen” approach to life, as much as I’d like to. Somehow, problems with my hotel or flight or other issues that are of major inconvenience to me end up with me accessing my uber-impatient diva side, the one that presents the impression that I am far more important and cultured than I really am, and I am not about to stand for the treatment I’m receiving, “company policy” or not. People have told me that I’d get better results simply by being calm and friendly about it, not to mention causing myself less anxiety, but I can’t seem to help myself. I don’t take major problems in stride. And, in fairness, being assertive and downright bitchy in the face of unhelpful airline, bus, and hotel employees has often gotten me a resolution I can live with, one contrary to “company policy”. I’ve been put up in four-star hotels at the airline’s expense during a blizzard, been refunded by Greyhound in compensation for a 6 hour layover in Richmond, and put in the VIP suite at the Hilton when the room I booked was smaller and smokier than the one I booked.

This did not work during my recent stay at the Downtown Durham Marriott, the place I called home base during my recent trip. Throughout the years, I’ve happened to accumulate some connections when it comes to hotels, so I often end up staying at nicer places than I really should, for a starving artist such as myself. However, I’ve also noticed that the nicer a hotel is, the less likely they are to accommodate you or care about your level of unhappiness with them. A $60 a night hotel comes with a refrigerator, but a $160 a night hotel will charge you $15 extra per night for the mini-fridge. This has never made sense to me.

Before arriving in Durham, I’d booked a hotel room—pre-paid, of course—for four nights. When I decided to extend my trip by an extra day to accommodate additional plans, I rather assumed I could just add on a night when I arrived at the hotel. After all, it wasn’t like I was going to Times Square. I checked in, and they asked for a credit card for the obligatory $50 incidental deposit, which is always refunded if you don’t use things such as room service or pay-per-view movies. No problems, and before I went to sleep that night, I happened to log on to my mobile banking app and check my balance. Imagine my shock when I discovered that a large amount of money had been removed from my bank account and placed in “pending” status. It turns out the hotel didn’t just charge me for the $50 deposit, but for the deposit, plus the entirety of my stay…which had already been paid.

Of course, I was absolutely livid and called the front desk. The manager on duty informed me he’d cancel out the pending charge, and said “You should never use a debit card for incidentals. This is a common problem. You’re going to have to take this up with your bank tomorrow.”.

First of all, if it’s a common problem, the front desk personnel should inform you of this before they run your debit/credit/bank card. I’d have happily saved myself a LOT of aggravation by giving them $50 in cash. Secondly, since it was their mistake, I shouldn’t be the one that has to get up at 8:30 AM on my vacation to fight with my bank.

It took several phone calls back and forth between me, the hotel, and the bank in order to get the funds released. Since this occurred over a weekend, I didn’t get my money returned to me until my trip was halfway over. On top of it all, the front desk clerk then asked me how I wanted to pay my $50 incidental deposit, and I informed him I wasn’t intending to, and waiving that was the very least they could do to compensate me for the inconvenience.

Even after all that, I still needed an extra night of hotel space, so I asked to book a room for the additional night. I was told the hotel was actually booked, and I inconveniently ended up at a two-star hotel across town. It wasn’t exactly the nicest place I’ve ever stayed, but ironically, the staff was nicer and much more helpful than the service I received at the Marriott, which was two and a half times the nightly rate of the two-star hotel.

While one of the front desk employees with whom I dealt happened to be very nice, and the bar/restaurant/shuttle employees were courteous, I was just extremely off-put by the attitude I received in response to a major inconvenience that might have been avoided by better service at what is supposedly the city’s nicest hotel. It is the first time that such a dramatic inconvenience has happened and I wasn’t offered an upgrade, a lower rate on a subsequent night’s stay, a gift card for hotel services, or some form of compensation. I was barely offered an apology, and I fully intend to pursue this issue with the people at Marriott, a chain I’ve always chosen to use during my travels.

The rest of my travels were relatively hassle-free, but as soon as I returned to Atlanta, I was greeted by the knowledge that the train I needed wasn’t running from the bus station’s stop to my part of town, and I’d have to take another train and transfer. Of course, there were no signs or announcements to this effect, so I sat around for over 30 minutes before I realised my train was never arriving. The Guy I Am Currently Dating was supposed to pick me up at the train station near my place, but it was impossible to call him because he’d left his phone at home. On top of that, I was in Atlanta for all of 15 minutes before his mother called me, in a frantic state worrying he was dead. The last thing I could handle was her, so I had to pretend the subway train was going underground and hung up on her.

As soon as I got back home, I sorted through two week’s worth of mail, none of which looked particularly important. I threw away the junk, rescued the bills, and determined life was pretty chilled out here in Atlanta. Then, I opened a perfectly innocent looking bill from SCANA, our gas company, informing me I’d forgotten to pay my bill on time and my gas would be shut off on the 11th at 5 PM if the bill wasn’t paid. Unfortunately, it was the 15th. Oooops.

I quickly logged on and paid the gas bill, but of course it was too late. My gas had been shut off, and a call to the reconnection department told me that someone couldn’t come out until Monday to reconnect it. So, upon my return, I spent my weekend with no hot water.

The gas repair technician showed up at 10 AM this morning, only to tell me he could not light the pilot light for my furnace or water heater because the “equipment wasn’t up to code”. Of course the equipment isn’t up to code; I live in an apartment that was probably built the year I was born and little seems to have been replaced since then. I told him I didn’t own the place, I just rented, and needed hot water. His response: “I understand, but I can’t do it. Your equipment isn’t up to code. You’ll have to call maintenance to have them do it.”

Maintenance was called, but every time I have an issue, it takes 8 calls over 3 days to get anything fixed. I am an increasingly aggravated Alayna, one who is learning the key point about taking vacation/travel time is a very simple one: just don’t come back. Any sense of Zen, peace, inner calm, creativity, what have you, that you may have gained in your new surroundings will immediately evaporate once you return to your usual stressed-out life.

I’d really love to take a shower and wash my hair before Wednesday.

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