On T-Mobile, Pandora, and Streaming the Holiday

A couple of months ago I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile because I hate AT&T. Anyone who has used AT&T will understand why I left. They consistently overprice and under-deliver. Their stores are so metaphysically awful that I suspect they were derived from some unpublished B.F. Skinner experiment. The thing that really got me, though, was their international service. I was up-sold on a plan that included an app for finding wi-fi hotspots internationally so that I could save on (massively overpriced) data. What a great idea! Except the app requires the use of international data to find said hotspots, which it never actually did, by the way. But like most consumers, I would probably have just taken it forever—the gouging, the extortion, the stores aspiring to be a joyful as the DMV—but T-Mobile announced an unlimited streaming plan that seemed (and seems, frankly) too good to be true. It works like this: streaming data does not count against your data plan. Netflix? YouTube? Apple Music? Go wild. Run it 24/7. Stream 730 hours of video a month, and you'll pay for 0 bytes of data. This is a Crazy Eddie type of deal, but it's real. I expected fine print or some sort of gotcha when I went to the T-Mobile store (the Siegen Lane location in Baton Rouge), which, incidentally, was clean, bright, and pleasant, and so overstaffed that at one point I had three people helping me at once. It was like I was slowing them down.

(This is the precise opposite of the AT&T experience. Life hack: the next time you have to visit an AT&T store, bring along all of last year's receipts and do your taxes while your wait for an employee to call your name. And not the 1040EZ, either, but the long form.)

T-Mobile paid-off my AT&T contract and bought my old phone. Here is how that worked. They asked me how much time was left on my contract. (14 months.) They asked me what new phone I wanted. (iPhone 6s.) They asked me to back up my phone (I already had) and they typed things into a computer. Twenty minutes later, I had a new phone, 6GB of (tether-able) data, unlimited streaming, and it cost me... nothing. Like, they handed me a bag with my activated phone and I had to ask them if they were sure it was OK if I left without giving them any money. Until then I had never left a mobile phone store without paying somebody something. In fact, not only did I not pay, but they paid me to leave. The value of my phone applied to the first two months of my cell phone bill. They told me when AT&T sent me a final bill, to bring it in and they would process it for a final refund. (Yesterday I did, and they did.)

The thing that struck me about the employees was their weird zeal for sticking it to the competitors. Like, I get it when the CEO of T-Mobile insults AT&T and Verizon. He's the CEO. He wants to make millions of dollars. But these guys at the T-Mobile store aren't getting stock options or use of the company jet. They just really seemed to like their jobs and hate the competition. They were excited to have a new member of their tribe. (It was almost cult-like in retrospect, but a really good cult, like those weirdos who've started an actual Jedi religion.)

It seems like I'm on the payroll here by writing all this (I'm not, though if you're reading T-Mobile, call me!), but the whole experience was so rewarding and free of frustration that I feel like I have to tell somebody lest I wake up from a really great, if boring, comparatively, dream.


All of this occurred during the holiday season. Christmas. Whatever. God I miss when you could just write "holiday season" without it being some sort of political statement. I just mean the winterish time when people suddenly remember that gingerbread is a valid cookie. See, I'm not a huge music fan (well, I am a great fan of music, but I'm not one of those people who calls it "my music" when referring to their album collection), but I love Christmas music. Not just any Christmas music, but the classics of the Bing Crosby and Burl Ives variety. If you are a Christmas song and were written or performed after 1950, you are suspect to me.

Because I now have unlimited streaming, I figured that I would try it out. (In truth, when I switched over I wasn't sure what it was I wanted to stream. It's not like I'm watching Netflix while driving.) I signed up for Pandora because it was free and required no thinking on my part. (For some reason, the signup for Spotify feels like buying a timeshare.) So I signed up for Pandora and searched for a radio station or channel or whatever they're calling it and found "Christmas Traditional Radio." (It might also be called "Holiday Classics"—I have no idea how Pandora works.)

Hmm, I wondered. Will it be actual holiday classics or will it attempt to foist upon me that horrible Paul McCartney "Wonderful Christmastime" atrocity that society seems hellbent on making a classic even though nobody likes it if they're honest with themselves. (Don't get me started on "Happy X-Mas (War is Over)," which actually makes me hope for total thermonuclear armageddon. If ever I'm a prisoner of war, you can pry off my fingernails and I won't talk, but play that godforsaken John Lennon abomination and I'll tell you everything you want to know. I'll become a spy for you. Anything. Just make it stop.)

Dear reader, this station was the real deal. Bing Crosby and I spent weeks together and it was glorious. Only once did Holiday Classics fail me, when it attempted to sneak "Merry Christmas, Baby" by the Beach Boys into the rotation. God. But mostly the algorithm (I'm assuming the station is automated) achieved near perfection. Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters. Mitch Miller. Frank Sinatra is hit and miss with his Christmas music. The problem is that it's nearly impossible to hear a Frank Sinatra song and not think, "Oh, that's Frank Sinatra," which destroys the immersion. Sinatra is simply bigger than Christmas music. But Bing Crosby? He is Christmas. (Sinatra isn't alone in this. The Rat Pack, collectively, fails miserably and almost embarrassingly at Christmastime.) Moreover, a lot of musicians are a little too fondly remembered for their Christmas music. Perry Como has about 2,000 songs of the holiday, and exactly two good ones: "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and "Home for the Holidays." Andy Williams isn't quite as good as he's remembered either.

It's worth noting that the Pandora stream never once buffered, which is a testament, I think, to both Pandora and T-Mobile. Indeed, I had zero outages driving from Baton Rouge to Orlando and back. I think that's pretty impressive, and it alleviated my greatest fear when switching to T-Mobile: that the network would be spotty. But I can say that streaming music had a measurable effect on my life over the last month: it's put me in the Christmas spirit.