Washington Post consumer columnist Dan Oldenburg joined the long line of writers on the business desk accepting the newspaper’s buyout offer, and in Sunday’s newspaper he reminisced about his Consummate Consumer column for the past 20 years.
Oldenburg wrote, “My heart is all that much heavier about ending this column, which has connected me in such a personal way, week after week, for years, to so many of you — smart consumers who have written, phoned and e-mailed your anger, frustrations, bewilderment, even amusement, over consumer issues and problems that surface every day in what sometimes seems to be a marketplace gone mad.
“The first column, in October 1986, wasn’t really a column so much as a news-you-can-use feature in the Style section. I wrote about service stations that were refusing to take back dirty motor oil from consumers. As unimaginable as it seems today, back then, the price of crude oil had dropped by half, so clean oil was cheaper than recycling used oil, and gas stations didn’t want the hassle.
“Some of the column’s finest triumphs were nickel-and-dimers, such as the story I broke in 2000 on the Bell Atlantic computer glitch that overcharged 80,000 customers about $6 a month over six months.
“Columns that got readers’ dander up were fun. Anything about Comcast customer service was like lighting a fuse. And there was always a flood of feedback after columns about those ubiquitous little add-on fees that are mini-gouging consumers at every turn — such as the few bucks that rental-car companies charge customers who ask that their miles be added to their frequent-flier program. Or phone bills charging tax on subtotals that already include tax. Hey, it’s endless.”
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