We have spent our first month in Tijuana trying to find our own two-state solution — how to get an affordable international phone plan so that we can communicate in and from Mexico and the U.S.
To make a long story short, we discerned that T-Mobile is the best option. We have four lines with AT&T.
But the process of paying off an early termination fee and unlocking the AT&T phone in order to transfer the lines — without losing our phone numbers — was absolutely Orwellian. We were told by AT&T that we couldn’t do it. And we were told by T-Mobile that we had to do it or we would have to trade in perfectly good phones and buy new ones to get the T-Mobile plan we wanted.
Over the last few weeks, we had visited the AT&T store in the Plaza Bonita Mall three times, the T-Mobile store four times. These stores are about 10 steps away from each other across a mall aisle. Back and forth, back and forth. There was no solution. But we did have a T-Mobile salesperson we liked who was bearing with us.
Finally yesterday, Mark, Jack and I went back again to the T-Mobile store to throw up our hands and trade in our old phones for new ones. We got hung up on yet another question about AT&T unlocking them. My voice started rising. And then our salesperson said, there really IS a way to get the phones unlocked and keep your numbers, we see AT&T customers do it all the time!! I promise!! Just go across the aisle and talk to them!! Again!! I’d go with you but I’m in a pink T-Mobile shirt!!
We agreed, but I told Mark he had to do the talking because I was ready to kill somebody.
We crossed the aisle. I was so ticked off, I did the talking anyway, before Mark could interrupt. The very young AT&T employee who was helping us explained that why yes, we could make it work, but T-Mobile had to take the first step. No, no!! I said. It won’t work that way!! Yes it will, he said.
And then he added: I’ll walk over to T-Mobile with you and explain.
THIS was unexpected, especially as he was wearing a blue AT&T shirt. He told his boss where he was going; his boss looked confused and wary. But before the boss could say no, our young man hurriedly joined us and ushered us across the aisle.
We met up with our T-Mobile salesperson. The two salespeople sort of agreed on the solution, but not really, until another T-Mobile employee, who had earlier defected from working for AT&T, joined us.
It can be done, he said. I’ve done it. Here’s how. You have to call AT&T customer service and tell them THIS. The young man from AT&T agreed that he was correct.
Still dubious, my negotiating team and I decamped to the food court to call. As expected, the AT&T customer servicer rep on the phone said it couldn’t be done. Then I said oh yes it can, a live AT&T person told me so. I said it calmly. She said she would research it.
And then, reader, she said that was right and did what we needed.
We are still in the midst of it all, so I can’t declare total victory yet. And the biggest lesson I’ve taken from it is that the American people are hostages of predatory phone companies.
But I’ve also determined that there are six morals to this story about negotiation and diplomacy that perhaps even Israel and Palestine could learn from. And they are:
1. Diplomacy requires a fed-up person/population who keeps saying this is insane, it doesn’t make sense, I don’t understand (me). This person/population might be on the verge of violence, or sobbing. Something important must be at stake — like the inability to talk to your child across the border, when she calls in anguish about a problem, without mentally ticking off how many dollars a minute it is costing you to provide aid and comfort.
2. Diplomacy requires a really young person/new perspective who hasn’t been fully trained in self-protection or corporate self-interest yet (the AT&T rep in the blue shirt).
3. Diplomacy requires a more mature person/experienced perspective of someone who has studied both sides and understands them (the T-Mobile guy who had left AT&T).
4. Diplomacy requires at least one mediator that the ticked-off people have a relationship of trust with (the salesperson in the pink T-Mobile shirt who had been trying to help us).
5. Diplomacy requires persistence. Even after an agreement is negotiated, the interests of each side are so entrenched that it may require herculean efforts to make the agreement work. Some people in power on one or both sides will still say the agreement isn’t in effect, or it doesn’t work that way. The ticked-off people have to insist that it will.
6. Sometimes the trained diplomats (Mark) don’t even have to speak up. They just have to be there, as a back-up, in case the ticked-off people lose control.
Shew. It is exhausting solving the world’s problems, much less our own phone tussle. And ours might not even be solved.
Then again, nothing ever gets completely solved, right? Our goal is to be able to communicate freely (if not entirely free) with our family on both sides of the border. And we’re one step closer, which is give us the energy to take the next step, and the next.