(a story written with reservations)
Peter can think of few things he hates worse than being put on hold endlessly. Even if he knew the truth--that this practice is part of a plan to increase our nation's collective level of patience--he'd still hate it. All he wants to do is make a reservation for a hotel weekend getaway to celebrate their fourth anniversary but already he's been on hold for ten minutes. He's tapping his foot unconsciously to the Musak he detests.
The music ends. An encouraging sign. Click. He's been cut off. Press re-dial. On hold once again. All our reservationists are busy but your call is very important to us. Calls will be answered in the order in which they are received. More Musak--actually, the same song: a baroque-type arrangement of Helter Skelter. He continues to hold.
After losing $257 in online solitaire, he decides to pass the time by going to the hotel's Web page to see about making a reservation there. He clicks onto the screen that describes the weekend getaway package rates. There's no way to make an online reservation, so he's stuck. It's been twenty minutes. Who do they think they are, his HMO?
He puts the call on hold and dials from his second line. It rings three times and a cheerful-sounding woman answers. "Economy Palace--how may I direct your call?"
So much for calls being answered in the right order. "Wait, is this a real human being or another recorded message?" he asks.
"Sir, I'm afraid we are not authorized to answer personal questions. How may I direct your call?"
"Fine. In that case, can I be connected with Reservations please?"
"That would be me. How can I help you?"
He explains what he's looking for and the reservationist quotes him a price of $40 per night higher than what's on the Web page. He asks her if this is the lowest rate available and she replies, "If you want to stay here anytime on a Tuesday and Thursday, not within the same calendar week, or overnight between Saturday and Sunday, with a check-in time not before 11 p.m. Saturday and a check-out on Sunday not after 8:30 a.m., and if you don't care whether the bed's been made up, I can give you a price that is ten dollars less than our standard rate. I can also offer you this rate if you are of Mesopotamian or Babylonian descent, with appropriate documentation of course."
He tells her about the rate on the Web page and she asks him when he saw it. He says it was just a few minutes ago and it's still on his screen.
"Oh," she replies, "that makes all the difference. If you saw this on the Web page, then I'm authorized to quote you a low rate of only twenty percent higher than that."
"Let me explain," she says. "What's the date at the bottom of the screen, where it shows when the page was last modified?"
"June 1st." Peter's probably too honest for his own good, but you don't get to be a used car salesman without this quality.
"Well sir, need I remind you that it's July 23rd and there's a little thing known as inflation. Ever heard of it? Never mind. The point is, considering what gas prices have done in this same time period, I would think you would recognize a bargain when you hear one."
"I don't know, I think I'd--"
"Sir, you're in a Take It or Leave It Situation, as we call them out here. Do you catch my drift?"
"Deeply," Peter replies. Then he tells her that before he can make a final decision, he'd like to hear about the hotel's features and what the price includes. The reservationist rattles off things like a swimming pool, which is closed due to an unfortunate oil spill, and a state-of-the-art fitness center, which on the Web site appears to be a walk-in closet equipped with an exercycle, a ladder bolted into the floor, and a jacked up row boat. She also mentions a complimentary glass of wine available during their A.A. Early Bird Happy Hour: six to seven in the morning.
After agreeing on a price and dates, she tells Peter that a major credit card is required to confirm the reservation. He pulls out his wallet. "My Visa number is--"
"I'm sorry sir, we don't take Visa."
"Okay, then my American Express--
"No Amex either."
"What credit cards do you take?"
"As I told you, a Major credit card. Major is a credit card company affiliated with the Economy Palace chain and I'm authorized to take your application over the phone right now."
Once that transaction is completed, she tells him to write down the confirmation number: 32 G as in Gervase, Q as in Quintessential, 65 S as in Satchmo , C3PO as in the Star Wars character, and 9V as in Valium.
After they finish, Peter picks up the phone line where he placed the original call and hears a woman's frantic voice:
"Is anybody there? I've been trying to handle this call for the past fifteen minutes so if there's a live person listening, I'd like to know right now! I'm not authorized to disconnect a call from a customer until I've made interactive voice contact and now I am stuck, waiting for you to say something so please, if you're out there, say something anything!"
Peter makes the right choice.