What do a European exchange student and a homemaker have in common? They spent 24 hours glued to the television screen after learning one of them’s flight had been canceled.
Some days it seems like new customers have to deal with lousy service. But it takes something special for the disappointment to make you feel like you have to have it done right. No, that’s not a cruel little ad campaign. It’s actually what happened to Cathy Allen.
Wander back to the sound of David Bowie, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground on the jukebox and listen as Cathy watches TLC’s “Unpretty” repeatedly.
After a year in Romania and seven in Amsterdam, at 27, she landed a job as a legal assistant at the Alliance Trust Bank in May 2010. That June, her beloved sister, Trudi Ross, called to tell Cathy she’d gone into early labor with her third child.
Trudi was lying on her back, cradling baby Ella Mae in her arms, watching everything go perfectly until four hours later when, unbeknownst to Trudi, an AT&T rep was placing two boxes in Trudi’s upstairs bedroom, one with a phone and the other with an iPad. The rep was calling there so Trudi could watch her newborn in her comfort.
Cathy watched the scene unfold in real time. She couldn’t stop watching. Tears streamed down her face.
She knew she couldn’t stay home and care for Ella, but she couldn’t leave her job either. That’s when she went home and off the TV.
Then she called the AT&T rep and demanded to know what’s going on.
This is so surreal! This is really real! I can’t breathe!!–Cathy Allen, still astounded, three years later
Cathy phoned AT&T and demanded to speak to the supervisor. He came over to her apartment. He didn’t know anything about technology. He told her she had to be escorted into the office. Cathy complained that his duty station was two blocks away. He explained that if he had stopped there, his SUV would have been abandoned by the time he arrived. Cathy thanked him.
“To this day, I have no idea what drove me to that phone, but it was the force of something inside me that said, ‘This is wrong!’ It all suddenly hit me that this is a right to take care of someone in that way,” Cathy says.
The supervisor called her back and said he had the iPad password and she could take her iPad to another area. She got it there while the supervisor was on his way home. The supervisor recognized it was a birthday present from her sister.
“He got off the train and all the flowers I had brought him were sitting on the platform,” she says.
The supervisor later told Cathy he’d never seen something so heartbreaking in his life.
On July 6, 2011, her nephew Brandon was born. Cathy and family couldn’t believe that she’d gotten up so early to watch “Unpretty” again. They also didn’t believe that she would be back on that couch in a moment like that.
Cathy recalls how she cried and sobbed for hours afterwards.
“It’s like watching your baby being born, then I’m instantly thinking of myself,” she says. “How does one feel when one of the people they love is actually well? It’s an embarrassment, and anger mixed in with that. I thought my world had ended. It’s what happens when your entire life falls apart. I had this huge crash. Everything was OK, except for my marriage. How could the system let me down? I was constantly paranoid.”
Cathy, who says she never stopped loving AT&T, checked her device the next morning and sure enough, messages had popped up. One was from a German exchange student. She was blown away. Cathy had been reading an interview about her sister when the exchange student said she was happy she stayed home with her daughter. In the interview, Cathy’s sister was reminiscing about their days as young, giggly brides.
“It was almost like she died,” Cathy says. “That’s when I realized something was up.”
And so did the exchange student. The student dropped off a bouquet of tulips for Cathy and sent flowers.