I am aware there are reasons I collect stories, like others collect seashells or river/desert rocks or wildflowers on a summer's day. They are beautiful and odd and sometimes there are times and places when you feel surrounded by them. I don't need a special shelf to hold them, though from time to time, I brush them off and turn them over and they never fail to make me smile.
I head this week to an annual conference where the core is a hybrid kind of storytelling. There will be tales about new inventions and discoveries and ways of using our brains. Stories of risk and reward when investing in the power of the human spirit. There will be stories told in dance and music and with robots. It is a wondrous week of stimulation and stories.
Among this tribe of thinky people, all year long we share stories of our own communities and of projects we are working on and need help with. Obstacles and achievements and in the past few weeks, practical advice on our phone service when visiting in a foreign country.
Admittedly, Canada doesn't feel very foreign. Same language and landscape and food and in my case, weather. This year's TED will take place in Whistler, B.C., where cell phone charges on your American carrier can triple and beyond if you haven't paid attention. I called AT&T this week to finally try and get a plan that would cover me for the 10 days I am gone. I gave myself plenty of time to handle this critical matter. Because even though I will be at this amazing conference.
After a rather short time on hold -- less than two minutes -- I was connected with a woman who identified herself as Inga. Her name immediately didn't fit her honey-baked Southern voice. She asked where I was calling from and I asked her where she was based. And so it began...
Inga (I suspect that is her work name) is from Memphis. Her folks live in Michigan. And wouldn't you just know it, she had been to Canada once. For the next several minutes, after I shared with her my actual reason for calling and my need to be able to use my phone in an inexpensive fashion for the next extended week, she told me about her adventures in crossing the border. The story involved her parents, and cousins and four cars, all without passports talking their way over the border, just to say they had been to another country.
"Lordy girl, they made us open our suitcases and they went through our trunk and they even made us take our wigs off. There were four carloads of us from the family reunion and we had already driven two hours. They took one couple with their baby into an office and asked them why they didn't have their baby's birth certificate with them. It never occurred to us we'd need all that to drive over the border and look around and drive right back."
Now during this conversation Inga keep interjecting with little tidbits as she watched her screen. "Oh yes, we can get you a plan that will cover your text messages and with all your calls... let me look here..." And as she was looking, she appeared to be the Queen of multitasking, "so we crossed over the border and it was beautiful and everyone done got out of the car and walked around and we laughed and laughed...."
"Oh," she said, "would you just look at this ! Why Miss Teri, you just have been paying too much for your service. You all have been a good customer with us for years. I think I can cut your monthly bill, clean in half." And then the parallel story. "But when it came time to return over the border, it was the American guards who scared us. Said we never should have been allowed over and we would have to arrange for passports. And we was crying and carrying on and finally it was time for a change of the guards and the new captain let us go back across."
And then, she told me my monthly charges had been cut in half and the service I needed had been added to my phone for the time I needed and she would text me a number to reach out, if I needed any help on my trip.
"And so, when we crossed back over to the United States side, I just parked my parents car on the side of the road and I got out and started dancing and screaming, all happy-like and kissing the ground. Yes, I did. I kissed that ground."
And I had such a smile on face from Miss Inga's story and my great savings, I wondered why every call to manage something couldn't have this level of customer service and storytelling. I realize it might not work for all folks, especially those who don't appreciate a good yarn. But as for me, it set the tone for what I know will be a week of adventures in enlightening tales and truths. All of it starts for me, this very Sunday, clean out of the Park...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.