Fun With Cell Phones

There is one industry which has consistently been a poor performer as far as customer service is concerned: the cell phone industry. I have had my ups and downs with various providers. Mostly it has nothing to do with the quality of actual cell phone service. The majority of it has to do with the way they treat their customers.

The best cell phone coverage and customer service I have ever had was our cell phones in Mexico. We used Telcel as pre-pay customers and did not have a monthly bill or contract. If you were a casual cell phone user, it was actually cheaper to buy pre-pay credit than to have a contract or a monthly plan. For heavy users it made more sense, but not for anything we ever used the cell phones for. Because we were pre-pay users I never had to deal with their customer service.

My experience in Argentina has been disappointing as far as customer service goes. The actual cell coverage and ability to make phone calls has been as expected, but the customer service has been pretty typical of the industry.

I signed up for a monthly plan in October with Movistar. This is not a contract, so if I decide to drop at any time I am able to do so. They have no hooks in me to make me stick with them. This is the situation in which a cell phone company should bend over backwards to treat their customers right. I have two other major carriers I can sign up with if Movistar does not make me happy.

Since October I got a bill in November the day after they were going to cut off my service for non-payment. Fortunately, they sent me a text message alerting me to the fact that I needed to pay my bill. Since that bill I have not gotten any bills sent to my house. I have only received the text message telling me to pay my bill within 3 days or they will cut off my service. Each month I contact them and ask them to send me a bill to my house. They check the address every time to confirm they have it correct. However, it never arrives.

Last month they said they would send December, January and February bills to me within 15 days. Never arrived. This month they said they will send January, February and March bill to me within 10 days. We will see what happens, but I don’t have much hope. Interestingly, the landlord’s phone bill arrives at our house with the exact same address as our bill. So we know that the problem is not that they cannot find the house to deliver it.

I want to pay my bill. What I don’t want is to be hounded with a text message every month which says that I have to pay within 3 days or they will cut me off. It makes me feel like a bad customer. I use the paper bill as a reminder that the bill is due.

That brings me to yesterday.

I went to the Movistar office to talk with someone face to face. Up to this point I have talked on the phone a few times, but mostly chatted with a customer service rep via Twitter each month I have had a problem. I thought going to the office would give me a chance to see a real person and show them that I am an honest guy who really does want to pay their bill.

The gate keeper at the Movistar office door told me that I could consult my bill on their computer terminal since I have not received a bill in the mail. I told her I was not interested in looking at a computer screen. She then sent me to a receptionist who printed out a copy of my bill. After explaining to him that I was more interested in fixing the problem than just getting a new printout of the bill, he told me to pick up one of the courtesy phones to talk with a representative. I explained to him that I have trouble communicating over the phone since Spanish is not my native language. Even though there are 20 customer service representatives standing around in the same room we were in, they were not able to talk to me because they only deal with signing up for new plans or for changing plans. Their job was not to fix billing problems.

So I took the newly printed bill and asked him what window I needed to visit to pay my bill. He told me I could not pay my bill there at the Movistar office. I had to go to a kiosk around the corner to take care of it.

I spent an hour to go downtown to the office in which the man printed out a bill for me (which I could have done from their website) and then could not pay the bill while I was there. I accomplished nothing in the whole process other than getting my blood pressure up.

I am paid up for another month. But if Movistar cares to keep getting my money each month they are going to have to shape up between now and next month. Argentina has recently implemented number portability. I can walk across the street to another provider and get set up with them. I am sure they would be glad to have my business.

Long Trip – Good Fellowship

Saturday I had the opportunity to preach in a deaf church on the other side of Buenos Aires. It only takes about 1.5 hours by private car to get to the church. I was taking a small group of people from our church with me. Those who went with me are interested in deaf ministry and are taking the sign language classes we are teaching. This was a good opportunity for them to see a different type of ministry in that I was going to be preaching in sign language instead of interpreting what someone else said.

Bus #1
We took a bus to get to the bus station. Fortunately, while we left 30 minutes later than I wanted to from the church, we were able to get a bus immediately upon arriving at the bus stop. On Saturdays it sometimes takes 45 minutes or more to catch a bus. We were able to get to the bus station relatively easily.

