The Dark Day My Blackberry Fell Into The Toletta

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When I first asked my wife if she could take enough time off for a long anticipated vacation trip to Italy, she said “only if I can keep in touch with the office and my clients”.

No problem, I thought. Plenty of my golfing buddies travel on business around the world. But I should have remembered that they have “people” who handle the details. I was on my own.

My descent into international telephone and e-mail madness began with a series of trips to the local ATT Wireless store to test drive various products guaranteed to keep them and my wife in business, while driving me nuts.

I finally settled on the sleek new Blackberry gadget that can handle both e-mail and phone service for about three hundred bucks, plus monthly service charges per unit. My wife bought her own Blackberry, but only for e-mail. She told me, “That way I can multi-task. Talk on my Motorola phone while e-mailing on the Blackberry”. I should have caught on right then.

We each ordered the international phone connection for an additional $5.99 a month, plus ninety nine cents per minute connection time. The e-mail component automatically roams to the closest service available at no extra charge.

So now we’re ready to go. Well, sort of. You see nothing works as well on the road as it does in the showroom. I should have taken a test drive.

During the week before departure we both spent hours on the phone with ATT Wireless ironing out the bugs, figuring out how voice-mail works, and sending each other e-mails to confirm our mounting confidence. It seemed this just might work.

That is until we landed in Rome. For whatever reason, we were not connected. So our first few hours in a lovely junior suite overlooking a beautiful Italian fountain were spent on the hotel phone with ATT Wireless back in California.

To its credit ATT said it would pay the hotel phone charges. Then finally, “voila”. Everything worked. All too well for my wife. Not long enough for me.

During our first day of touring, I sent and received lots of e-mails and phone calls. When my twin brother called from Hawaii, (12 time zones away) he sounded like he was down the street. I was at the Vatican. Now enamored with the technology, I strapped the Blackberry on my belt and headed off to a wonderful dinner. Dessert was a different story.

While visiting the men’s room, an incoming phone call startled me. As I grabbed for my new best friend, the Blackberry, it fell off my belt and landed….you guessed it…right in the middle of the “toletta”.

In desperation, I threw off the cloud of Chianti, dove in and rescued my now dead Blackberry. I even shocked the Italians sitting near me with my gestures of anger after returning to the table.

You guessed it. I raced back to the hotel, grabbed the hair dryer, and attempted to dry out the Blackberry. Drying me out took a lot longer.
Finally, two days later, the Blackberry magically came back to life. My wife thinks it was because I visited all those churches in Rome. I think it was because we build good products and the Italians keep clean bathrooms.

But I forgot to change my voice mail message to say we were in Italy. So in the middle of the night I was awakened with phone calls from folks who dialed my local number and were sent overseas. (I pay for those calls.) So I was able to confirm a hair appointment, get a briefing from the vet, and say I couldn’t make a Saturday tee time. Isn’t technology wonderful?

My wife sure thought so. She spent so much time e-mailing and talking to clients that I suggested it might be cheaper and easier to fly them to Italy. That didn’t go over so well.

But she did keep at it. In the car driving through Tuscany, walking to the shops in Florence, taking the boat taxi to Venice. In fact she was so busy she hardly noticed Nicole Kidman waiting behind us for a boat taxi from the Cipriani Hotel to the Venice train station. (It was during the Venice Film Festival). Kidman was wearing a baseball cap. My wife was wearing a Motorola.

And she was not alone. During our five hour train ride back to Rome, there were so many people on the sold out train multi-tasking in multiple languages, I thought we were at a working session of the United Nations.

While I was admiring the spectacular views of Tuscany, the Italian businessman across the aisle was working on his computer, talking into his tie (where his phone mike was attached), and taking breaks to sing along to songs from his iPod. Unfortunately his version was not as good as the original must have been.

Yes, the Italians, famous for their love of animated conversation, have taken to high tech in a big way. And no wonder. There were almost no drops out zones during our entire trip. (ATT could learn a lesson here.) And since my wife did stay in touch, her clients were happy.

So we get back home. The cell phones worked fine, until a week later when they stopped taking calls all afternoon. ATT called it a temporary system outage all over California. I called it a relief.

(Brian Banmiller is a national Business Correspondent for CBS News Radio, free lance writer and public speaker. The former television business news anchor in San Francisco can be reached at brian@banmilleronbusiness.com .)