(Steve's note: I want to say right up front that I always use Evansville Regional Airport whenever possible, and always check it first for schedules and availability. You should too! However in this case, it just didn't work out, so this sequence of events happened at the Louisville airport recently)
This is about what can happen when technology and workplace enthusiasm collide.
Blue Eyes and I were at the Lousville airport trying, without much success, to catch a flight to New Orleans. We'd planned a getaway weekend, flying down and taking the train back. But the getaway part wasn't working too well, so there I was on Concourse B at the airport, trying to reach the Amtrak reservations system to discuss my options.
Like many businesses these days, Amtrak has an automated system when you call in that you have to wade through to get to talk to a real person. That's the technology part of this story.
Like most airports, Louisville has carts that haul people up and down the concourses. Like the carts at most airports, these make a loud beeping noise as they cruise throught the airport. If you've ever been there, you know that the cart drivers really enjoy their jobs, even asking seemingly able people if they want to ride to their gate instead of walk. That's the enthusiasm part of this story.
That's the setup. Here's what transpired during several attempts to try to talk to Amtrak while sitting in the airport concourse.
"Hi, I'm Julie, your Amtrak automated voice attendant. Please listen to the menu of options before choosing the one that fits your needs. Say 'Introduction', or press 1 if...." "I'm sorry, I didn't understand your choice. Please listen carefully to the menu options before choosing one."
But I hadn't said a word.
I tried to re-set the menu by pressing buttons on the phone without success. I gave up and called the Amtrak reservations number again.
"Hi, I'm Julie, your Amtrak automated voice attendant. Please listen to the menu of options before choosing the one that fits your needs. Say 'Introduction', or press 1 if you want to access the options menu. Say 'Schedule' or press 2 to see if a specific train is on time, say 'Reservations' or press 3 if you wish to make reservations for a future date, say 'Agent' or press 4....I'm sorry, did you say 'Schedule'?
Again, I hadn't said a word.
This was starting to get a little frustrating. Then, I saw...and heard it. The airport cart driver, going back past where I was sitting, with the cart making that godawful loud "Beep, beep, beep" noise.
It hit me. The cart was interrupting the automated voice program, making it go off in wild directions while I tried in vain to corral the menu options.
At first it was kind of amusing. I even tried messing with 'Julie', timing the cart's interruption to get some interesting feedback from the automated attendant. (I'm easily amused)
But quickly, it became a battle of wills. I was going to get through the menu and talk to a real person. I even had Blue Eyes watch up the concourse to let me know when the cart wasn't coming, but to no avail.
Every time I tried to get through the menu, here came the cart "Beep, beep beep!" and 'Julie' would have a seizure in her automated brain.
I finally gave up. I didn't want to go back out to the main terminal or out to my car to make the call because that would mean having to endure another security screening. I decided to try later.
A couple of hours later, and on another concourse, we'd given up on catching ever later flights and decided to try again the next day.
I called 'Julie' one more time, and you guessed it...."Beep, beep, beep!"
I have to write a note to the Louisville airport authority and tell them that their cart drivers are really earning their keep.
I gave up and went out to the relative quiet of my car in the parking garage, where at long last, I finally got to talk to a real person and got the reservations straightened out.
Let's have some fun with this. E-mail me what you think the moral of this story is, and I'll post the best ones here next week.
Postscript: We did eventually get to New Orleans and had a great time. If you've never been there, do yourself a favor and go see the French Quarter. The atmosphere is electric, the food is wonderful, and the live entertainment the best you'll find. My picks: Petunia's Restaurant on St. Louis between Bourbon Street and Dauphine, and the nightly Preservation Hall jazz concerts.