Saturday, January 5, 2013

Revenge of the girlfriend

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I'd rather have my pants set on fire than run another poker event on a cruise ship. If I thought hard enough (cut me a little slack; it's been 9 years) I could probably come up with fifty stories that explain this, but there are a few that really stand out. The following is my favorite. 

In the weeks leading up to the cruise, we had quite a few last-minute reservation changes. We had a lot of players decide to buy in at the last minute, presumably after trying to win seats in online satellites and failing. And we had a handful of players who had disasters of one sort or another, and we always tried, as was the PokerStars way, to accommodate them in any reasonable way possible.

Five days before the cruise, Royal Caribbean informed me that the cruise was sold out. We had a small number of cabins that we were holding in reserve, but at that point we had to start saying 'no' to players calling desperately looking to play.

That same day, I got an email from a player I'll call BadBoyfriend, for reasons you'll work out in a minute. BadBoyfriend, a player I happen to know personally, had been fortunate enough to win a satellite on PokerStars, which included the cruise (for two) and entry in the tournament. He informed me, with great regret, that he had a personal emergency and that he and his girlfriend would be unable to go on the cruise. Until this point, we hadn't allowed players to unregister or transfer their satellite wins. But we knew that we were going to be very tight on cabins, so after some discussion with Lee Jones, our Poker Room Manager, I agreed that we would defer this player's win to the 2005 event. I released the cabin.

A few days later, we released the small inventory of cabins we still had, including this one, to the waiting list. We made a lot of players very happy, and pressed forward knowing that we had done all we could to accommodate everyone.

The cruise was scheduled to depart at 5:00pm on January 18, 2004. We had all of the last-minute disasters that you might expect (including the Homeland Security debacle), but by around 3:00pm things were looking pretty good. My dad (who was 87 at the time) was joining us for this cruise, and I decided to take a few minutes out and visit him in his cabin. 

I had been there for no more than five minutes when my cell rang. It was Stephen, our RCCL primary contact, who was overseeing check-ins at the pier. 

"You better get down here - I have a situation I really have no idea how to handle."  I had a hard time imagining what such a situation could be - Stephen was a superhero. I apologized to my dad and bolted for the cruise ship pier.

I saw Stephen talking to a couple whose backs were to me. I walked over and asked Stephen what the issue was, at which time the couple turned around - and there was BadBoyfriend and a startlingly gorgeous blonde woman, who much to my dismay bore a striking resemblance to Charlize Theron.

"Thank God you're here," BB said. "They're telling me that I don't have a cabin."

I am rarely speechless, but this one struck me dumb for a few seconds. 

"BB, you don't have a cabin. You emailed me on Tuesday and told me to cancel, and I did. And we're sold out."

Now it was his turn to be at a loss for words. In the next few seconds, I saw on his face confusion, shock and then dawning awareness. Charlize filled the gap.

"Please tell me that Rachel didn't have your Hotmail password."

BadBoyfriend didn't have to explain, although he did. The previous Sunday, he had broken up with his girlfriend of five years. This meant, of course, that she would not be accompanying him on the cruise. He had apparently known this for some time, though, because it was Charlize whose name was listed as his companion in our system. It was Rachel who canceled the reservation using his email account.

The story might have ended there, but I knew at that point that we did have one cabin available from another (legitimate) cancellation. I pulled Stephen aside and asked him if we could give it to this couple. That's when I learned another lesson about Homeland Security.

Until 9/11, getting on a cruise last-minute was pretty easy. In fact, there were a lot of retirees who would pack a bag, go to the cruise ship port and wait to see if there were last-minute cabins, which were often available at deep discounts. But after 9/11, cruise ships were required to submit final cabin manifests to Homeland Security 48 hours before sailing.

It wasn't looking good for BadBoyfriend and Charlize. However, a few days earlier, Rich (a frequent hero in these stories) had introduced me to Lynette, an RCCL employee who he described as a miracle worker. I told the couple to stay where they were, and I tracked Lynette down and described the problem.

She took a device out of her pocket that looked like a cellphone on steroids, and unfolded its foot-long antenna. She punched some numbers. While waiting for the call to be connected, she told me that she was calling the captain who oversaw all of the RCCL captains - I guess that would make him an admiral. He was hunting somewhere. After a long wait, he apparently answered. She held up a finger to me, then walked away and chatted with him for a few minutes.

"He's calling Homeland Security," she told me. Apparently, the 48 hour rule has some considerable flexibility at the right levels. A few minutes later, the admiral called back. BadBoyfriend and Charlize were back on the manifest.

Epilog: BadBoyfriend busted during the first level of the tournament. Rachel, if you're out there somewhere, I can't say I approve of what you did, but I sure do understand it. And you gave me a great story to tell.

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