Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

– Mary Anne Radmacher


It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

– Albert Einstein


I’m trying like crazy to pay money to the News & Record but, amazingly, they won’t let me do it no matter how I try.

They sent me a bill a while back and as soon as I got it I called to pay with a credit card over the phone.

Busy signal.

I like to get things cleared up quickly, so I called back numerous times at various points in the days that followed, and I always got a busy signal.

Now, I understand that no matter where you call these days for customer support, you can never get an actual human being on the line. Believe me, I know that, and I also realize that, even if you somehow miraculously do get a human to pick up, it’s always some Malaysian English-as-a-fifth-language first-day phone-bank trainee who’s trying to beat his own high score in Flappy Bird while he talks to you. I get that and I’ve accepted it.

But, even these days – when you can never get someone to help you with a question or to fix a problem – you can always get someone on the line when you pay your money. Because, you know, that’s the phone line where you pay the money.

So I was surprised when I called and couldn’t get anyone at the News & Record to take my money. I thought, Well, maybe that was just a bad week for them, but I called again the next week and still no luck.


One time I did finally get to speak with an answering machine that asked my name and number. And that said they would call me back, but no one ever did.

I put it on the back burner for a while and then, one day, my cell phone rang and I picked it up. It was a robo-call and I know that usually you hate getting those (especially from a bill collector!), but I’d never been so happy to have a robo-call in my life: It was the machine for the News & Record calling to tell me my subscription payment was past due and my service would be interrupted if I didn’t pay up soon.

This was the big break I’d been looking for. God is good and he does look after his flock at the end of the day. So I listened to the machine and, at the end of the message, the robot voice told me that if I remained on the line it would connect me with someone who would take my payment. And I was like, “Yes! Finally! Sell my clothes I’m going to heaven …”

I waited eagerly, and finally it rang through to someone waiting to take my payment. When a customer service rep picked up I told them how thankful I was and how eager I was to pay and I said how nice it was to speak to someone finally, so I could make my payment –

– or rather, I would have said that, if I had gotten to speak with anyone because what really happened is that the phone just rang and rang.

I knew this would likely be my best shot in a while to pay so I really stuck with it and let it continue to ring and ring.

Finally, I gave up.

That’s when I had my great idea. It was a crazy idea – so crazy, I thought, it just might work. Here was my plan. Obviously the robo-call meant that there was an automated payment system if you could get to it. But you always got a busy signal during the day. And I thought, well, what if you called at a time when no one else was calling – say very late on a Friday night. That seemed like a good plan because …

  1. No one else would be calling at that hour, so your call might actually make it through, and,
  2. You would get the automated service and pay that way.

I knew it was a long shot but I thought I might just be able to pull it off.

So, late on a Friday night I called.

Ring, ring. I kept my fingers crossed.

The machine answered. Success!

Stay calm, Scott, stay calm. One wrong key punch and it’s all over.

I carefully reached for my wallet and pulled out my credit card.

The machine gave me options to suspend my paper or do other things and then came the option to make a payment. Slowly and deliberately I pushed 4 on my iPhone and waited.

“Press 1 to hear your account status,” it said. “Press 2 to pay your bill.”

Slowly, I hit 2 and said a little prayer.

“Goodbye” the machine said tersely and hung up.

Nooooooo! Why Lord!? “Goodbye”? The machine may as well have said “Psych!” or “Fooled ya!”

Now, I was close to the breaking point. It this were a romantic relationship, I would have been in what’s called the “panic-negotiation” stage of the breakup – I simply could not let go. At this point, however, it wasn’t that I loved the News & Record so much that I couldn’t do without it – but now it was just the principle of the thing. You know, I was going to pay that money if it was the last thing I ever did. If you think about it, paying someone should be the easiest act in life there is.

So, like a pathetic jilted lover, I went back and called again.

The phone picked up and I went through the service and once again got to the part where you pay. This time, the voice said, “The automated system is not able to process your payment right now. Please call again between 6 and 10 a.m.”

Before 10 a.m.? On a Saturday morning? Are you crazy? Why would I get up in the middle of the night to pay a bill? And I knew that, even if I did call, it would be a fool’s folly.

I thought about using my Wells Fargo online bill-pay service but I knew that was a dead end road. I attempted that one time about two years ago and – though bill-pay works great with every other payment I have ever made in my life – it was literally a month and a half before the News & Record took the money out of my account. In that case, I had to make multiple calls to the bank and the whole thing was a mess. So I knew that option was out.

I decided to find my News & Record bill and see if there were other options I could try. A new bill had come recently and, with luck, I would be able to find it. I pulled out the bill and saw the information and there, of all things, was the smiling face of former News & Record Publisher and Editor Jeff Gauger, who also had a message about why I should renew the newspaper subscription.

(Why Gauger? He left in April and it’s August now. It’s five months later and his picture and cheerful message is still on the bill. Don’t the people in billing know that he’s off writing about grits somewhere else now?)

I was hit by the irony of them using a publisher who had left the News & Record to convey the message to subscribers that they shouldn’t leave the News & Record.

I looked at the bill. Along with it, they’d sent an empty envelope addressed to “Greensboro News & Record, P.O. Box 26886, Richmond, Va.” The bill said I could enclose a “check.”

For those of you under 80, a check is a handwritten paper negotiable instrument that instructs a financial institution to pay the bearer a specific amount of money. It was used in the old-timey days in place of gold coins. Suppose, for instance, Ebenezer bought a horse and buggy from Jebidiah and paid by check, then he would give Jebidiah a piece of paper that Jeb would take down to the Milford Savings and Loan. His savings and loan would then send that paper notice to Ebenezer’s security and trust company, which would go into the vault and get the amount of money listed on the piece of paper and that banker would get on his horse and buggy and take the money to the …

Well, anyway it’s very complicated, and there’s also a lot of math you have to do afterward if you write a check. Plus, to pay that way you also need something called a “stamp.” I feel certain I have a check here somewhere but I don’t think they make stamps anymore.

Regardless, that was a highly involved road I didn’t want to go down. So the way I saw it, there were only three options left.

(1) Take the cash and stand out in the middle of the road in front of my house at 3:30 in the morning to hand to the newspaper carrier when he drove by.

(2) Wait until a county commissioners meeting when I will see their reporter Kate Queram and give her the money.

And then there is the nuclear option …

(3) Go down to the News & Record and pay. But I knew if I did that, then as soon as I got there and said my name things would get very tense and the person at the desk would tell me to wait and then pick up the phone to call upstairs and it would be like the opening scene in Lucy when all Scarlett Johansson knows is that she’s been paid $500 to walk across the street and deliver a briefcase to a hotel desk.

Hotel desk clerk: “Mr. Jang is on his way. Mr. Jang said stay right here.”

Scarlett: “Can I sit?”

Clerk (sternly): Mr. Jang said you should stay right here – I think it’s better if you stay right here.”

And we all know what happened to Scarlett Johansson.

So it may be a trap, but I may go down to the News & Record with cash in hand – even though that may be exactly what their plan is. I may have to. My subscription runs out on August 29 and payment is past due. It is admittedly a plan of last resort, but these are desperate days.