No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

You’ve heard the expression — when someone thinks you should calm down a bit, they might say “take a deep breath.”

Well, that’s not going to work.

While the major remaining fires affecting the Methow Valley seem not to be directly threatening inhabited areas, they are close enough to cause some discomfort — and health concerns for anyone who has respiratory challenges.

More problematically for the rest of us, the fires are daily pouring off thousands of acres worth of smoke that has hunkered down in the valley and lent a faintly charred aroma to our lives.

The blanket of smoke has produced some eerily lovely photography — of the sun during the day and as it dips below the horizon, and of the dinner plate-sized moon glowing with a strange orange or coppery hue as it rises. Tori Karpenko took another approach last weekend — he climbed to an 8,000-foot elevation vantage point on Crater Mountain and took a photo looking east toward the Methow. We liked it so much that we asked to use it on Page A1 this week as our panoramic picture across the top of the page.

Most of us, however, would rather be enjoying the sparkling blue skies that, as Tori’s photo demonstrates, are up there somewhere. Meanwhile, every day seems to threaten the triple-digit mark on the thermometer. And as of this writing, thunderstorms are in the forecast — and we know what they can bring.

But it’s been a summer full of perspective adjustments, and so for a few days the smoke might seem more tolerable than flames that are way too close.

Through all that, it’s been gratifying to see tourism activity in the valley — fortification for the belief that a lot of people will come here if they can because of the Methow’s many attractions, whatever the conditions.

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Call holding

Dozens of you — maybe hundreds — have been heard from one way or another as to your unsatisfactory, frustrating and sometimes surreal experiences with AT&T cell phone service during the past several weeks.

From my experience — and by way of full disclosure, I set aside my all-but-useless AT&T phone a couple of weeks ago and am happily adjusting to the superior service of Verizon — the universal conclusion of the valley’s AT&T customers (and many former customers) is that it has been missing in action, in some cases going from bad to worse to nonexistent.

Talk to any five, 10, or 20 people who have tried to deal with AT&T and you will hear a different customer-service-hell story from every one of them. We’ve been told that there is no service here (ironically, that was often true in the moment), that there have been no complaints, that there are no evident problems with the AT&T network here, or alternately that some other force is at work.

It’s not just that AT&T has been unresponsive. As a company, it has seemed remote and disinterested, turning a potentially solvable business disaster into an unmitigated public relations disaster. But hey, what’s a few hundred folks in the boondocks?

Aside from treating us dismissively, AT&T was part of a much more serious crisis in this valley: Lives were at stake, and communication was impossible for many of us. In our time of need, AT&T shrugged at us and told us there wasn’t a problem.

Some sort of conciliatory gesture from AT&T seems appropriate. And in fact, today as I was finishing this column, an AT&T service representative called me about “proactively” applying credit to my account. I gave him what I thought was some appropriate context and background.

Maybe AT&T is figuring out what it needs to do here, and the company should to that quickly. Otherwise, this might present the Harvard School of Business an opportunity to develop a case study on how to drive your customers into the arms of the competition.

 

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