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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Oil firms not only give me gas, but a big headache, too

Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

I was trying to weasel out of paying a late fee on my Texaco bill. I believed I had a persuasive argument.

As I carefully explained to the unsympathetic operator on the customer assistance line, I hadn’t actually neglected to pay last month’s Texaco bill. I had just gotten confused and paid ShellTexaco instead of ChevronTexaco.

In other words, I said, I was just one more unwitting victim of the American corporate merger mania. Mergers have thrown millions of Americans out of work, I said. Mergers have even been known to cause high-ranking executives to lose their country club privileges and in extreme cases, their trophy wives. Now, to compound those tragedies, I had been slapped with a $15 late fee.

There was silence on the other end of the line.

I decided to try another tack. This one had the added benefit of being the truth.

I had tried to pay off my Texaco bill on time. Yet I had no idea that the oil industry had been so busy lately. I didn’t realize that the bill that said “Texaco” in prominent letters was actually my Chevron bill. I thought it was my Shell bill, because a couple of years ago, Texaco took away our Texaco card and issued us a Shell card with instructions to use it at Texaco stations. However, they said we can also use it at Shell stations, seeing as how some of the Texaco stations in the area would soon be switching over to Shell, and also seeing as how the card says “Shell” on it.

In other words, this was all a big, complicated Shell game.

So, as I further explained to the Chevron operator, I had inadvertently paid Shell, not Chevron, which is why he and his entire company were now under the impression that I was a freeloader and deadbeat and no-good moocher. And, as a point of interest, it is also why somebody at Shell is wondering why I paid them $44 for no reason (not that they were puzzled enough to send it back).

And there, I rested my case.

So then the operator explained to me how wrong I was about all of this. There is no ShellTexaco. Shell never merged with Texaco, he said. Shell just took over Texaco’s credit card business and a lot of its gas stations. It was Chevron who actually merged with Texaco, and not only that, but they had done it two or three years ago. That’s why the bill says ChevronTexaco and should never be confused with Shell, despite the fact that both bills prominently display the BIG BRIGHT TEXACO STAR.

OK. Clearly, we must all start paying more attention to the corporate maneuverings of America’s oil business.

And for that matter, practically every other kind of business. I am particularly sensitive to this issue right now because mergers have also complicated two other areas of my life lately.

For one thing, my AT&T Broadband Internet service was taken over by Comcast about a year or so ago. This would have been a matter of utter indifference to me, except of course Comcast had to make it into a big deal for millions of us by changing our e-mail addresses from attbi.com to comcast.net. They thoughtfully forwarded messages addressed attbi.com for a year, but as of Jan. 1, they stopped.

Now, anybody who sends mail to the old address will receive a “mail undeliverable” message, leading them to the unavoidable conclusion: Oh. Too bad. The Kershners are dead.

I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Pulitzer Prize committee and probably the Nobel Peace Prize people and the Power Ball Lottery people will have to give their prizes to someone else now, all because they have failed to update their address books.

Meanwhile, our cell phone service, ATT Wireless, has merged with Cingular. This has happened so recently that I can’t tell exactly how this will screw up my life, although I’m sure it will. So far, the only difference is that this month, my bill says Cingular for the first time. Fortunately I was smart enough to know that I should still pay it off under the old name in my on-line bill paying list: “Texaco.”

Meanwhile, I did get some satisfaction from Chevron, I mean, ChevronTexaco. The customer assistance operator took pity on me and, with a nearly audible sigh, expunged the late fee from my bill.

I promised to get it right next time, assuming the oil companies promise to stand pat for a month.

But, as thinkers such as Alan Greenspan and Sigmund Freud have pointed out, the urge to merge is too strong. This won’t stop until I get one giant bill in the mail for ChevronTexacoShellExxonMobil ConocoPhillipsBritishPetroleum. That bill will be a whopper. I’ll mess up and pay it off under: “ARCO.”

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