Do this thing we have chosen for 25 or 30 years, and it's a good bet there will be some clients who stand out. Some elicit more pleasant memories than others. Some are just downright hilarious.
Like the client who said he was ready to buy an Alaskan cruise tour in early to mid-September and was ready to give us a credit card, but only if we could guarantee that the glaciers would still be out. I told my agent to take the money, because if the glaciers weren't still there we had a much bigger problem than a chargeback.
Then there was the guy who showed up at the airport for his trip to Jamaica with no proof of citizenship other than his concealed-carry permit. Discussions with him about why he wasn't going to get a refund for his missed cruise were conducted with the greatest decorum and civility.
Or Slim and Emily. He was the oldest-living Vanderbilt graduate, and at the age of 89, he and his bride of 68 years still took at least one cruise a year. He had been a basketball player and still had the bearing and presence of an athlete. She was a Virginia belle with a delightful Tidewater accent, and I used to call her just to listen to her talk.
But the clients I came to know best were Billie and Jack.
Jack had taught Billie to ride a bicycle when she was 9. She was his first crush, his first date, and the first time he kissed her was in the back seat of the band bus. They ran off to Kentucky and got married in 1944 when she was 17 and he 18, and then he shipped out the next day with the Navy for Guadalcanal.
Jack came home, they had three children, he worked hard and became an executive with a pharmaceutical company, and Billie became a stay-at-home mom. That's the way it was done back then.
Travel and vacations generally consisted of camping trips with the kids and other family members at nearby state parks. There just wasn't enough money to take a nice vacation at a resort.
But when Jack took early retirement at 63, he and Billie began an odyssey to see the world. Their first cruise was on a Carnival ship, which they chose because they heard it had a lot of activities, and they were the kind of dancers others stopped to watch.
That cruise was the first of many. They had found the ideal vacation. Over the years, they traveled to places they had only dreamed of, from Athens to Hawaii, and if you've gone that far it's only a little farther to Australia and New Zealand, then China, Korea and Japan.
As the years took their toll, Jack, in his words, "lost a step." While he might forget something he had been told five minutes earlier, he could recall vividly stories about World War II, his career and all those cruises and exotic places he and his love had visited. Billie's health also began to fail, and problems with her back grew worse. Ultimately, they had to stop traveling. But there was always the hope held out for just one more trip, maybe to the World War II Memorial in Washington.
I share all of this with you because Sherrie and I put together every one of those trips. I got to hear several times over about all their travels and the places they had been. A good travel consultant will do that, you know. It is one of the best parts of being in this business: helping others to make memories and their caring enough about what we had done for them to share their adventures again and again.
Her health took a turn for the worse a few months ago, and she was admitted to the hospital after a visit to the emergency room. Then it was off to a skilled nursing facility. In the middle of October, as the leaves began to turn to gold and red, Billie left on her final odyssey, this time without Jack, when she passed away surrounded by those who loved her. She was not only the love of Jack's life; she was Sherrie's mother and my mother-in-law.
It was my privilege to be a part of Billie's memories and dreams. It makes all the other not-so-great experiences fade into the background.
Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Nashville. They have written several books on travel agency operations and produce sales, marketing and operations seminars for agency owners and managers. Contact Charlie at [email protected].