My life as a deadbeat

As a Social Security-collecting 63-year-old, I really thought it was not too much to hope for that I could finish my life without ever being classified as a deadbeat. But that dream was crushed on July 5 when the City of San Diego Water Department changed to a new billing service incongruously called Customer Care Solutions. Cleverly employing a no-cost non-tech system of Do-It-Yourself Data Conversion, they require customers paying online to re-enter all of their billing information (including bank account data) and be assigned new account numbers.

I feared there could be problems when after some three hours over as many days, I was only able to create my new account by ignoring their instructions. I’ve paid all my bills online for years and paid my first water bill on the new system on July 14, printing a confirmation. Much to my dismay, some two weeks later I received a non-payment notice in the mail adding that my water service was about to be


. This was especially disconcerting given that it was now August. We may not be much on hygiene, but we do care about landscaping.

Checking my new water services account online, I couldn’t immediately ascertain the problem as it only shows the last four digits of my checking account, all of which were correct. My bank account had 20 times the amount needed to pay the bill, plus overdraft protection. I could only assume I had somehow, for the first time ever, dropped a digit in the account number. But then, I am old.

When I dialed the customer service number the next morning at the precise time it opened, wait time was already 30 minutes. But eventually I was connected to a customer service rep who, with barely disguised ennui, confirmed that not only had I been charged a $25 penalty but as with all water scofflaws, only payment in cash or money order would now be accepted at one of their regional payment center; no over-the-phone credit card payments allowed. I appealed to an equally-ennuied supervisor, saying that surely 38 years of meticulously on-time payments from the same address should count for something?

In a word: No.

In fact, she warned, should I ever “bounce another check” to them, I’ll need to post a significant deposit to continue to get water services. I now have Official Deadbeat Status.

In that case, I said, since I have no idea why this payment didn’t go through, I’d like to revert to paper bills. Sorry, she said, she’s not authorized to do that. She is only authorized to annoy the bejesus out of customers. OK, that second line is mine.

A wad of cash in hand, I headed to my regional payment center, a Payday Loan place, only to find a sign on the door saying, “Back in 30 minutes.” But this allowed me to visit with the person ahead of me in line, a fellow water reprobate clutching the same blue slip and having an identical story: account was a bear to set up, couldn’t figure out why payment didn’t go through. She had tried calling at noon only to get the recording saying “don’t even bother holding.”

Now one might think that once one had handed over money at the authorized payment center, the water gods would be appeased. But one would be wrong. You have not paid until you call them back and tell them you have paid. No call, no payment.

One marvels at the sheer brilliance of such exquisite inefficiency. However by the time I got home, the (Anti)Customer (Un)Caring (Non)Solutions line only rang busy – for the rest of the day. And the next.

Ultimately, I got through to a report-your-payment recording, but while I was waiting on my land line, I entertained myself on my cell phone repeat-dialing their Customer Service Survey number

(619) 515-3515

cheerfully giving the customer service reps the lowest grade of 1 (minus 10 wasn’t available). I’m hoping they won’t realize that 240 of their rock bottom ratings are mine.

Meanwhile, the Payday Loan lady, while happy to see so many new faces and for the boon to her business (she charged me to pay the bill beside the $25 fine) commented that if it were her water bill, she’d revert to paper bills and pay by check.

That so sounds like a plan.