Column veteran returns, and shares a global tale

Date Published: 
January 10, 2014

It’s the time of year when you discover that the high-tech gadget you got for Christmas doesn’t work as advertised. So, like millions of other frustrated consumers, you call the ailing product’s customer service department.

Chances are you’ve already experienced the scenario: The ringing phone is picked up, but the connection is spotty, like you’ve just dialed some remote place in India.

Indeed, you did. You’ve dialed the customer-service hub of Asia, Bangalore, and you are greeted by a chirpy lady’s voice with a clipped Indian accent. She identifies herself as “Jennifer,” although that obviously is not her given name. For the next several hours, “Jennifer” tries to get your broken computer working again.

Ultimately, she fails, and advises going to a “higher level,” which will cost $400. Discouraged, frustrated and angry, you decline her offer and hang up.

I finally managed to fix the thing myself — at the same time wondering wistfully if there’s anyone out there in this globalized world with whom you can communicate and get your broken-gadget problem resolved.

I found the answer to that when I suddenly lost an important “app” on my computer several weeks back. Somehow, the calendar feature on my AOL connection crashed, sending several months’ worth of important appointments deep into cyber-limbo. I prepared myself to go through another time-wasting session with some semi-competent customer rep in Bangalore.

So, I dialed the AOL tech support number, and the phone was picked up on the second ring. The name given was “Jeffrey,” and the voice was accent-free American-English. I thought I had misdialed. “Jeffrey” assured me I had not.

After I explained my problem, he immediately began running diagnostic tests.

While we were both waiting for the result, I couldn’t resist asking where he was located.

“I’m in Romania,” he said.

Now, as a guy who thought he had accustomed himself to the wide reach of globalization, I was totally unprepared for Jeffrey’s response.

“Then, you must be in the capital, Bucharest,” I suggested.

“Actually,” he said, “I’m in Transylvania.”

Again, I was blown away, since Transylvania means only one thing to most Americans: the legendary home of Count Dracula. “Are you near the Dracula castle?” I inquired.

“It’s only about 10 miles from here,” he said.

I decided to show off my knowledge of the Dracula legend by mentioning the count’s relative, a blood-thirsty tyrant known to history as Vlad the Impaler.

Jeffery in Transylvania was definitely warming to the subject. “My name,” he said “is actually Vlad. My bosses made me change it to sound more comfortable with our English-speaking callers.”

I frankly doubt that many Americans would associate “Vlad” with the Balkan tyrant who, history notes, impaled tens of thousands of his subjects in a bloodbath of singular repugnance.

While we waited for my computer to complete its scanning and fixing procedures, Vlad and I discussed non-technical matters ranging from the fall of communism (“Good riddance,” he said) to the deplorable state of the Rumanian infrastructure (“Our roads are terrible,” he said, “but home computers are cheap enough for everyone to buy.”)

And, of course, I had more questions about “the count.”

I was informed that thousands of tourists — many of them Americans and Brits — visit the castle each year, even though there’s not a shred of evidence that Dracula, or even Vlad the Impaler, ever lived there. Dracula himself appears to be a total fabrication from the fevered imagination of the Victorian-age writer Bram Stoker.

Although Dracula is a major source of tourism revenue (even if the legend is just that), contemporary Romanians, such as my new friend Vlad, note that his country has some factual attractions, as well. The people are friendly and love to dance. And, while many of the former communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe were reluctant to exchange their “socialism” for “capitalism,” Romania happily made the switch.

Vlad expressed a keen interest in where we lived. Unlike many foreigners who ask “Dela-where?” he had us pegged exactly right. He had never traveled outside his home country but was hoping to see the States one day.

In due time, he said my computer was working fine and my calendar had been restored. He was right on both counts.

Vlad (a.k.a. Jeffrey) wished me a happy New Year. He said there would be no charge, after I inquired about one. I restrained myself from asking: “Not even a pint of blood?”Dick Rossé is a 36-year veteran of Mutual and NBC News and is currently a member of the Delaware Speakers’ Bureau. He can be reached at