A Philadelphian Conversation - Number One

Standing outside the little Comcast customer service center on Columbus Boulevard in a nook beside its entrance, staying out of the rain. Internet says the place opens 7:00 a.m. weekdays, but the schedule printed on the door says otherwise. 9:00 a.m. Having arrived too early, I'm second in the growing line, and the first four of us fit comfortably in the nook. Nobody speaks until around five of nine when we're all getting a little antsy to get inside and get our business done with Comcast and get on with our lives.

"I see her in there," the guy in front of me says. He's white and looks around mid-sixties. A white goatee and close cut grayish white hair hover above his sleeveless black tee and cut-off shorts, tattoos covering his arms and legs. "Be nice if she'd open a little early."

"Don't bet on it," says the guy behind me. He looks exactly how I'd imagine the other guy to have looked twenty years ago. "I wouldn't expect any extra effort out of these people."

I think: "if you dudes worked an hourly job for Comcast, you probably wouldn't open up early if you could either, and Comcast probably doesn't even allow it," but find myself saying, "Hard to believe how much cable costs nowadays. If it weren't for the Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers, I might cancel."

"Yeah, tell me about it, I pay $208 a month now."

"Me too, I'm about $200 now too."

I nod in acknowledgement of their monthly rates and pull out my phone and start scrolling through some emails.

"Which city you think'll go bankrupt next?" asks the guy behind me.

"Probably Philly," the other guy answers.

I realize I'll likely be on the sidelines for the remainder of their conversation, wherever it leads.

"Probably. There's no good jobs. I applied for food stamps the other day and you know what they gave me? Sixty bucks a month. You believe that?"

"My wife went in and she only gets $18 a month, they said I make too much."

"Sixty bucks a month! Who can live off that? And then you got these blacks," he tilts his head toward the woman working inside the service center, who we can see through a window in the nook, "and they get like $600 a month food stamps while they drive around in their Cadillac SUVs."

By now I can't wait for the doors to open so that, I hope, these guys will stop talking.

The guy in front of me sees me scrolling down the screen on my phone, trying to mind my own business. He says, "And I tell you what, they know everything you do on those phones. Even in your house they know. A buddy of mine was just indicted and they were watching him inside his own house, through his tv! They have some way they can do that shit – they hook up some device to your tv and watch you through your own tv. You believe that?"

Mercifully, as he asks that last question, the woman inside the service center opens the doors. I put my phone back in my pocket and see its clock change from 8:59 to 9:00 a.m. We all enter the service center and the two guys start talking about how they're both there to pay their bills. I return my friend's cable box for him and go to work, and later wonder whether the $60-per-month-food-stamps-guy is out looking for a job. Place where I work has some openings. I mighta mentioned it, but I knew he wouldn't have been a good fit.


  1. Nice piece. I really felt like I was in line with your main character.

  2. Well played -- I suppose it's fiction, but reads like a transcript.

  3. Very well handled, very thoughtful piece.

  4. Definitely like the transcript of a squabble. All those numbers!

  5. Thought provoking piece Richard, I especially liked the way it read.