Class was over at 4:30 but I ended up staying until 5:00, working on some real cases I'd brought with me from the office. My job is to review and assess new applications and I have a 20-day deadline to get them routed on to wherever they need to go. Does 20 days sound like more than enough time to assess a ten page application? It might be except for the sheer volume of applications that come through. I receive an average of 30 new cases every day, even weekends because in addition to paper applications, they can be submitted online 24/7. That 20-day clock starts the day the application is date stamped as Received and doesn't stop for anything ...not for weekends, not for holidays, and certainly not for four day training trips. So I'd brought the four applications with me that would have been older than 20 days when I got back from trip. The class was from 8:30 to 4:30 with an hour break for lunch. I figured I could come in at 8:00, bring a sack lunch and work until 5:00 each day to get these four cases done before the deadline. It sounded like a good plan...
Monday was a long day because I'd worked from 7:00 to 10:00 that morning, then spent three hours on the road to get to class, and another three hours in class. I was tired. But by 5:00, I had a good start on the first case so I packed up and headed for the hotel. I've stayed at this hotel four times in two different towns and it's always a nice place. The rooms are immaculate, the staff is always courteous and professional and the location is always within a few miles of my class. Because I normally have a 45 minute commute to work and the class started an hour and a half later than my normal workday, I was even going to get to sleep in a little the next three days. I was looking forward to it.
I got checked in, unpacked my suitcase, put on some comfortable clothes, then headed back to the lobby to use one of the computers in the Business Center. This hotel has a complimentary dinner buffet from 6:00 to 8:00 in the evenings. Nothing fancy ...fajitas or burgers or spaghetti and meatballs, always salad and fruit on the side. It's always good and there's always plenty. It was almost 5:30 by the time I sat down at the computer, so I figured I would catch up on email and read a few blogs until the buffet started. About 6:15, I looked up from the screen and noticed there wasn't the usual clatter and chatter you hear in a restaurant. Hmmm. I went to the front desk and asked and was told that as of January, the complimentary dinner buffet is only offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Budget cuts, you know.
I had stayed at this very hotel for a three day training class earlier in the month, but that class had started on Tuesday, so the buffet was on every evening I was there ...I didn't know anything had changed. By this time, I was really tired. But as much as I dreaded the thought of going back out to find food, I was hungry enough to talk myself into it. I went back to the room for my car keys and headed out.
I detest eating alone in a restaurant. I seldom go to a restaurant that I don't see someone else at a table or booth by themselves and think nothing of it. It's really no big deal but I just don't want to be that person. My usual habit on these trips is to go to a grocery store the first evening and buy enough food for however long I'm staying and just cook in my room. The rooms are really more of a suite ...they have a two burner stove, a microwave oven, a full-size (but small) refrigerator/freezer and even a dishwasher and disposal. With my aversion to eating alone in restaurants, cooking in the room makes the evenings more relaxing for me. But that night, I was exceptionally tired and I decided I'd just do fast food. A drive-through would be quick and I could take my food back to my room. I would be able to sleep in almost two hours past my normal wake up time the next morning and I could make a grocery run the next evening. Another good plan. But you know what they say about plans...
None of the drive-throughs I saw looked good enough to stop at and when I came to the grocery store I usually shop at, I pulled in and parked. It was 6:30 on a Monday night and the people were thick as flies. I took a deep breath and waded in. I got a cart and started in Produce. I was in the Express Lane twenty minutes later with my purchases and very happy to note there only two people in front of me. When it was my turn, the cashier rang up my items and I handed her my (new) corporate Mastercard.
IT WAS DECLINED.
Apparently, I had learned nothing from my Whataburger experience earlier that day and was sure it was just a fluke. I was actually confident when I said, "That can't be right. Could you try it again, please?" She tried it again ...then again ...then she tried entering it manually. The line behind me was getting longer, so I said, "Nevermind ...use this card" and gave her my personal credit card.
My personal credit card company is very vigilant about suspected fraudulent use and have been known to decline purchases if they are more than 50 miles from my home address. So when my corporate card had been declined earlier that day, I had called my own card's Customer Service and informed them I was traveling and where I was and that I did NOT want to have any issues with my card while I was on the road. But still ...after the day I'd had, I think I held my breath while the cashier swiped my card. I think the long line behind me held their breath too because when the transaction was approved and she asked me to sign for it, we all let out a sigh of relief.
My total was only $26.34 for the food and I had enough not to have any other meal expenses on the trip. I got back to the hotel, carried my food to my room and sat down to call the Customer Service number on the back of the corporate card. I couldn't wait to find out why the NEW card had been declined. Again with the seemingly endless number dance on the keypad to get to a real person, I was informed that 'grocery stores are not on the list of approved establishments' for purchases. WHAT?! Common sense and minimal scruples would tell you going to a bar or a sporting goods store would not be an 'approved establishment' at which to use your corporate credit card on a business trip. But this was the first I had heard of a list of 'approved' establishments.
I was a speechless for a few seconds. Before I spoke, I reminded myself that the person on the other end of the line was not responsible for the policy or the list or the kind of day I'd had so far. I took a deep breath and in as reasonable a tone as I could muster said, "Then could you please tell me what establishments are on the approved list? For instance, if I go to a drive-through eatery and try to pay with my card ...will it be declined?" He replied with, "There's not really a list ...we can only see a reason code after a card is declined. So you'd just have to try it and then call us if it's declined to find out why." Oh that SO did not sound like a good plan to me! I thanked him for his assistance and hung up.
The clock said 8:30 but it felt more like 10:30 to me. So I cooked a little something for supper and crawled into bed. I remember thinking at least I have enough groceries now for the duration of the trip. There need be no more humiliating moments with my card being declined. That actually did prove to be the case. I didn't have any more credit card issues on the trip. But Tuesday ended up being even more 'interesting' than Monday.
...to be continued