Wednesday, August 17, 2005

well, as far as i know no 9000 computer's ever been disconnected

Can we find the person who developed the talking automated phone reservations system, and subject them to an exceedingly slow and painful death? Preferably one that involves pressing or saying one repeatedly and getting no response?

I'd procrastinated on getting my tickets set up for this weekend's festivities, partying down in Truckee with my maiden aunt who will have been out there on a Sierra Club vacation pulling weeds or some such. Procrastinated because I've gotten used to the European way of booking trains--you know, relatively efficiently (if you don't count that glitch we faced getting from Budapest to Ukraine with tickets that weren't printed in a language the bribe-hungry Ukrainian conductor understood) and at the last damn minute if I so choose.

I had forgotten that with our new Homeland Security paranoia firmly screwed on, you can't just decide to buy a train ticket three days before you plan to travel. Especially on-line. So I called the number and got... Her... "Julie"... Amtrak's automated saleswench.

Why do they have names? They're not AI. They don't have consciousness. I'd feel a lot better if a metallic voice had said, hello, I'm X-34826, and I'm completely incorporal. That way I wouldn't keep feeling compelled to say anything other than the phrases the system is designed to understand. I wouldn't feel like screaming, no, I'm not trying to go to Boston's Back Bay on September first, you idiot, I said "Truckee California returning August 22nd."

Just as an aside, I'm having the strongest deja vu. Have I ranted about automated reservation systems before? Anyone know? I'm too lazy to look.

ANYWAY. I was so irritated that "Julie" couldn't find the outbound train that I could see online that I hung up, went over to Greyhound's site, and quickly and easily bought a bus ticket for that first leg. It means being at the creepy subterranean bus terminal at 4:45 Saturday morning, so maybe I'll just go dancing Friday night at the nearby Sound Factory until 4 am and then hike over. I'm sure the coatcheck person at the SF won't blink at a backpack with a sleeping bag attached, right? Because I'm pretty sure you can't leave anything in lockers anywhere anymore. I'm not thrilled about six hours on a bus, but I can sleep anywhere, in any position, so that is what I will doubtless do.

Then I took some deep breaths, and called "Julie" back. Scheduling a return meant that I eventually ended up talking to an actual real physical person (at least she sounded real, and deftly handled the trick robot-weeding-out questions I tossed her), and did not have to give my credit card number over a wireless phone. And my trip back will include six hours on the train, which sounds lovely.

Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.