After years of hard duty, our cable TV remotes had come to the end of their journey – the numbers had worn off the keypads, buttons no longer worked, & the outsides were held together with duct tape. I called our provider, Cox Cable (ostensibly my friend in the digital age) & asked them to send two new ones. The phone rep said, “We can’t send remotes through the mail in Northern Virginia.” I nicely asked why, did they contain toxic material or something. He laughed, as if I’d said something pathetically ignorant, and said no, that in our market we have to go in person to a Cox Store to get them, & the closest one to me was on Lee Highway in Fairfax.
Ugh. While that’s only a few miles away, it might as well be on the moon. No offense to Fairfax, but that particular commercial strip is like one of the lowest circles of hell. It’s densely overbuilt with ugly retail that goes on for miles, no trees, and the route to get there is always dense, slow-moving traffic with about 100 traffic lights along the way. Bonus: the store is at a heinous 6-point intersection with lots of restrictions on which way you can turn from where, so you have to circle it & vector in, like the landing pattern for O’Hare. My GPS said it should take 18 minutes to get there. It took 49.
So I was cheery when I finally walked into the store. There was a long line, which gave me plenty of time to take in the place: a big dingy white box with fluorescent lights that gave it the ambiance of Soviet Russia, a bunch of flat screens with Cox commercials loudly playing on a loop, two empty blue counters with scratched-up Lucite chairs, a pegboard wall with a sparse selection of electronic accessories for sale, four cash registers (one open), and a bunch of Cox Cable posters hung haphazardly on the walls. The woman in front of me in line was carrying an unhappy shrieking toddler. The person in front of her was a 95-year-old man.
After 20 minutes, it was my turn. I stepped up to the register & politely told the lady I needed 2 new remotes. I gave her the old ones and my account number. She noted it in the computer, turned around, took 2 new ones out of a cabinet behind her, and handed them to me. It took less than 15 seconds. She said, “Thank you. Would you be interested in finding out about how we can save you more money by bundling & switching your phone & Internet service to Cox?” Now, I hate people who yell at airport ticket agents or are snotty to wait staff or act annoyed that they have to stand in line. But that day, after the royal-pain-in-the-arse journey there and the wait, the idea that I would voluntarily do anything to spend more time on this errand was insane.
Knowing she was only doing her job, I replied, “No thanks – but if they’d like to send me some info I’d be happy to look at it.” Then I had to ask. “I know you don’t make the rules, but why couldn’t Cox just mail the new remotes, or have a service truck couldn’t just drop them off when they have a call near me? I’m not trying to give you a hard time, but why did this have to be done in person?” (In hindsight, I was naïve to expect there’d be a comprehensible or remotely satisfactory answer.)
She looked at me with great pity, like I’d said something really stupid, cocked her head, smiled & said, “Well, mailing them would be so …” & made a face that suggested extreme ickiness. “If we mailed them, you wouldn’t get to come here & have face-to-face interaction & see what we have to offer. We want you to enjoy the in-store experience.”
O.M.G. Seriously? In other words, “It’s one of the only opportunities we have to hold you hostage in person”? The in-store experience is a precious gift they’re bestowing on me? Who are their marketing people who came up with that load of utter poo – lobotomized donkeys?
It took all the self-control I could muster not to twirl around, with my arms outstretched, like Maria on the mountaintop in The Sound of Music, and sing, “Of course you’re RIGHT! I’m SO FREAKIN’ HAPPY! This has been the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE! However could I have missed ALL THIS???”
Then I would have rubbed my body against the flat screens and rolled all over the dirty gray carpet moaning with pleasure, after which I would have kissed the cashier and everyone in line full on the mouth, then exited the store screaming, “! I LOVE COX CABLE! I HAVE NEVER FELT SUCH RAPTURE BEFORE! THANK YOU, THANK YOU! A MILLION TIMES, THANK YOU! I’LL BE BACK TOMORROW, and EVERY DAMN DAY AFTER THAT! YOU COMPLETE ME!! DOES ANYONE HAVE A CIGARETTE?”
I’m almost looking forward to the next time we need a new remote.