AT&T's iPhone Grinch (AAPL)

DATELINE: THE FRONT LINES OF HOLIDAY SPENDING — Down in Florida with my family, we all decided to take advantage of AT&T’s family plan and get Apple (AAPL) iPhones this year for Christmas.

At the Apple Store on Dec. 26, we met with a grey-haired employee named Michael, who handled our difficult order — eventually, I think it was: three 16 gigabyte iPhones in white, one 16 gigabyte iPhone in black, and one 8 gigabyte iPhone in black, wait no make that a 16 gig — with a mix of wiseacre humour and an honest courtesy I can only assume is typical of semi-retired morticians from Ontario who work in Apple Stores for the sweet, sweet discounts.

For example, Michael wanted to make sure my youngest brother got his phone before me and my older brother.

“Because he’s the youngest,” said Michael, “And I’m sure you treat him terribly.” The poor abused child — he turned 22 last March.

What Michael really liked about my brother, I think, was that he went with an easier-to-scrounge-up black phone because he knew he was buying a cover for it and so the phone’s colour didn’t matter anyway.

Despite Michael’s grace, however, we soon ran into difficulties with the AT&T (T) family plan.

Even though we are all Carlsons and posses handy things called social security numbers that AT&T could have use to verify our identities and relationships, AT&T rules insisted that all five phones in the family plan would have to use the same area code. 

It’s a pain because while my parents live in Florida, I live in New York and my brothers live in Los Angeles and Charlotte.

All the other carriers do not require the numbers in a family plan to have the same area code.

Michael called AT&T to find a way around the problem. They kept him on hold for 45 minutes and eventually he gave up. He decided to call his friend at the corporate-owned AT&T store in the mall — maybe they could help.

Michael explained that he was trying to reach his friend Carlo — “if he can’t help you no one can.” But Michael couldn’t get through to Carlo, because Carlo’s manager at the AT&T store in the mall, Devin, wouldn’t put Carlo on the phone.

“Devin hates me,” Michael told us, “but that’s OK. I wouldn’t want someone like him as my friend.”

AT&T mall store manager Devin, we learned, is something of an iPhone Grinch.

Remember, Michael’s a former mortician. Morticians spend every day of their career seeing what we all come to eventually and that usually makes them pretty even-keeled.

But something about Devin the AT&T mall store manager soaked Michael’s deck. He told us:

The other day, I had this sweet couple in their late sixties — their kids had given them money to buy iPhones — and I sent them to the AT&T store to get their contacts moved from their old phones — we can’t do that here but they can — and Devin made them cry. He berated them for not buying the phones with him. Then, he messed up their phones so bad it took our tech two hours to fix them after. Anybody who treats my customers like that — if I’d seen him that day, I would’ve punched him.

My older brother confirmed Devin’s grinchiness after Michael him sent to scout out the AT&T store to see if Carlo was working today.

“I was standing in line and this young married couple was working with him,” my brother said, “and Devin was actively trying to dissuade them from getting a family plan of their own. ‘What if you get divorced?’ he said to them.

The woman in front of me heard that and said ‘What did you just say to them?’ OK, I am not shopping here.”

My brother went back to the AT&T mall store one more time — successfully avoiding Devin — and brought Carlo back with him. Carlo told us, yes, we’d all have to have the same Florida area code. He’d heard AT&T might be changing the rule in May or June.

But after waiting almost two years for our Sprint (S) contract to expire, that was too much.

Resigned to a diaspora of 727s, Michael sent us back with Carlo to the AT&T Store. There, we finally got our iPhones for Christmas.

But doing so — submitting to AT&T’s ridiculous demand that we take our 727s to New York, Charlotte and Los Angeles — we carefully avoided Devin, the AT&T mall store manager and notorious iPhone Grinch, whom at the time we all felt appropriately served as the face of his over-strict company.

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