Back in the mid 90's at a time when the internet was still in its infancy and when the people of the United States and Canada were concerned about the coming of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), I worked at a company that was pretty damn big. It had offices all over the world. I won't say the actual name of the company, but let's just say I call it Geee I wish I had an E.
At Geee I wish I had an E, I worked on a project that made software that was sold and installed in International Exchange Banks. International Exchange Banks are the banks that change your money from one currency to another when you are visiting a foreign country.
They, actually, do way more than that, but I am not going to go into that because that is not what this story is about.
For instance, if you are from London and you are visiting Washington, DC to enjoy a comedy show at the US Congress, you might want to have some spending cash, in which case you would go to an exchange bank at the airport and exchange Euros for US dollars. You will immediately notice that you will get a whole lot of US dollars for your Euros. Like, way more than you can fit inside your purse or wallet.
Don't be deceived by this. You will find that all those dollars won't get you much and you will wish you had just kept your Euros. But you will soon forget about this discrepancy after you visit the US Congress. The money changing incident will be laughed right out of your memory. And the best part of the Congressional show is that it's free!
But, anyway, I happened to be one of the programmers that wrote, not only a good portion of the software that was to be installed, but, I also, wrote and taught technical training on how to customize the installed software, since every fricken bank was completely different from everyone else.
Honestly, the more I learned about International Exchange Banks and the more time I spent at these banks and learning how they did business, the more I was convinced that I was just writing software for extremely rich bookies. The deals that were made between banks on the trading floors looked like something you would see done in Vegas. I remember when Barclays of England lost over a billion dollars in the mid-90's due to some idiot gambling away the banks money because, due to people going on vacation, became 'king' for a day. It was about this time that this story takes place which happened to, also, be the time that NAFTA was getting close to being implemented.
Pretty much all of us who worked on the project were spending time out of the country on-site helping to teach the local Geee I wish I had an E support offices how to customize the installed software to the bank's needs. It was in 95 that I was spending a year in Toronto, Canada working in one of these satellite offices that happened to be customizing the software for the Bank of Montreal (yes, the bank was so fricken big, that the entire project took a fricken year to complete).
The Toronto office wanted me there full time, but, I set up a deal where I would show up Monday through Friday every other week. On the off week, I would work offsite in the Rockville office which is not too far from where I lived.
Upon flying to Canada every other week, I had to be concerned about going through Canadian customs. I would tell the custom's people that I was there for a business conference. If I said that I was working there, it would cause a problem, especially since so many people in Canada thought that they were going to lose their jobs to Americans when NAFTA was implemented. Strangely enough, so many Americans thought that they were going to lose their jobs to the Canadians when NAFTA was implemented.
As it turned out, both countries ended up losing all their jobs to the Chinese, who probably couldn't even spell NAFTA, nor tell you what it means.
This set up worked fine for me. Especially, seeing that my marriage was going to hell in a hand basket and the week away from my wife at the time was a luxury. I stayed at the resort hotel the Delta Meadowvale in Mississauga, which was just outside of Toronto. The work was fine, the people were nice and I had a great dart bar where I hung out at after work. It was kind of like a vacation every other week, seeing that all my expenses, including the bar tab were paid.
Well, actually, the bar tabs were really not supposed to be paid for by Geee I wish I had an E, at least that is according to company policy. You see, Geee I wish I had an E would pay for your breakfast, lunch and dinner and travel expenses and that was it. So myself and another programmer, Jerry, who, like myself, liked to imbibe on the local spirits of where ever we visited, created a fourth meal category that we called 'snack' and entered that on our expense reports.
In the beginning, our manager Sally, was a little confused about this (Sally was always confused about anything that Jerry and I did). Sally had worked for the company for over 25 years. She was a 'back room' programmer who had exceptional technical skills and zero social skills. How do I describe Sally? Try to imagine a badger that has a bad hair day every day. She dressed horribly and somehow managed to comb her hair so that she looked like Flattop from the Dick Tracy comic.
Needless to say, the gimmick worked, at least in the beginning.
The problem was that after a few months the 'snack' amount on the expense reports became a bit high. Not in our opinion, mind you, just in hers. As far as we were concerned, the amount was generously low.
I remember when the first time this happened, Sally called me into her office to explain the 'snack' classification, which had been going on, now, for at least half a dozen expense reports.
