March 24 • 11:56 AM

The universe speaks: 'go local'

September 12, 2007
So I have to take care of some things dreadful and tedious. Things that make me feel like I'm sucking on a lemon and there's not one single grain of sugar in sight.

I have to make some decisions, some changes and some sacrifices to keep a roof over my head. Not just any roof, MY roof. The roof that covers the little 1950s moved-to-its-little-spot-in-the-woods-from-18-Mile-and-Van-Dyke-thirty-years-ago-so-called-ranch-that is my sanctuary, my haven, and the only thing (aside from my motorcycle) of value that I lay claim to after 50 years on this planet.

I feel very much alone. My precious aunt, Zizi Teresa, reminds me that I'm not. Helps me. Encourages me. Lets me have my little baby fits and somehow ends up making me laugh. I know it's time for something a little bit scary but a whole lot necessary to take place. So I suck on the lemon and make some phone calls.

I start with the current mortgage holder. After listening to a voice menu that includes just about everything except what number to push to place a carry out order for a coke and fries, I end up pushing '0' to speak to a live person.

I'm pretty happy about that, except the live person happens to be in front of a computer somewhere in India. I cannot understand her. I ask her several times to speak up. I ask for her name. This company is the type where they only give first names. First names only mean you will likely never speak to that person again. First names only mean no one will really track your account, be assigned to your customer service folder, follow through with your requests. First names only mean whomever answers from wherever in the universe they're located will pick up the computer file cold and parrot whatever notes were made by Mr. or Ms. First Name Only the last time you called.

Anyhow, during the conversation I somehow manage to learn that I do, indeed, qualify for this and that and all kinds of stuff. Here's the new rate, blahblahblah like a machine. Great, except that it is nothing that I requested. It doesn't remotely meet the needs I outlined at the beginning of the so-called conversation and it just drives home the point that communicating with this person and this company is an exercise in robotics. They are robots. I am an interchangable part number. A number that hands over a check every month, mind you. But a number just the same.

Then the universe steps in. Or should I say writes in. A couple from Capac, Dawn and Chris Kensington, write a few letters to the editor praising Alex Lengemann's weekly column. They tell me they got in touch with Alex, who helped them a great deal by getting them in touch with a guy named Mike Manchester of First Advantage Mortgage in Lapeer who also helped them a great deal and made it possible for them to make their homeownership dream an affordable reality.

I figure this is a sign. Instead of dealing with my current mortgage holder—which I assumed would be the easiest way to go but turned out to be incredibly difficult due to the language barrier and the lack of listening/attention on their part—I decide to take the Kensingtons' lead and go local. I email Alex. He emails back his expert advice. I call Mike Manchester. He speaks English clearly. He knows this is a huge thing for me. He listens. And listens. He's honest. He says he'll check a few things out and call me back. Within 24 hours I have not only relief, but HOPE. Things look pretty good actually, he says, and it's really not as big a deal as I thought at all. He schedules an appraisal with yet another local—Jeff Williams of Jefferson Appraisals—who also puts me right at ease, knows exactly what he's doing, is extremely polite and professional and treats me with respect.

Mike follows through to what I think is the end. In the meantime there are many glitches with robotics mortgage company and hoops I must yet again jump through but we close the deal in Lapeer. Still, Mike's not done. In all his 20 years of doing mortgages, he's never seen a certain situation like the one I had with first-name-only-robotics-group. He asks if I mind hanging out a little while and making a conference call to big bucks unlimited so he can get some questions answered and make sure I'm getting everything I'm entitled to. No problem, I say. Mike quizzes the first first-name-only customer service rep from India. Commun-ication is difficult, but Mike is doggedly determined. We get transferred to another phone bank. This first-name-only person is easier to understand but still can't help us. After yet another transfer—and a bold but really true observation on his part that he'd rather not be transferred back to Bombay—his questions are answered and resolved. I am impressed. Relieved. Amazed. Convinced yet again that the universe speaks. And its message to go local is always the best way to go.

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