David Cogswell | February 02, 2016 12:00 PM ET
Better Call Paul
I was set to travel to Atlanta on Sunday for the National Tour Association’s annual conference and I thought I had my flights set up. But suddenly for reasons I won’t go into here, I found out the arrangements had fallen through. So there I was on Saturday with no flight to Atlanta and the conference was set to start the next day.
I had my hotel reservations starting the next night. I had obligations to meet. I really needed to be there. But now suddenly I had no flight. What was I going to do, walk? It’s about a 14-hour drive from New Jersey to Atlanta. Not quite feasible at that late hour. Trains? I don’t know. My mind was racing.
How foolish I felt! The conference was one day away and I had no flight. The airlines would roast me on that one, for sure. With only one day to make an appointment I was surely in the airlines’ target market of business travelers who had to make it and had no other choices. They would hit me with everything they had. I was at their mercy. It was my own fault. I was a fool.
Futility descended over me. My mind was reeling with all the consequences that would unfold from me miscalculating so badly. How much time did I need to cancel a hotel reservation? What would I say to people? What would I do? How could I ever extricate myself from this stupid mess I had created?
I picked up my phone, not believing anything could save me. I really felt hopeless. It felt like an exercise in futility, but I did it anyway. I had nothing better to do while I sat there in a miserable state of failure, my world collapsing around me.
It was Saturday, too, not even a business day. I couldn’t even expect anyone to be at the office. I scrolled down my contacts to Paul, my travel agent. Paul of Village Travel in York Harbor, Maine.
I was imagining myself leaving him a voicemail and telling him my problem. When would he get back to me? When would he even hear my message? It was not reasonable to expect him to even hear the message until the office opened on Monday. I couldn’t expect Paul to be sitting by his phone waiting for me to call.
These kinds of thoughts were streaming through my mind frantically behind eyes that were blinded by panic and shame.
I heard the voicemail message, concluding with “If you want to leave a message for Paul, press one, if you want to leave a message for Jane press two.”
I pressed one, took a deep breath and prepared to leave a message.
“This is Paul.”
It was him! He answered! On a Saturday! Paul! My champion in times of need!
I started explaining my situation, wincing in embarrassment with every word for how stupid I had been to put myself in such a predicament. Paul was characteristically quiet as I rattled on, and then I ran out of things to say and waited.
As usual when I call Paul, he had been typing on his keyboard, looking into the possibilities as soon as he gathered the essential information, before I had even finished my explanation.
“So you want to fly from Newark to Atlanta, tomorrow?” he said.
I winced again and forced myself to admit it. Yes, tomorrow.
“Well United has a really crazy price out of Newark,” he said. “It’s $1,200.”
But I had to consider it. I was up against a wall.
I said, “If there is anything better out of La Guardia, I could do that. I could even go to JFK if it made a really significant difference.”
Newark is my top choice for airports from Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s the most advantageously located, less than a half hour’s drive if the traffic isn’t too backed up. But La Guardia is not all that much farther away.
To go to La Guardia I have to cross the Hudson, and figure in the Manhattan traffic. But in miles it’s not really much farther. And I end up using JFK many times on international flights that only leave from JFK. So that’s always a possibility. But it’s close to an hour away even in perfect traffic conditions.
“Well I could get you on American out of La Guardia for $250.”
Two fifty? Was I hearing things?
I would not have expected a fare like that if I had booked the flight six months ago, but certainly not with a departure the next day. But that is Paul. He’s the wonder man. He has ways, things he does not reveal because they are trade secrets.
I have asked him if I could interview him about how he performs his wonders, but he politely declined.
A friend of mine likes to go online, search for the best deal, and book it himself directly. He’s very proud of his prowess in this regard. But once he got stuck. He spent hours, literally, trying to find a good flight in a pinch and was not coming up with anything satisfactory.
I said, “Call Paul.”
He had spent so much time with the problem he was worn out and his eyes were crossing. So he swallowed his pride. He called Paul.
And as always, by the time he had finished formulating the question, Paul had found him a flight for a far better price than he had found after hours of search.
That’s why I love Paul. Paul renews my faith in travel agents, in humankind. In life itself.
I’ve had many such experiences with Paul when I was in trouble, when I missed a flight or when a flight was canceled because of a storm. Paul is always able to come up with a solution.
Paul is the man. When I am in need of any assistance travelwise, I know what to do.
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