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July 3, 1996

Ma Bell Matricide

Dear Neighbors:

Karen Lundgaard pf the Washington Business Journal reports this week that a number of new retailers are trying their hand in the D.C. market, though mostly in the suburbs. The most interesting outfit was a combined sports retailer/sports playground concern. The Business Journal is posted on the web, though I wasn't able to find Lundgaard's article.

On another issue, I'm creating a temporary list to discuss the Olympics. I figure that after all the hype, we'll need a forum to comment on the commentary about the commentary. I'll publish as often as warranted and promise to shut down after the last bronze medal is draped around an athlete's neck. But in the meantime, let's enjoy the Olympics as neighbors.


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Jeffrey Itell


Ma Bell

As Internet providers our company is absolutely dependant on BA. We have ISDN, Frame Relay, T1, and POTS lines installed almost daily. Bell has been trying very hard to ruin my life. They are getting close but I wont break.

Basically 95% of all installations are late and disfunctional and nobody at Bell has a clue how to get it right. It often takes a week of having my expensive engineers hand hold Bell engineers to get anything to work- (We lose lots of money under this scenario) Our bills are over $10,000 and nobody at Bell can even explain what the 30 pages of garbled codes and charges represent - but they are quick to send a cutoff notice if unpaid.

Also my customers awaiting their Internet lines are pissed off at us. (It's hard to get pissed at a faceless organization such as Bell - there is nobody to take the blame.)

Whenever I tell these stories I am told write the president and FCC, etc. I have already written a detailed scathing letter to them and the Public Utilities Commission and the heads of each department we deal with. Suprise - they vowed to clean things up - this was four months ago. To date they have continued to screw every order and bill up.

I long for the day that Bell is bankrupt and there are 10 professional companies to take their place - just like in any other industry. Free trade rules.

Michael F. Mann Internet Interstate


Rex Toler wrote about his experiences w/ Bell Atlantic.....I won't add the entire horror story but let's say that, after moving in February, we are STILL fighting w/ them to get the phones and listings right.

In the "old days", when there were fewer phones (sheesh I remember growing up w/ our simple few digit phone number .. which kept growing and growing!) perhaps "Ma Bell" was good to work with but now, it's too much for one company.

Rex -- your experiences are not isolated.

OTOH -- the technicians, who had to, literally, climb fences in our Cap. Hill n'hood to get to the poles and wires, were terrific. THEY were here on time and did all they could and the busn. office techs. and the home techs. cooperated.

The frustration is in having to call waaaaay too many people w/in the Bell Atlantic offices to get help. Here's to competition!

Joan Eisenstodt


I read Rex Toler's message on DC STORY, and thought I'd share my recent experiences getting Bell Atlantic to instal a second line in my Adams Morgan apartment.

After incredible hassles and MANY MANY visits from telephone reps (more than 10 people came out), I finally got a second line installed in the bathroom. Very strange company -- they are incredible bureaucratic and flakey, but their employees are invariably polite and professional (even empathetic and human) on the telephone. The telephone company was unable to figure out how the wiring works in my building in general and my apartment particularly, so they were unable to activate the wires in the bedroom. They actually installed the jacks, and replaced old jacks without charge.

But one little piece of advice that I got beforehand: wiring jacks is easy; Bell Atlantic charges exhorbitant fees to do "wiring" unless you subscribe to their $2.00/month (??) wiring insurance program.



Well after calling back 8 more times. And each time being told that someone was "in the area" and that "I was next". I asked to speak to a supervisor. The lady on the phone told me that the supervisor was not available, and that she would have one call me within 15 minutes. 45 minutes later (no supervisor), I called back. Again, a supervisor was "not available", but they would relay my problem to one (yeah right).

To make a long, tedious frustrating story short: After about 15 people total, all telling me different things, and many not being able to find my order. A tech was at my house at 9:00pm, and the jack is now working. I guess I shouldn't complain. When a company has no competition, they simply don't HAVE to do anything, and often they don't. The fact that it was installed 29 hours late, is probably meager compared to the experience of others.

How can Barry justify not supporting the monopoly breakup?

Rex Toler


On Rex Toler's all too typical Bell Atlantic experience, here's another 'friendly' customer service anecdote from Bell Atlantic. Remember how, when you got a new phone or had a phone problem, you used to call the operator and ask them to ring you back so you can see if your phone rings? Well now, they respond: "Bell Atlantic no longer provides that service (?), you should have a friend ring you back." Well, that "service" takes all of five seconds for an operator, but alas, they've been instructed not to do it. When I asked to speak to a supervisor to complain, the operator said they would have to call me back....which of course took a lot more work on their end, and got me the ring back I desired!

Ken Levinson


Van Ness

On Will Schroeer's wishes for Van Ness. This neighborhood resident sees the biggest problem being traffic congestion. One way to alleviate the problem, which would have ancillary benefits for pedestrians and draw merchants, would be to widen the southbound lanes on Connecticut Ave at Van Ness. I know purists will object to losing sidewalk at UDC, but it is a relatively infrequently traveled part of the side walk, and to have a left turn lane into Van Ness would ease traffic all the way north to the Safeway where things begin to jam up -- which is why so many drivers race up Connecticut to make the lights, and block the street for pedestrians like Will.