Bus #2
There was a bit of a wait to get on the main bus that was to take us across town. This was a direct-ish bus from our city to a city about 40 minutes from our final destination. We were going to be on the main highway most of the way. There would still be stops along the side of the road, but we weren’t stopping at every other street corner to pick up and drop off riders.

Just before we got to the highway our radiator sprung a leak. We all had to exit the bus and try to catch whatever bus came along behind us.

Bus #3
The first bus that came by was not going to the right destination. The next bus was going where we wanted, but it wasn’t a direct run. Even though we knew it would be slower, we decided that a “bus in the hand was better than two on the highway” (or something like that). This bus ended up taking much longer than we had hoped. While I buffered in 2 hours of delays into my travel times, each one of the issues that cropped up ate away at all the extra time we had.

We finally got to the town where we were needed to jump on a train to get us close to the church. The train trip was uneventful and took us where we needed to be. The only issue was that it was packed and our group of seven had to split up a bit to find a place to stand. We got to our stop a few minutes after the church service was supposed to start.

Instead of catching our final bus to the church, the pastor came and picked us up. He only has one car, so we weren’t sure how that was going to work. But there was another family visiting the church from another town too who had a car to help us get from the train station to church.

Since none of the congregation had arrived yet, the fact that the pastor left the church to pick us up was not a problem. In fact, after the pastor dropped us off at the church he went and picked up the church folks.

We had a good church service. There were only two Deaf in the service, but we had other hearing visitors. It was a good experience for the people from our church to be there. We also had good fellowship exchanging ideas and goals in the ministry. It was not until 11:00 when we started the trip back home. Thinking that it would take 3 to 5 hours to get home, we were not really excited about the trip. But, the pastor and the visitor from another town graciously offered to give us a ride home. This meant an almost 2 hour drive for them each way. While we would have never asked them to do us this favor, we are glad they offered to take care of us.

Just another reminder that getting around without a car is not impossible, but it sure is inconvenient at times. I don’t miss paying $4 a gallon for gas though. Each time I ride my bike by a gas station I have to think that I have a little more money in my pocket for other needs.

Shocking and Disappointing Revelation

I knew it was time to write a new prayer letter for our supporting churches. While I have tried to maintain a schedule of writing one at the beginning of certain months, or setting reminders in my calendar to help me get a new letter out, these reminders never seem to keep me on schedule. The reality is that I usually just write a letter when I remember it and hope that I remember every 6 to 8 weeks.

This week was one of those weeks I began thinking that it was time to get a new letter in the mail. I went to my ministry website to read my previous letter and see what I wrote so that I can pick up the new letter from there. I was shocked (and saddened) to see that the last time I wrote on the site was back in the middle of November. That was three and a half months ago! Sigh.

I did update the site today with a little snippet of news. I also wrote the first draft to the new prayer letter. I will try to polish it up by Monday and get it in the process of being mailed next week. I need someone who will send me a reminder every so often to help me stay on top of this. Any volunteers?

If you do not get our prayer letter by email, you can go to and sign up using the little box in the right column.

41 Years, 41 Kilometers

Last week I celebrated 41 years of life on this planet. I wanted to celebrate by riding 41 Km on my bike. The final result was a 43.7 Km ride (even though this map shows further (the map is stupid)). I rode from our house in Gonnet to Ensenada up by the river. I have never been to Rio de la Plata before. The river is just 5 miles “as the crow flies” from the house, but by way of roads the shortest route is about 9 miles. A 41 Km ride (about 25 miles) sounded like a great time to visit the river.

Rio de La PlataFrom Ensenada I rode out to Punta Lara taking a road along the coast. It is not a very pretty coast, but the river is so large that it looks like an ocean coast. The next closest point of land is 25 miles across to Uruguay. Maybe if I practice my swimming enough then next year I can swim 42 Km to the other side.

When I was going out to the northwest along the coast, I noticed the wind was strong in my face. But I didn’t realize how strong it was until I reached my turn around point and started coming back. As soon as I turned around I immediately went into my highest gear and didn’t slow down until I had to turn off the coast road and started heading back down to La Plata.

