During the past week while Embry and I remained in self-quarantine, due to our exposure to someone who had Covid-19, I have done three things and only three things: first, worry about the coronavirus; second, via phone and computer, try to stay in touch with family and friends and stay involved with the nonprofit boards I serve on; and, finally, try to get my computer working properly. The last item is the subject of today’s blog post.
I am an Apple devotee. I own an iMac desktop, a Mac laptop, an Apple Watch and an iPhone. I am all in. I also have had good experience with the help I have received from Apple Help on the phone. Someone calls you right back and these experts seem to know what they are doing. The dozens of Apple people I have talked to over the years have generally been courteous and understanding.
“Betsy” (cannot remember her real name) was the Apple expert that I received help from yesterday. If I had to place her accent, I would guess Brooklyn, “LongGiland” or maybe “Jouesy.” The conversation started like they all do:
Betsy: “And to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with today? First and last name, please.”
Me: “Joe Howell.”
Betsy: “So, Joe, how can I help you today?”
Me: “Well, you are the sixth Apple person that I have talked to this week regarding my computer problem. So far no one has been able to fix it. And I have a case number you can refer to, in fact five different case numbers. The problem started when the screen saver would not come on and the computer would not turn off by itself, and that began about a week ago, then it morphed into the computer locking up all the time, so I had to shut it down and restart it several times a day, and then it stopped getting emails. Yesterday I replaced my old operating system with Catalina, the latest operating system, and that was supposed to solve the problem, but it didn’t.”
At this point there was a pause while Betsy reviewed the case notes others had written. She then initiated the drill that her Apple colleagues had all followed in previous phone calls. First the screen sharing, then the pointing with a red arrow, directing the fool at the other end exactly where to click. This was followed by clicking the “sleep” option about a dozen different times to test if the problem had been fixed after making the changes, but no success. The computer screen remained on. Then the computer locked up. Restart. More changes. More lock ups. And on this went for close to an hour.
Betsy was beginning to lose patience. Her tone of voice was never all that gentle to begin with, but now she sounded more like a drill sergeant. “Do this, do that, follow my instructions, watch the pointer for god sakes, pay attention.”
Betsy: “Joe, you have got to try.”
Me: “I have been trying for six days!”
Betsy: “Well, you have not been trying hard enough, Joe.”
Me: “So what do you suggest?”
After a long pause during which time I heard what sounded like Betsy taking several deep breaths, she directed me to hold down the “control” key, the “command” key, and the “r” key and the “p” key all at the same time. If you have an Apple keyboard, you can see where all those keys are. The first two are at the bottom left and the “r” and “p” keys are near the top and almost at opposite end of the keyboard. Holding all four keys down at the same time was actually not all that hard but could not have been accomplished without using two hands. Then came the hard part: turning on the computer while keeping the four keys pushed down. The on-off button on a Mac desktop is located on the back of the computer. The conversation continued:
Me: “That is not possible. I can’t reach the off-on button without taking my hands off the keys.”
Betsy: “Yes you can, Joe.”
Me: “I am trying. For goodness sake, it is located on the back of the computer!”
Betsy: “Try harder, Joe.”
For the next 15 minutes or so I gave it my best effort. Using my thumb and index finger I freed up my little finger, which I stretched like a contortionist at the circus might do so I almost could press down the on-off button; but every time I thought I had made it, my fingers on the keyboard slipped, and I had to start over. Each time I failed there was another sigh on the other end of the line.
Me: “Who designed this computer anyway? What were they thinking?”
Betsy: “Joe, Apple can only help those who help themselves.”
At this point I had a brilliant idea. Embry! She was in the other room working on a report. I told Betsy to hold on, rushed out of my office, and hollered that I was in the middle of a crisis and needed her help immediately. Looking bewildered she came in and then held down the four keys while I pushed the on-off button. Voila! We did it.
Whatever was supposed to happen next did not happen. Chalk up another failure.
Embry departed, shaking her head.
There was another sigh from Betsy, followed by another long silence.
Me: “Well, don’t worry about it. No one else at Apple could fix it either. I will just take it into an Apple Store.”
Betsy: “No you won’t.”
Me: “Why not?”
Betsy: “They are all closed and will remain closed until the pandemic is over.”
Me: “Does this mean the computer can’t be fixed?”
Betsy: “Not necessarily. You might be able to go to an independent contractor and I will give you the name of one near you. Where to you live?”
Me: “Washington, DC.”
Betsy: “Is that on the East Coast or West Coast?”
Me: “Washington, DC?”
Betsy: “Yes, that is where you said you live, didn’t you?”
Me: “Washington DC is the capital of the United States. It is on the East Coast.”
Betsy: “Thank you.”
When Betsy said the closest independent contractor was in Baltimore and not taking appointments for the next couple of weeks, I told her to forget it. I gave up. I did not keep track of the time I had allocated to this task but am sure it approached what used to be a full day’s work at the office each of the six days before everyone started working from home. Maybe that was a good thing. It took my mind off the coronavirus.
Her concluding remarks were decidedly more cheerful, “Joe, it has been a pleasure serving you today. Is there anything else you would like Apple to help you with today?”
I hung up the phone.
I stumbled out of the room, dejected, to catch the latest on the pandemic. When I returned about a half hour later, to my astonishment the computer had put itself to sleep. It has been working perfectly ever since.
I remain puzzled but am asking no questions. Hey, you take what you can get. Could this be an omen for the pandemic that it might not get as bad as we think and that in the end we will pull through? Life, you know, is full of surprises. You give it your best shot and then let the chips fall.