Another idea might be to move the bus stop on the east side of Connecticut in front of the gas station. The two parking spaces "lost" by the gas station, could reappear where the bus stop was before.

Ken Levinson


Chair-Alien Dave Clarke

Put this in the missed opportunities column. Dave Clarke was at the Cleveland Park Metro when a colleague and I emerged about 5 p.m. He was ostensibly looking for people to sign petitions. However, he couldn't even manage a hello, much less ask us to sign his petition. Maybe he can't talk and chew gum, or do two things at once. Is this what we're looking for in a city council chair?

Margie Siegel

Yes. This is who we voted to be council chair, with over 90 percent of the vote, if I recall correctly. jeff]


Mystery Buildings

Can anyone can tell me what the large, dark brick (stone?), castle like building with the weather vane on top at or next to Fort Reno Park is, I would appreciate it.

Dan Wedemeyer


Property Taxes

For what it's worth, on the subject of DC property taxes, and in response to Lorie Leavy's posting, I live in Chevy Chase, DC, and Carolyn Monk is my tax assessor, as well. My tax assessment did not change for tax year 1997, but 1996 saw a 11.8% increase in our assessment. While the assessed value of our property went down 5%, the assessed value of the improvement (the house itself) rose 23.2%. Ms. Monk attributed the increase to an addition (mostly kitchen) that we built in 1994. The addition maybe added 300 square feet.

We did not appeal in 1996, on the advice of a tax assessment appeals specialist (or not?), nor did we in 1997 (since the assessment remained the same). I cannot help but think, however, that our assessment is too high, and am wondering if there is anything that can be done, albeit after the deadline for filing appeals. Of course, we could appeal the 1998 assessment next year, but I'd like to be able to ride this anti-Monk wave while the surf's up. No offense to Thelonius and Art, by the way.

Phil Greene



Inquring minds want to know: Why are there are so many vacant storefronts in the 3500 block of Connecticut on the west side (that's the block with the fire station). Did the owner(s) raise the rents too high, or is someone trying to redevelop the block?

Pat Hahn

[What is vacant besides the Cafe Italiano location? There's a new ice cream parlor that replaced Bob's Famous. The landlord is Olga Mazza, namesake but no longer owner of Mazza Gallerie. Madame Mazza is known as a tough landlord who'll let her properties sit if the conditions are not right. There are more vacancies across the street with the departure of Kenny Rogers, The Wiz, and Herman's. jeff]



Jeff Porten recently wrote a great note about the general scam-worthiness of Keno. Since gambling is so popular in this area - and since I recently visited the huge Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, where people were being fleeced to a fare-thee-well by their own bad playing - I thought I'd give a few simple gambing tips.

1. KNOW THE GAME AND THE ODDS - This point was a strong part of Jeff's note. Some games are for suckers - for example, high-odds bets at craps and roulette, the Wheel of Fortune, Keno and the goofy side bets allowed at some blackjack tables. On the other hand, the theoretical house advantage at blackjack and at the more conservative bets at craps and roulette is small to nonexistent.

If you're going to play, you should know good basic strategy. If you don't understand how and when to double down and split pairs in blackjack, and when to take a hit and when to hold your cards, you're throwing away your money. And don't play with your "guts" -- there are no brains in your guts! Let your knowledge of the odds decide how you will play.

2. YOU'RE NOT SMARTER THAN THE CASINO - In the long run, short of cheating or counting cards (too boring for me), you *always* will lose more games than you win. The longer you play, the more the house odds kick in and the less likely you'll get "lucky." This works both ways, though: If you can play through a cold streak, you're likely to get a hot streak.

3. NEVER PLAY WITH MONEY YOU CAN'T SET ON FIRE - Sometimes, you're going to lose *no matter what.* NEVER use money you need to pay the bills. Only use "fun money" that you're willing to lose. If you can't do this, you just shouldn't go to the casino! And try to recognize when you're just not going to get the chance for the odds to kick in on a losing day, and get up from the table.

Randy Lilleston

[My two cents on gambling...and that's all I'll throw into the pot. If you play against a house, the house will earn it's take to pay the employees, wash the windows, and buy new decks of cards. The only way to consistently beat the house is to cheat..and then Joe Pesci runs an ice pick through you. Otherwise, you earnings (of the negative sort) will regress to the mean, which is the house take. The more often and longer you play, the more likely is that your expected outcome is the house take (give or take accomodations for players who don't know how to play). The end result is that you will certainly lose if you gamble enough. Probably if you gamble a little too. That's one reason why government ought not to be in the business. But if people insist on playing, I can see reasons why the the government should own the monopoly. jeff]


We're looking for a good pre-school for our two-year-old and would appreciate suggestions. If you have recommendations about what's good or warnings about what's bad, please e-mail me. We live in Shaw, but would be willing to go as far as Georgetown or Cleveland Park.

Andrea Carlson


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