The main highway connecting Punta Lara with La Plata is a divided highway that is straight and flat. Actually a very nice road to ride on. It is concrete and mostly smooth. I was impressed by how few cars were on the road. However, in the video below you actually see a couple of cars and a motorcycle. That was a rare few moments on my ride down that road. I probably only saw 2 other cars the whole time. When I got back to La Plata I discovered why. There were protests going on (for what reason I never found out) and the protesters were blocking the road. No one coming from La Plata to the river could drive up the road. I assume that the lack of traffic going my way was because anyone who had come from La Plata knew that it was blocked going up, so they did not return that way.

Tractor with boat trailerWhen I got back into La Plata, the main road going around the city was blocked by another protest group. I had to take a couple of detours from my intended route to make it back home. That is where I added on the extra distance to my ride that I had not planned. However, because of the change in route, I was not sure if I had gone longer, shorter or about the same. So I added a little bit extra to the ride at the end.

My stats were 43.72 Km in 2:18:04. My average speed was 11.81 MPH. That isn’t too bad considering I am on a mountain bike and not a road bike. I also did not stop the clock when I pulled over at a store and bought some water and peanuts. I also stopped for a bit to take pictures of a strange sight. There was a tractor sitting by the river’s edge. It had a boat trailer connected like it had just delivered a boat to the water.

It was a fun ride. I need to do some more long rides like that again. I want to do a bike tour, but I need to find some time to take a couple of days off and decide where I want to go. I was thinking that if I could couple a 3 or 4 day trip with an opportunity to visit another church that would be great.

Did I suddenly get transported back to Mexico?

Today while running in the local park, which is called La República de los Niños (Children’s Republic), I almost ran over a car. The name of the park is significant and, yes, the wording of me running over the car, instead of the car running over me, is specific.

La República de los Niños is a theme park designed for children. It has a little fairy tale town built in miniature and is geared towards teaching children citizenship and manners. There are some carnival type rides, but mostly it is known for the government type buildings where schools bring bus loads of children to teach them things like how the judicial system works. Because of the 1.4 mile track around the main part of the park, it is also popular with runners, walkers and cyclists.

This morning I was running on the 2.2 mile running trail that goes around the inside perimeter of the park. I had to cross the only paved road on that route when car pulled up to the intersection to make a left hand turn. Instead of pulling up perpendicular to the intersection and looking for crossing traffic, he pulled through the intersection on the left side of the road (the wrong side) and cut the corner driving straight into oncoming traffic. There is nothing surprising about either of these acts since that is the normal way people make a left hand turn here and he was in a very low traffic environment since he was at the park where pedestrians (many of whom are children) reign and cars are minimal.

Map and line graphic

In the picture, I am the yellow line running left to right and the car is the red line. Just based on the size of the road I had to cross, you can imagine that I had already crossed more than half way through the road before the car came up to the intersection. I thought for sure the car would yield to me since I was almost across the road. However, I gave up hoping he would stop and I pulled up at the absolute last second so that I could give his car a good whack with my knee as he ran over my toes.

Then an evil thought crossed my mind. I entertained the idea of running across his hood. Timing was perfect so that I could have stepped on his bumper and then right onto the hood. Two steps and I would jump off the other side. But then I thought that if he happened to speed up or slow down I would lose my balance and probably would do more damage to me than him. So I stopped and stood there just as he stopped.

I raised my arms out to my sides and stared at him as if to say, “Hey Idiot! Can’t you see I am already mostly across the road? Don’t you know this is a park where the pedestrian has the right of way? Why can’t you go through the intersection like you know how to drive instead of cutting through 2 lanes of oncoming traffic just so you can hit me?” However, I said nothing. I simply stepped back and ran around the passenger side of the car and on down the trail. As I ran by I heard the lady in the passenger seat yelling. I assume she was screaming at me from the tone of her voice, but she could have been yelling at the driver.

I ended up running twice as far as I intended to run this morning just to work off the steam before I got home.

When I did make my way home from the park, just 4 blocks away on residential streets, I was thinking how few problems I have had while running here in Argentina. In Mexico, this type of incidence with cars was a weekly occurrence, but here I have been blessed to have few problems with inept drivers. I know this will probably come as a shock to my Argentine missionary friends, but Argentina is not the worst traffic in the world. I have been around a bit and, while Argentina is not perfect, it is certainly not the worst I have experienced.

Here’s to hoping it will be another 7 months of running before I get my blood boiling again over a stupid driver.