Thursday, January 19, 2006

January: Month of Mayhem

For a travel agent, January is a month of mayhem. For some reason, as soon as the holidays are over, people start planning out their trips for the year. I imagine that many of them are trying to lock in precious vacation days before a co-worker snatches all of the most desirable vacation time. Many others are plotting out how to spend their tax refunds; they put down a deposit to hold the price and their preferred dates, and then they make the full payoff when Uncle Sam sends the magic check.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: A non-stop ringing phone with inquiries from potential clients. I specialize mainly in Disney cruises; having taken 48 of them myself, I can speak with some authority and can sell my product in good conscience. I enjoy helping clients plan their trips and sharing my expertise on good stateroom locations, how to find the best bargains, etc. But after a while, my eyes begin to cross from staring at the computer screen, and my ear starts to swell after being pressed against a receiver for hours on end.

Happily, I had a nice break today...a lunch outing with some friends from Celebration. Every couple weeks or so, we get together to share a meal and the latest gossip. I was looking forward to breaking up a long workday with some good food and great conversation.

For some strange reason, I thought that they were picking me up at noon. Thus, although I had showered by 11 a.m., I hadn't bothered to dress yet. Instead, I was slovening around the house in my undies and getting a few things done on the computer when the doorbell rang promptly at 11.

Actually, I wasn't literally in my undies, but I was slumming around in a sports bra and wrinkly old shorts, so it was nearly as bad. That's one of the advantages of working at home: you can get away with dressing like a slob and no one knows the difference.

I rushed upstairs double-time to toss on my clothes, which I'd fortunately laid out after my shower. My hair was still pretty damp, but since we were going to eat at Downtown Disney, I figured that I could pretend I'd just come from a water park. I forgot my necklace, which meant that my neck felt naked for the rest of the day, but other than that I managed to whip myself into a semi-presentable state in under five minutes.

We drove off to pick up the other members of our lunch klatch and headed for the Earl of Sandwich, my favorite quick-service restaurant on Disney property. It's located in Downtown Disney, and it serves the most delicious hot sandwiches, as well as fresh-made salads, tasty tomato soup, and a variety of other items. Supposedly it's owned by a descendant of the original Earl, esteemed inventor of the venerable sandwich that we know and love today.

Normally, the queue line is jam-packed with bodies, but on this day the crowd was light. It's hard to select from the vast array of offerings, but finally we all made our selections. The sandwiches are made to order, so you pay at a cash register and then anxiously wait for your food. Your receipt is numbered, and the baggers call out numbers as each order is ready. They don't go in numerical sequence, so it's a bit like a raffle. Every time the bagger approachs the counter clutching the latest sack of food, you tense up and hold your breath: will it be your number this time?

Soon we all had our food; I had ordered a ham and cheese sandwich, with a side of yogurt, fruit, and granola. My beverage was the Earl's Gray Lemonade, an odd (but surprisingly tasty) concoction of lemonade and iced tea.

We all chowed down while chatting; topics ranged from our crazy families to the lastest goings on in town (and in Celebration, there's always something going on) to black ball sacks (don't ask). We were there for over two hours, and by the time we finally left, my face literally hurt from laughing.

The fun time had passed too quickly; before I knew it, I was back at Duloc Manor booting up my laptop and sorting through the phone messages that had piled up while I was gone. When I'm out, my voice messages come to me via email, and I receive my faxes that way, too. I also do a lot of quotes via email inquiries. Basically, I can handle my entire business right from my laptop.

The rest of the evening was spent chained to my keyboard, sending out quotes and then completing paperwork for several new bookings that I made. It can be monotonous, but there are fun parts, too. I spent nearly an hour talking to a client who is renewing her vows in Celebration the day before her Disney cruise. Being a compulsive planner myself, I love helping clients plan out cool vacations like that.

Finally, by bedtime I was pretty much caught up. I hate quitting for the day without organizing my records first, as it's so easy to fall behind. Being a travel agent is all about organization, and if I don't enter client information into my database immediately or send out their confirmations in a timely manner, there's always the chance that something could slip through the cracks. So far that's never happened, but I don't want to tempt the fates.

No matter how busy January gets, I really can't complain. I know that by summer, the number of calls will have dwindled down to a trickle. June, July, and August are lean months; as they drag on, I start to wonder whether the phone will ever ring again. I guess people are too busy enjoying the sunshine and the summertime leisure to work about planning their trips. Still, by fall, things always pick up again. There is one more lull in the holiday season, but then, before I know it, January descends once again. It may be a month of mayhem, but it's so much better to be overwhelmed by business than to face the opposite dilemma.

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