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Thoughts of Thai food from the place around the corner cluttered my concentration as lunchtime crept ever closer. No one makes hotel reservations in December. By now, virtually all rooms were booked and the best rates were a Summer memory. Still, there is always a chance for a last minute booking so I waited, at the ready, for anything resembling a call.
Two clear tones signaled an incoming call. I glance at the clock. "Of course, just before I clocked out," I thought to myself.
Putting on my dressiest phone voice I responded to the call. "Thank you for calling the reservation center, this afternoon. How may I help you?"
"I'm at the front desk of the Towers and they say our reservation has a problem," the woman explained, with a hint of desperation.
Forgetting about the proximity of lunch, I lept into action. "I'm terribly sorry about the issue. Please tell me your name and the location you booked a stay at."
"I'm Sandra Henshaw and I'm staying at The Bainbridge Towers and Resort," she replied.
Unsure of the location, I did a quick search in the computer. "Are you sure that the location you are staying at is one of our hotels? I can't find it in the system."
"I dialed the number provided by the desk," her tone sharpening.
"Where is the hotel located?" I query.
"Montserrat, it's in the Caribbean."
I searched again, for any hotel in the region, in an attempt to justify my pay. The news is not getting any better. At this point, I can only hope she is merciful.
"We don't have any hotels in the region, Ms. Henshaw. Because there has obviously been some critical miscommunication please allow me to direct you to customer care where we will attempt to find a solution for your evening lodgings."
"You can't be serious. I booked this over th-"
I grasped at my headsets as a powerful rumbling ricocheted in my eardrums. Whatever had caused that noise disrupted the line leaving only a low steady dial tone. I quickly checked my hearing, narrowly donning my gear in time to address the next call.
"Thank you for calling the reservation center this afternoon, How may I help you?" My voice is a distant canned vaudeville star as I struggle to focus on the customer's reply.
"This is clearly unacceptable," the man's voice full of intent and authority he continued in detail. "I have stayed at your company's lodgings for nearly two decades. This is the only time I have ever arrived only to have the clerk inform me that the reservation was not completed properly. I've flown a great distance and hopped several islands. Would you please just get me into my room?!"
"Would you be attempting to check into the Bainbridge Towers and Resort, Sir?" I asked, fearing the start of an epic computerized clusterfuck.
"Yes, I am. I saw the commercial for the opening during last year's finale of Friends and decided to book on a whim. My family was overdue for a summer getaway," he continued - clearly frustrated at having to explain himself.
"Um sir, what time of the year did you say it was?" I asked as my brain started to nitpick what he told me.
"Today is July 18th and instead of relaxing poolside with my kids we are currently standing in the lobby of a hotel in a foreign country with no place to stay. You need to fix this," he said with a slowly raising voice.
"Well, according to my computer I-"
"I don't care what your computer says - be creative and think of som-" the abrupt end of his voice was followed by another thunderous rolling roar through me headset. My fingers vibrated as I used them to shield my ears, reacting quick enough this time to avoid the same inner ear ringing as last time.
On a second hearing, I detect anguished screams from a panicked crowd. It's muffled but I can hear dozens of voices cry out for assistance. Someone in the distance is providing reassurance and then silence engulfs the line.
Barely able to process, I take the next call on instinct. It's only half-way through the customer's complaint I regain focus at the sound of the phrase "Bainbridge Towers and Resort."
"Miss Geraldine, is there any type of disaster occurring in the lobby? Anything that sounds like hell's bowels exploding in surround sound," I ask, knowing full well how the request for information sounds to a rational person.
"No, and is this some kind of joke?"
"Believe me, Miss Geraldine. I wish I could say I was kidding. All I know is that I have been receiving calls from several guests at the hotel where you are staying. No one's booking is right and I keep getting disconnected due to something that almost sounds like an explosion in the background. But if everything is fine, then it must be an equip-"
This time I hear the screams a few seconds before the rumbling engulfs the speaker. Shock, terror, and pleas for salvation fill the line as I listen helplessly.
My numbness is only interrupted by another voice at the end of the line as a call starts anew.
"Hello? Hello? Is anyone on this line? I'm stuck at my resort due to a booking error. Is there anything that-"
I interrupt the elderly gentleman on the other end of the line.
"Get out of Bainbridge Towers, now. You need to seek shelter immediately. Some sort of disaster is about to occur."
"Where can I go? I have no room anywhere? That's why I'm calling you. Some grand opening you have here. Nothing but dozens of people unable to check-in, littering the lobby on whatever phones they can find," he said.
"No, you don't understand. I need you to flee the hotel at once for your own safety. Something is going to happen to everyone. Tell everyone to leave, now," I pleaded.
"Now see here, I'm eighty-two. Just how far do you think I want to be-"
Again, the line cuts out in tormented confusion. Again, I can't help anyone. Again, I listen to the death cries to those around the caller. Again, I pick up the phone.
"Are you in Bainbridge towers?"
"Not according to the reservation desk," replies a confused younger gentleman.
"Get out of there, now. Get everyone to flee for their lives before whatever is coming hits the hotel," in desperation my voice is demanding the attention of the caller. Only afterwards do I realize this breach in etiquette.
"I don't care who you think you are, but I booked a suite under the Honeymoon package and I will not tolerate this occasion being marred by your rudeness. I need you to-"
I hang up the phone and set the computer to stop receiving calls. I close my eyes and wonder how long the gentleman stood livid at my insubordination before being engulfed by his fiery fate. Maybe his bride was arriving later and she is still okay. Maybe, I'm just stressed and need a break.
I clock out slightly early for lunch and immediately regret my actions as my boss walks by.
"I've been meaning to speak with you today."
My veins freeze, hoping that no one has been monitoring my last batch of calls.
"You are the new hire, aren't you" she said. "I forgot to warn you about one of our yearly ...instances," she said apologetically. "The 13th of December is always heavy on calls from Bainbridge Towers. Eventually you learn to just place them on hold and tell them someone is on the way to assist them."
"Wait," trying to balancing relief, fear and annoyance I asked, "so, this was all just a hazing? Did everyone get a good laugh at my expense?"
"You misunderstand," she said. "Dec 13th is always when we get the calls from July 18th, 1995. That was when our hotel on Monserrat was lost due to an explosion from a volcano previously believed to be dormant. There is nothing we can do to help them, other than pretend we are directing them to customer service."
Not sure I really believed her explanation, I sat stunned.
"Oh, and you don't have any friends or family in any place called Nevada, do you? And you aren't planning on being in that area around October 2023 or 2024. Those connections aren't as good, so the details are a bit fuzzier," she said matter-of-factly.
"Why, what happens then?" I asked, allowing my curiosity to take the bait.
"Work on February 23rd to find out, or don't. I strongly recommend don't," she said, without looking back as she returned to her office.
As I head out for Thai food, I make a mental note to use whatever vacation time I have on Feb. 23rd.