I told her, that it was a snack that occurred after dinner and before I went to sleep. Needless to say, she had a problem with this and clarified the company rules of what is covered by an expense report. She said that she would sign off on this one, but, after that, she would not.
This caused great discomfort for both Jerry and I. So, we consulted with our friends from London, who were the actual project managers and they came up with the following solution:
"If you are on-site and an on-site manager signs off on an expense as being a business expense, it will be covered by the company".
They suggested having the Toronto project manager, Robert, who was from London himself to sign off our nightly enterprising as business expenses. When I took my next trip to Toronto, the first thing that Robert told me was to give him my bar receipts and that he would sign it off as a business expense.
The idea was a boon to both me and Jerry. As a matter of fact, it was such a boon that I felt it was my duty to make the business end come true and started discussing Geee I wish I had an E business with my Canadian dart pals, while running up a more glamorous 'snack' total.
After a few expense reports, Sally did question me about these business expenses. I just told her that they were exactly what they were: Business expenses.
Well, technically they were. I would buy a round of drinks for my good friends in Canada and they would say: "Thanks Mike". To which I would answer: "Don't thank me, thank Geee I wish I had an E!"
Honestly, this method gave the company a great name, as well as supporting the local economy. Sally should really take a marketing course as well as an economics course. Then she would have understood.
Everything was good again until about a month later when Sally called me into her office again to question me about the ever increasing amount of my business expenses. She was not happy that during my last trip, I had three instances in five days where my business expense was close to a hundred dollars. I did my best to explain that, the expense was not in what I bought but was due to the ridiculously high Canadian sales tax. I mentioned that Canada has three sales taxes: The GST, HST and PST and that all of the taxes combined probably accounted for 80 percent of the cost of whatever I bought, especially when you add in things like exchange rates, and temperature differences between the two countries.
I tried to explain to her that the same amount would be a mere twenty bucks here in America.
For some odd reason she just didn't believe me.
Once again, I was at a loss as to how to handle this and once again, I consulted with my friends in London.
My friends in London told me to send my expense reports to the London office and they would, in turn, give them to Garvin to sign. Garvin was the actual world project manager. He was kind of like the Queen of England but, just without the dress.
So once again life was good again.
That was until about six months into the project. It was on a Wednesday afternoon that Sally approached me in my cubicle and squawked to me (she never talked, she just squawked) that I would have to go up to Canada on the next Saturday morning to supervise the setup of PC's for a two day special training session that she would be teaching on the following Monday and Tuesday.
I was kind of bummed at the idea. Not that I would have to spend the weekend up there, part of which would be doing work. No, I was bummed that I would have to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with Sally on the following Monday and Tuesday.
Not only that, but I would have to spend both nights with Sally who would want to go over the training material with me just in case something happened to her.
In case something happened to her? I couldn't be so lucky.
At least it was for only those two days. I can live with that. I figured that I would leave Friday afternoon out of Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) so that I could at least have a night of fun before hitting work on Saturday.
So there I was the following Friday, playing Doom at a quarter past noon. My bags were packed and sitting in the trunk of my car. I was set to fly out of BWI on a 3:00 PM flight. I had until 1:15 PM to leave. All my ducks were in a row and I was just blowing time before I had to go.
I was in the midst of doing a mono-a-mono with the Doom Cyberdemon when a high pitched voice squawked out behind me:
"Guess what? I'm going to help you set up the PC's for training this weekend".
Needless to say, the voice was Sally's. Needless to say the words she spoke sent a bolt of shock up my spine which caused a momentary lapse of concentration, which led the Cyberdemon to pop me full frontal with a bomb. I watched the Doom screen change as my character crumpled to the ground, now fully deceased. It lay there staring at the feet of the gloating Cyberdemon. It was at this time that I realized just how damn dirty the Cyberdemon's feet were.
I was glad that Doom did not have a smell capability.
I slowly turned to Sally and said:
"So you will be in Toronto with me tomorrow and Sunday".
'Absolutely", she squawked back.
The air went out of me as the reality of what she just said sunk in. Now I would have to spend all day Saturday and all day Sunday with Sally as well as Monday and Tuesday. Well thank god I still had Friday night.
"Well, that's just great", I started with a forced smile. "So I guess I will see you in the office tomorrow morning".
