“What can we do for you today?”
“Thanks,” I said. “Need a couple of iPhone 5s for Christmas gifts.”
It was ten a.m. straight up. The Verizon store had just opened for the day. And there was no coincidence to the timing. My plan was to get in and out before the store was choked with customers in a long holiday queue.
“Are these phones going to be upgrades?” the salesman asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
He asked for my phone number, assuming correctly the account was under my name, confirmed some billing questions, after which he turned sharply to the Apple display.
“There are a quite a few options for you in the iPhone category,” he said.
“I’ll save you some time,” I politely interrupted, if there is such a thing as a polite interruption. “I need two iPhone 5Ss. Sixteen gigs. One black, one silver.”
“Very good Sir,” said the salesman, sounding more like a sommelier pairing wines with my electronic entrée. “I’d like to start you with some accessory packages. We have special Christmas deal–“
“Really,” I interrupted yet again. “Just here for the iPhones and maybe to check out some new plans to cut a few dollars off my bill.”
“Oh, we can for sure do that,” assured the salesman. “Can I ask if these phones are for personal use or business?”
“For my two technology obsessed teenagers,” I said.
“Totally understand. Can I ask what kind of business are you in?”
I wanted to answer no. It really wasn’t any of his business. Nor had it a thing to do with the transaction I was hoping to complete in the short window I’d allotted. But to do so required a helpful salesman. And I didn’t want to be rude. So I answered as generically as possible.
“Show business,” I said.
“Have you considered adding a tablet to your plan?” he said, instantly swinging across the room toward the display of iPads and Galaxies.
“Fernando?” I said, assuming the name on his nametag was his own. I couldn’t be certain. In my old Shakey’s Pizza days, we used to switch nameplates all the time merely to amuse ourselves and confuse the customers. Yes, that stood for amusement. Now that I’ve confessed, let me add that his name wasn’t really Fernando. I’ve changed it for the sake of this blog.
“Listen,” I continued with a friendly pat to the salesman’s back. “I know your job is to upsell me. But I’m really just here for the phones. So let’s save us both a load of time and get on with it.”
“Sure thing,” smiled Fernando. “I’ll get the phones and be right back.”
For the next ten or so minutes I occupied myself by catching up on emails and Twitter via my perfectly functional iPhone 4S. Clearly my needs were so much more utilitarian than those of my digitally superior teens. Finally, Fernando appeared with the pair of new devices in neat, shrink-wrapped Apple boxes. We appeared ready to consummate the sale, but not before a quick detour over to another display.
“Great holiday deal on Wi-Fi hot spots,” sold the salesman, already back in the saddle of the upsell express. “No matter where you are, your kids can connect their stuff with this little thing.”
With that, Fernando held up the little Wi-Fi device as if it was something precious and irresistible.
“Thanks,” I said again. “But I need to put my kids on a data diet. I don’t want to to encourage them with more ways to download.”
“But what if you’re, say, on location? Working on a movie? You don’t have a connection so you got this little baby to keep you connected.”
I quickly rewound the magnetic tape in my analog brain. If I recalled, I’d never told him I was in the movie game. Just showbiz. I wondered if, while disappearing into the rear to collect my iPhones, he’d Googled me. Naw, I argued with myself. Just a lucky guess. Showbiz to some folks means movies or TV. Plus I’m not close to a celebrity. Just another damned writer trying to upgrade his kids’ phones.
“Had this big movie director in here last week,” continued Fernando. “Can’t tell you his name because I don’t do that. But he bought a hot spot for when he had to leave town.”
“Just the phones, Fernando,” I politely reminded, remembering to smile.
Finally, we began the process of upgrades and reviewing my family data plan. All the while, dear Fernando kept peppering me with movie references as a way of offering me extras to add to my account.
Meanwhile, I’d already sent a text to The War Department, saying that I thought Fernando had IMDBd me in order to look for ways to sell me more stuff I didn’t need. She didn’t exactly believe me, texting back, “Are you sure?”
Sure enough, I reckoned. To be frank, I was actually getting a bit annoyed. Feeling as if my privacy had been invaded when all I wanted was to get out of there in under a half-hour with a pair of iPhones to stuff in my teens’ stockings.
The clock was winding near eleven a.m. when at last I was asked to produce some form of payment. As he was running my plastic, Fernando couldn’t help himself.
“You know, Bad Boys was on just a couple of nights ago.”
“Ka-ching,” I joked, but I really wanted to shout BINGO! Then I caught myself, adding “That’s about five cents towards the purchase of these phones.”
Fernando laughed with polite deference.
“You know, there’s this really big director who was in here not too long ago.”
“Another one,” I remarked. “And I’ll bet you can’t tell me his name either.”
“I think it’s my duty to keep their privacy,” said Fernando. “You know what I mean.”
Oh, I knew what he meant alright. He was the keeper of secrets and the propriety of famous others. But where was my friggin’ privacy? He’d looked at the name on my account, typed it into his backroom PC and learned plenty.
There was plenty I imagined saying to him in the act of departing. A truckload of obvious dialogue in reply to the obnoxious nature of his act. But I’d burned more than twice the amount of planned iPhone time. The clock would soon be creeping up on noon and I hadn’t yet written a word on the day.
The afternoon wore on and I retold the story a time or three. And though it always began with my own annoyance at Fernando’s lousy sense of propriety, it also ended with a less than begrudging respect. Like I’d said before, it was his job to upsell me. Thus, his job title as Verizon salesman. Fernando wasn’t young. Age wise, I’d sized him up as pretty much a peer. What were his expenses? A mortgage? Kids in college or child support? His business was based upon how much Verizon crap he could load me down with before I walked out the door. Cleverly, he’d asked me my profession. I’d answered showbiz, and before I knew it, he’d looked me up. And maybe it wasn’t on IMDB. A simple Google search pulls up my website, books, and movies.
This is where it gets ironic. I’m on the web. Seeking exposure for my work. Yet I have the audacity to complain when some enterprising salesman uses my own enterprise to sell me?
That and how many times have I used this forum to suggest that artists use whatever exists in their arsenal in order to overcome the fusillade of obstacles that populate this business?
I don’t recall who said it, but I will paraphrase the great he or she who coined it.
Deciding not to use every means possible to scale a creative endeavor is, in itself, a remarkably uncreative choice.
With that in mind, Fernando receives both a tip of my hat and serves as a reminder that I and everybody else needs to be as dogged, determined, and even as pushy as him.
Determination… Cheers Fernando. To you and all your fellow upsellers out there.
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