I Meet HAL

This entry is part 7 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers

HAL – Holland America Lines…

It all started innocently enough. The computer wanted to know our names and booking number, and I willingly complied.

HAL: Welcome, Kristine. Would you like to experience the convenience of booking excursions for another party at the same time as you book your own?
Me: It’s Richard (my real name) here, but yes, I think it would be very handy to book everyone at the same time. Thanks for offering…
HAL: Very good, madam. Please enter the name and booking number of the first additional party.

I typed in the requested information, pressed the return key and waited.

HAL: Error in routine adsub32, line 53. Thank you for choosing HAL. Goodbye.
Me: Grrrrr…

I went back to the login page and tried again. HAL would not talk to me at all. Sometimes computers just need a little time to rest and reflect, so I went about my other business. Hours later, I returned to HAL and tried again.

Me: Hello, HAL. It’s me again.
HAL: Welcome, Richard. Would you like to experience the convenience of booking excursions for another party at the same time as you book your own?

This was going better – so far – but I decided not to get pushy.

Me: No thanks, HAL. That didn’t work out too well last time, but I appreciate the thought.
HAL: It looks like you’re going to Bar Harbor, Charlottetown, Sydney and Halifax.
Me: Very good, HAL. Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s look at Bar Harbor…
HAL: Certainly, madam. Here are your options.
Me: HAL, I don’t see the limo and lunch tour. It’s in the book.
HAL: There are no other options.
Me: OK, then lets look at Charlottetown…HAL, I can’t figure out how to leave Bar Harbor and look at something else.
HAL: You haven’t made a selection. What would you like to do?
Me: I’d like to think about Bar Harbor some more, and skip to PEI.

I tried using the back button to see the original list of ports. HAL went off into outer space. I went to the kitchen, made a stiff drink and went to bed. I was sure that the programmers would be working through the night to fix the server.

I worked on my book editing project for most of the next morning before finding the motivation to try signing up for excursions again.

HAL: Good morning, Richard – sir. Where to?
Me: Lets try Sydney for a change. Kris would like to see the Puffins at Bird Island.
HAL: One moment, madam. I’ll see if we still have room.
Me: Thank you, HAL. Feeling better today?
HAL: One moment, please…Oh, dear. I’m sorry, but there’s no more space available for Bird Island. Would Kris like to be put on the waitlist?

This was bad news. I figured that I’d be one of the first to book excursions. All those first-timers would be caught off guard, but our little party would prevail.

Me: Nuts, HAL. OK, fine – put her on the waitlist. Now, I’d like to book Kris on the lake sailing tour so that she can go with the mothers if the Bird Island thing doesn’t work out.
HAL: What would you like to do in Sydney?
Me: Don’t worry about me. I want to book Kris on the lake tour.
HAL: I’m sorry. Kris already has an activity in Sydney.
Me: Fine. Let’s go to Halifax. I’d like to book the museum tour there.
HAL: I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Me: My name’s not Dave. It’s Richard.
HAL: I’m sorry Dave, I don’t have enough information.
Me: OK, HAL. Try this again. I command you – book Kris on the lake tour in Sydney.
HAL: Certainly. How would you like to pay for that?
Me: Can’t I book some more tours before I pay?
HAL: Mastercard or Visa?
Me: Mastercard…

I filled in the form, paid the tab and immediately returned to the login page. This time I logged in using the mother’s information.

HAL: Good afternoon, Patrick.
Me: Sydney, please. Two for the lake tour.
HAL: One moment, sir. I’ll see if we still have room… I’m sorry, there’s no more space available for the lake tour.
Me: But I just booked Kris on that tour. You mean to tell me that she got the last space?
HAL: Would you like Patrick and Laura to be placed on the waitlist?
Me: Oh, just forget it. Book Laura on the mine tour…Please…
HAL: As you wish. Mastercard or Visa?
Me: Mastercard.

I filled in the form.

