FORTUNATELY, I rarely suffer from Monday morning blues. I have made up my mind that this is going to be a good week, and I am starting it off right by walking to work. I am heading east on Massachusetts Avenue, past stately embassies in beautiful gardens. The sun shines in my face, and I have discovered that it is strong enough to tan even at this early hour.
As soon as I enter my office, the morning's tranquility is gone. The phone knows I have arrived; it rings. People know I am here; they come in with questions. First thing every Monday morning, I call our five other ticketing locations in the area to find out how many man-hours they used, and how many tickets they issued during the past week. This information is the basis for weekly productivity statistics. It is, however, virtually impossible to measure our productivity accurately. A ticket may take two minutes or 20 minutes to prepare. Shoppers, looking for bargains, can occupy an agent for five minutes or an hour. Refunds, which do not count as productivity, often are complicated and more time-consuming than a sale.
I cannnot get through this task without at least half a dozen interruptions.
A party of five arrives at the counter with tickets issued in South Africa and, unfortunately, in South African rands. The tickets must be recalculated and rewritten, because the passengers changed their itineraries. But the amount collected in rands does not equal the correct U.S. dollar fare. I am called out to help. I wonder what the rate of exchange was when these tickets were bought? And what tariff did the agent in South Africa have? Domestic tariffs change so frequently and at such short notice that revisions don't even reach Washington on time, let alone South Africa. After a lot of figuring and a little guessing, I arrive at what was charged and why. Two of us work as fast as we can, but it takes us over an hour to exchange the tickets.
By now, lunch time is upon us. We are very busy, and I decide to stay and work on the counter. I am always glad of the chance to keep up my ticketing skills, and I enjoy the contact with passengers.
It is not until late afternoon that I get around to opening the mail and answering some of it. The rest will have to wait. Tuesday
This morning a taxi driver comes with an unusual story. For days he has tried to find a man who left a briefcase in his cab. He thought we might be able to help, because among the documents in the briefcase was one of our tickets. Luckily, the passenger's record with his home phone number is still in our computer. We call, tell our story, obtain a Washington address and send a happy driver to reap, we hope, his just reward. The episode rekindles my belief in universal honesty.
In this euphoric state, I approach my next problem. A young boy with a check for $377 made out to him, and no I.D. He was to send a prepaid ticket to Los Angeles, so that old Mr. Jones' daughter can come to visit him in the hospital. According to every rule in the book, I should not take the check. On impulse, I call the hospital and ask for Mr. Jones in his ward. After a long wait, a quivering little voice comes on the line. "Please, take my check," he pleads. "I promise you it won't bounce. It will mean so much to me to see my daughter." That does it. I ask the boy to endorse the check, write on it "checked with hospital" and cross my fingers. t
The rest of the day is routine. Routine means pleasant people; it also means difficult people. Everybody is short of money and patience. The price of airline tickets has risen like everything else, and if people detect any flaw in our expensive product (a lengthy wait, an unsuitable schedule, a higher than expected fare), they vent their frustrations. You can't really blame them, but nevertheless it's sometimes hard to take. Wednesday
Shostakovich depresses me. Whenever I am forced to wake up to his music, I am tempted to call the radio station and pledge a donation in exchange for Mozart or Haydn to wake up to. I only hope this morning's music is not a bad omen. For a supposedly rational person, I am awfully superstitious.
Before I become too embroiled in the problems at our main office, I decide to look in on our two other locations that are within walking distance. I should go to see them much more frequently, but there are never enough hours in the day. As expected, all is well at both places. After all, we are constantly in touch by telephone, and if something were wrong, I would be alerted immediately. As I trot along I reflect that the corner of Connecticut and K reminds me of an Oriental bazaar. Only the snake charmers are missing.
I return to my office at noon. Just as our rush hour begins, the computers go out. Everything we need -- flight availability, reservation records, fares -- is stored in the computer. Without it, we cannot function. A nerve-frazzling and disconcerting feeling. wI call the computer center and am told that we are having "line problems." The passengers are understanding and settle down to wait. Luckily, within a few minutes the computers revive and we are able to work again.
I leave early to make preparations for a little office party at my place tonight. I have kept the purpose of the party a secret, and everybody arrives promptly and filled with curiosity. The occasion is the presentation of awards of merit to two of our ticket agents. Everyone is surprised and delighted, and we all have a good time. Thursday
No walking to work this morning. On the contrary, no sooner do I sit down in the N2 (the Cadillac of the Metrobus fleet) then I doze off. I am still half asleep when I get to the office, but my first passenger changes that. She is very upset. The price of her ticket turns out to be $12 more than she was quoted when she made her reservations two weeks ago. Alas, we have had a fare increase since she was given that information. While I really sympathize, I cannot "give the lady what she wants." The tariff requires that we charge "the fare contained in a tariff lawfully in effect on the day of ticket issuance." In these days of constantly escalating prices, that requirement has become our nemesis. Yesterday's lawful fare may be obsolete today, and must no longer be charged. I try to explain this to the lady, but she leaves unconvinced and unappeased.
It has been my experience that a day that starts badly gets worse. Today is no exception. A couple from Greece wants to buy two new Visit USA tickets. I can't imagine how they have heard about this latest version of the VUSA fare so quickly. We don't really know yet how this fare applies, and have to read the instructions -- all four pages of them -- as we write the tickets.
Six tickets from Nigeria have to be refigured and rewritten. We can't reconcile the transatlantic fares and call the international carrier. After eight tries, the line is still busy. What frustration! Two young girls from New Zealand want to stop everywhere on their way to the West Coast. More refiguring. More rewriting. Doesn't anybody want a one-way to Chicago?
At 5:30, I crawl out of the office. At home, my husband and my dog are waiting to chat and walk, respectively. I am not overly responsive. My energy is at low ebb. How do women with children cope with it all? I can, and do, collapse on the terrace with my quest for serenity and a mystery novel.
Mt. St. Helens has erupted again. Our first passenger needs to go to Oregon immediately because of a death in his family. Due to volcanic ash fallout and limited visibility, Portland airport is closed. A decision on operations later in the day is expected at 9 a.m. PDT, which is noon our time. The passenger is in no condition to plan; we have to do it for him. We book him on a nonstop to Denver which makes connections to Portland as well as Seattle. By the time he reaches Denver, we should have precise information on conditions in Portland. Seattle airport seems to be operating normally. He may have to fly there and drive to Portland. We explain all this. But the poor soul is in shock, and we doubt he understands. We alert Denver to give all possible assistance.
In the mail is a thank-you note from Mr. Jones. His daughter is coming early next week, and he is happy. So am I. If I ever had any doubts about his check, I don't any more.
An agent in one of the other ticket offices called in sick, so I had to send relief. That means, of course, that I am short staffed in the main office. I try to work on the counter, but have to give it up. My phone rings incessantly, and the interruptions are unfair to the passenger and to my concentration. Besides, Friday is paperwork day. I have to prepare next week's work schedule and, most important, the payroll.
It quiets down in the afternoon and I can leave on time, which is nice, because we are driving to the Virginia mountains tonight. Saturday
My husband finally gets his chats, my dog her long-awaited walk -- hike would be more correct. Then my husband goes fishing in the nearby lake, and I resolve to swim an hour nonstop. Swimming is the only sport at which I am any good, so I feel entitled to brag about it shamelessly. Sunday
In the morning we chat and walk and swim some more. Early in the afternoon we set out on the homeward journey. On the way, we stop to do our grocery shopping. At home a mad scramble ensues: wash clothes, tidy up, get organized. Tomorrow starts another week.