Time Warner Must Die

I haven't wanted to say anything because I'm really not the type to complain, as you can tell from the positive message of my blog/website. But Time Warner ruined my holidays and continues to haunt me. The company does not deserve to be a phone company (you probably didn't even know they WERE a phone company) and I just have to spread the word.

I'll give you the whole sad history. What the hell, if you're not interested you can click away. But don't. It's cathartic to write about it, but it will be even more cathartic if I can actually succeed in raising awareness about how much Time Warner sucks. If I can prevent even one formerly uninformed consumer from making the switch to TW for phone service, then this blog will not be in vain. If I convince them to forgo TW internet service and cable too, well, that's just a bonus.

I know that USUALLY there's nothing more boring than hearing other people's issues with their utility companies ("I had to stay home from work to let in the cable guy because they would only commit to coming between 9:00 and 5:00, and then he came at 4:55.") The only thing worse is the blow by blow on how bad the traffic was when they were late to pick you up after your surgery/coach-class flight/piercing.

We've all suffered mistreatment at the hands of those we depend on to keep our houses functioning. But what I have gone through with Time Warner for the past four months is a whole new level of hell.

Here's what happened. A few years back I responded to an offer from Comcast, our ISP, to switch to their new phone service. It was cheaper than whatever our branch of AT&T was calling itself back then, and I like to be on the cutting edge of technology (that's why I had the same Nextel phone for five years). I made the switch. And I loved it. Except for the one time when a squirrel ate through the cable, it was flawless.

Then TW bought my Comcast service area. They screwed up the transition of our internet service so spectacularly in October 2006 that I'm convinced it actually moved up my husband's and my date of separation by at least a month. The level of incompetence was beyond anything described on an anti-TW chat forum. (Based on my conversations with other TW customers, I'm sure there must be such things; if not I might have to start one.)

For some reason, the phone service didn't morph at the same time as the internet service. Everything was fine, until one day I received a postcard from TW telling me to schedule an appointment to swap out a box, which sounded misleadingly innocuous. It had to be done by a certain date, or I would be without phone service.

By this time, my husband had moved out and I was reevaluating the extremely high costs of every utility. Did we really need so many phone lines? TV channels? Chargers plugged in? I spoke to a TW representative who convinced me to dump DirecTV, which I must point out was the most wonderful and dependable TV service I have ever known. But I would save so much by combining phone, cable and internet under TW that I couldn't resist. The combination was called, suspiciously enough, the "All the Best" plan. Don't you wish someone "all the best" when they are going into the hospital?

To summarize, the plan would give me all three services for $160 a month. Heck, that's what I had been paying for DirecTV alone! (That fabulous service doesn't come without a hefty price tag.) I signed up. I wish life came with an "Undo" button.

I won't get into how much TW Cable sucks. Suffice it to say that it's on every level. But this is about their phone service and I am determined to stay focused.

As soon as they swapped out the phone box, everything started to go wrong. I had two and three guys here for six and eight hours at a time, multiple times a week, week after week. Every new guy who came told me that every previous guy had been a moron. But I wasn't to worry--this new guy assured me he had the answers. Except that things just got worse and worse. I had no intercom, which meant I had no doorbell and also couldn't buzz my son in his room to tell him to stop playing Rock Band. I had no fax machine. Lines 1 and 2 were consistently reversed. I was down to three working extensions out of 11, and they were all upstairs. And then I had no service at all.

Keep in mind that this took place from October through January. Right around Christmas, I was living the Amish life. In addition to the endless phone problems, my refrigerator died, my pool thermostat went out, and five light bulbs burned out in a single week. There is a serious feng shui shift going on since my husband moved out. I think the house is adjusting to the sudden absence of 10 tons of crap that had been here for 15 years. Ultimately the house will realize it can relax into its new status as a calm and clutter-free haven, but right now it seems to be working hard to re-create the chaos that I thought had moved on in October.

But I digress. Damn, I was really trying to stay on topic. I bought a replacement phone system on eBay since one or more of the TW technicians literally killed my previously functioning system. I hired a former phone company employee, Leon, who now works as a consultant undoing the messes that TW (and, to be fair, others) are making. It took him about 12 hours over the course of a couple of weeks to repair the TW-inflicted damage. The eBay system didn't work and had to be returned, which meant an unwanted trip to the post office and a loss of shipping costs in two directions. Leon took the old system home and rewired it. Methodically and impressively, he resurrected a dead system and brought my house alive again. By the way, if you're in Southern California and suffering as I have been, give him a call at 800-834-8748. He charged me a very reasonable $600 and if it takes me the rest of my life I will get TW to reimburse me.

I can see this is too far gone to make a long story short, but I will try to cut to the chase. I got my first TW bill. It was more than $400. Not only had they charged me $125 for installation (!), but that $160 monthly fee turned out to be more than $250 before taxes due to two pages of previously unmentioned add-on charges. Not only am I not saving money, I am paying more for worse service AND supporting an evil empire.