HAL: Pat, this doesn’t appear to be your credit card.
Me: Just take it, HAL.

I received an email moments later confirming my mother on the mine tour in Sydney. Time to call Kris with the bad news.

“Hello,” said an unfamiliar woman’s voice.

“Hi – can I speak to Kris please?”

“She’s water skiing right now. Can I take a message?”

She’s water skiing, and I’m drowning. “Yes. Please use these exact words – ‘Phone home.’” For some reason, an outer space theme was running through my head.

“OK. Will do.”

“I wonder who that was,” I thought. You never really know who’s going to show up at the camp, especially on a holiday. Sometimes it’s a real zoo.

I logged back onto HAL – as myself this time – only to find that the Confederation Bridge tour was not being offered in Charlottetown. We’d never been to PEI, but more than one person had told me that the beaches there were beautiful, and that the water was remarkably warm. Although one does not normally associate New England/Canada cruises with beaches, it seemed to me that beaches and cruises were meant to go together.

I scanned the offerings, and found a tour called Dalvay by the Sea – a lobster lunch at the historic Victorian estate of a pre-income tax American magnate. Although the description didn’t specifically mention a beach, I figured that if the place was by the sea, a beach couldn’t be far away. Admittedly – for all I knew – it was at the bottom of a hundred-foot cliff.

I triumphantly completed the booking, logged back in as the mothers, and convinced HAL to sell them a spot on the bus to the Green Gables house. A pair of email messages arrived confirming the unqualified success of my efforts. I printed them as evidence, just in case.

Around dinnertime, the phone interrupted my editing progress. I’d spent the whole afternoon researching punctuation and the proper way to write the time of day. From that experience, I concluded that English grammar is just plain nutty.

“Hello,” I said.

“It’s me,” said Kris. I let it go this time. She’ll never learn…

“How’s things? Who’s up there? A stranger answered the phone.”

“Well, let’s see. My cousin from Maine is here with her husband and their two daughters – and they each brought friends – and Ann’s sister’s friend is here with her new baby, my brothers are here and…” I kept count until the number of souls reached twenty. “And then my cousin Eric and his family are renting the cabin next door, so that means the Smiths are visiting…”

“Where are you sleeping?” I asked. With that crowd, I knew Kris wouldn’t have the luxury of hogging the double bed in “our” room. Too inefficient.

“On the couch,” she said. “If you were here, we could claim our room.”

“Sorry,” I said. I was sorry about the sleeping situation, but not too sorry that I wasn’t there to cook for the masses. It is my job to man the grill at the camp, and when the body count is that high, it becomes quite a chore. Twenty-seven cheeseburgers, five hamburgers and a dozen hot dogs, coming right up. I’m kind of glad that it’s not safe to eat rare burgers anymore, because I can cook everything for the same amount of time – well done…

“We’re having lobster tonight,” said Kris. “Eric brought a huge outdoor cooker, and he and my mother are out there making the steamers right now.”

“It figures,” I said. I think I started drooling…

So what’s up?” Kris asked.

“I’m having a bit of trouble with the excursions. The Puffins are sold out. Same for the lake tour. They’re not offering the lunch tour in Bar Harbor or the bridge tour in Charlottetown. But I got the mothers on the Green Gables tour.”

“No Puffins?”

“Afraid not.”

“That was Sydney, right? Same place as the lake tour?” Kris asked. I grunted an affirmative. “My mother would like to go to the Alexander Graham Bell museum, then. I’ll go with her.”

“I could go for that, too,” I said. “What about Bar Harbor?”

“You pick. Find something nice that we’ll all like.”

“I’ve gotta tell ya, the computer system they use for the excursion booking is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“Why don’t you just call them?” Kris asked.

I responded with silence.

“Do you want me to do it?”

I repeated my last line…

I wasn’t about to give up just like that. “No, I’ll take care of it,” I said. “Kiss a lobster for me…”

That was it. No more Mr. Niceguy. No computer was going to make a fool out of me…

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