Months before he died, my grandfather and I made a simple pact: no matter what happened, no matter what life threw at us, we would personally keep AOL in business. And for the past ten years, I have kept my promise to grandpa, and to AOL.
According to my credit card statement, I spend $17.95/month in a noble, quixotic, perhaps hopeless, quest (are there are any other quests worth pursuing?) to keep America Online from insolvency.
Sure, people heckled me, asked me if I needed laxative with my breakfast, yelled extra loud to make sure I could hear them, offered to help me program my remote control.
And I just smiled and took their ribbing in stride, knowing that grandpa was looking down on me, a proud smile on his face.
First Yahoo came knocking, then Hotmail tried to woo me, there was a brief flirtation with EarthLink, Gmail still drops by unannounced every month or so. Even my own mother suggested I turn to sbcglobal.
But I held fast. Even when, for the purposes of communicating with my fellow offenders, I opened an account on another server (which shall remain nameless), still, I could not leave AOL.
And then I found out about it: the big betrayal.
My chest hurt, I could barely breathe. I felt nauseous.
Did you know you can have an AOL e-mail account for free?!?
All these years of them planting news stories that made the company seem like a species on the brink of extinction, of me being pilloried by friends and acquaintances, of taking meager comfort in the rumor I once heard that AOL is ironically hip among the gay L.A. scene (all I have to do now is to turn gay, move to L.A., and develop a fondness for air quotes), yet I stood fast.
And then, when I casually asked a fellow Offender who happens to have an old AOL account, too, what he paid for his service, he replied, “no one’s paid for AOL in ten years.”
I did the math: over the last decade, I have paid out $2154 to support AOL. I could’ve taken that money and bought a new laptop, donated money to Scrub the Air, or built up my kids’ college beer fund. But no, I thought I was doing the righteous, correct thing, helping an early internet pioneer from being clobbered by companies so young they probably don’t even remember how wonderful that screechy AOL dial-up modem used to sound.
(million dollar idea: AOL dial up connection screech as cell phone ringtone; just sayin’; all I want out of it is $2154 plus interest).
“Are you aware of the 12 features you get with your Platinum Plan?” asked the AOL operator when I called to switch to free service.
“Really? Like what?”
“Do you have anti-viral protection?”
“What about identity theft protection? We provide Life Lock.”
“Well, I buy stuff off Amazon all the time, and no one’s scammed me yet.”
“How about laptop insurance?”
Now she had my attention.
“If your laptop needs any repair, we pay for it up to $1000.”
“So would you, for instance, replace a laptop battery if it was running low? If it held like only an hour charge and drove you crazy when you went to your favorite coffee shop, a converted old gas station with no electrical outlets, and your computer died half way through your morning e-mails?”
“Really?” By that point I was so ready to forgive and forget.
“You would just need to send it to our service center and we’d have it back to you in 4-6 weeks.”
What?!? There’s always a catch!!
“But I use my laptop every day.”
“Oh,” she said. Our fragile relationship, which had just begun to warm up, had turned frigid.
“Just get me the free version, please.”
“Hang on, I’ll transfer you to an account specialist.”
She did, and I still have that stupid account, but now it’s just so I can go another ten years – for free – even if I never ever use it again. I’m hoping it will make me feel one notch less stupid about my misdirected magnanimity. In addition, I will deny myself my afternoon decaf mocha every day for the next four years to make up for it.
For a moment, I wanted to yell and scream at the representative about how useless the so-called “platinum” benefits were, and how the warranty program is so onerous that no one would ever use it, but I just couldn’t. She was just doing her job. In the end, I could only be angry at one person.
Why he forced me into this silly pact I’ll never know.