As if I didn't have enough to do, I now need to make the switch to AT&T for phone and internet and DirecTV for satellite and DVR service. All this will entail more appointments and probably a lot of grief. But I won't complain a bit. I will be TW-free and another step closer to that haven my house and I so crave.

Just say no to Time Warner. Spread the word.

The New Year's Day Parties

For 20 years I hated the coming of the New Year. I had married a man whose only real tradition was a New Year's Day omelette party he had given since 1974. He'd lived in Boston then, and for some reason that was never fully explained to me, the event was called the Duck Pond. Or maybe his house was called the Duck Pond, I really don't know. I'm sure it says something about me that I never bothered to get it straight despite our two decades together. But it says something about the event, too.

The entire time we were together, my holidays were overwhelmed by preparations for NYD. The month before, we argued about what had happened to the most recent guest and shopping lists. There was the pressure to come up with a clever invitation, typically based on a movie (e.g., "A Few Good Eggs" the year of "A Few Good Men," "Eggz" the year of "Antz" and last year's takeoff of "Borat," "Omlat.") We could never go out on New Year's Eve because we were cleaning the house and prepping food. There was general anxiety and pressure about entertaining the hordes. And that was before the event itself, which completely ground me to dust. I'm a good sport and an enthusiastic hostess, but this was one party I just couldn't get behind.

The first year his NYD impacted me was 1988. After knowing each other through business for several years and dating for six months, we had gotten engaged. He'd told me he didn't speak to his mother, which worked for me, but then invited her to NYD. I can still see her gliding up the front walkway like a pink battleship in her St. John suit. She brought us a box of See's candy that was infested with ants. The two of them acted like they had spoken a week earlier even though it had been years and she hadn't even RSVPed. The whole thing freaked me out, but what could I do? She was in my life and there she remained, on and off, until her death a few years ago.

From the beginning NYD was difficult for me. While I always had some input on the guest list, the day was overrun with his business associates and acquaintances. He would invite a salesclerk who waited on him during his Christmas shopping, or a friendly waiter. He invited people he described as friends, but whom we never saw the other 364 days of the year. I can think of many who showed up every year for two decades yet never once invited us out to dinner, much less to a party at their house.

Every year the party grew. We had about 50 people in 1988 and 200 last year. Many were the times I would ask my husband who someone was, only to have him tell me, "I thought you invited him." We had friends of friends. Heck, we had friends of acquaintances and probably even acquaintances of acquaintances. We had some people who told their friends to stop by, then never showed up themselves. One year, the party made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It was completely out of control.

In time I came to see NYD as a dysfunctional networking event. People showed up to see who else was there, not to visit with us. I caught them looking at the bottom of the china in my china cabinet and I'm sure they were rifling through our medicine cabinets. A couple of years ago I roped off the stairs to keep people on the first floor and watched as guest after guest stepped over the rope.

One year we had our kitchen remodeled and due to the inevitable delays, the work was finished on New Year's Eve. We spent the night bringing dishes back in from the garage, washing everything and putting it away before we could start grating cheese and chopping mushrooms. I vividly remember taking a break to hose down the back patio in the dark, sobbing with exhaustion.

One year we were building a pool in the backyard and put up a sign asking people not to go back there. It had rained the day before and the construction site was muddy. People opened the gate with the sign on it and walked right through. A couple of years ago it rained on New Year's Day in Los Angeles for the first time in 50 years. Our invitation clearly said the party would be cancelled in the event of rain. Almost 100 people showed up anyway, saying they thought the rain would end soon. (It didn't.)

One year, I actually convinced my husband to forgo the party. It was a few months before we planned to start our kitchen renovation, and I was able to convince him to take a year off. We made plans to go to the movies and were walking out the door when guests showed up. This was back before we switched to email, and three separate groups said they figured their invitations had been lost in the mail. We had virtually no food in the house, but sure enough he ran to the store for eggs and served them. No movie after all.

But my favorite story (in a horrible, can-you-believe-it way) came from a few years ago. I was in the kitchen frantically refilling platters when two women entered, looking around. "Do you know what they paid for this house?" one asked the other. "It depends whether they bought it at the bottom of the market or the top," was the response. I looked over at these strangers and said, "I know what they paid for the house." Disdainfully one asked, "How would YOU know?" "Because it's my house," I said. "Oh, and it's beautiful!" the other answered, without missing a beat.

After that, I told my husband I was done. He could hire caterers and a party planner and a cleanup crew, but I would not be spending my holidays preparing to entertain 200 strangers who wanted only to make business connections and peer more closely into our personal life.

This year, for the first time since 1988, New Year's Day was issue-free for me. In honor of our separation, I did suggest "Atonement" as a movie he might consider for his invitation spoof. Instead, he went with "No Reservations." He said he scaled it back this year, which I had begged him to do since the early '90s. But he couldn't end his tradition. He had the party at his new place, with his new girlfriend, and I dropped off our son to spend the day.

I started a new tradition of my own: reading by the fire and a long hike with a dear friend. Now that's a good start to a year.

Originally published January 1, 2008