What Sally did next was talk in a squawking laughing voice. You could not call it squawking and you could not call it laughing. The only way to describe it would be squaughing.
"Oh I haven't told you the best part", she squaughingly said. "I'm going up tonight with you! We are taking the same flight! We can drive to the airport together!"
I could not believe what I just heard. Now I would have to spend a good hour in a car sitting a mere 15 inches from Sally. I would then have to sit next to Sally for 100 straight minutes in an airplane, after which I would have to spend another four hours eating dinner with her and then going over the training documentation.
This is a woman who prides herself on being a hardcore liberal and is constantly harping on racist people and then out of the blue will say something like: "Do you know what the best thing about growing up in Wisconsin was? There was very little crime. Not like here in Maryland. Do you know why Wisconsin has such little crime? There are hardly any black people in Wisconsin".
Honestly, I don't like the Republicans at all, but I like the Democrats a whole lot less than the Republicans. I have yet to meet anyone (me included) who is not a racist. Those who proclaim to be the most non-racist are the most racist.
As the sweat poured out of my brow and I fought to loosen my collar, I started looking around the office at the large plate glass windows. We were seven floors up and… damn if none of the windows could be opened. Breaking them seemed to be next to impossible, but, if you try…
"We'll just leave at 2:00 PM and go to Dulles. I am packed and ready to go", squawked Sally interrupting venture into insanity.
"Dulles! Dulles!" I thought to myself. "She is leaving from Dulles but I am leaving from BWI".
"Well Sally, I'm leaving at 3:00PM from BWI, not Dulles", I told her clamping my jaw shut to keep a big smile from showing.
"Ehh.. Err… Why BWI? Everyone in this office flies out of Dulles", squawked a very confused Sally.
"Sally, I live in Gaithersburg which is halfway between here and BWI. You live her in Rockville which is closer to Dulles. Well, I guess I will see you when you get to Toronto", I said trying like hell to hide my glee.
"Oh, I see", answered Sally quite dejectedly.
She then turned and left my cubicle.
At this point in time I wanted to start jumping up and down cheering. Not only did I not have to drive and fly up with her, but I would be arriving and hour earlier and could conveniently disappear for the night.
If I had one of those big number one foam fingers I would have taken it and run around the office screaming and cheering.
Man I was saved.
I happily turned back to my Doom game and attempted to blow the next forty five minutes before I could escape until Saturday morning when I was again interrupted by another loud squawk.
"AHAAA! Guess what?"
Turning slowly and now full of dread I faced Sally and asked: "What?"
"I just changed my tickets. I'm flying out of BWI with you and will come back into Dulles on Tuesday evening. So, it looks like we will be going together after all".
I wanted to just break down and cry....
The trip to BWI was pretty bad. Fifteen minutes into the trip, I was starting to think about how much time I would have to spend in prison if I strangled Sally and threw her out of the car. I could say that she fell out, couldn't I? What would I get? Twenty years? What would happen if I could get the charge reduced to second degree murder? Maybe ten years? You never know with juries these days and prosecuting attorneys are always willing to plea bargain to avoid the cost of a trial, don' they?
After forty five minutes of listening to Sally I started to thing that twenty years in the pen was looking very doable. Hell, with good behavior I might get out in fourteen.
Fortunately, the traffic was light the last fifteen minutes and for reasons unbeknown to me, Sally suddenly shut the fuck up.
We boarded the plane and ended up sitting next to each other. For what it is worth, Sally was amazingly quiet. She only said ten dumb things on the entire flight to Toronto.
That had to be a record.
As we approached Toronto, I was suddenly confronted with a new fear, going through customs.
Damn, Sally just doesn't get the gist of things most of the times. I could see that if Sally did not play the customs game right, due to NAFTA, she could get pulled over by a customs official and spend a bit of time with him or her. Believe me, I had that happen to me twice and the fastest I got out was thirty minutes and I was being really nice. Sally is never nice. If she gets pulled over she might be with them for a couple of hours.
This did not look good.
I quickly explained to Sally our NAFTA strategy. She listened attentively and asked: "But why do we have to lie to them?"
"Because of NAFTA, we need to tell them that we are there for a business conference, not to supervise a bank installation".
To my surprise, Sally fell silent and said nothing else until after we landed.
I told her to let me go first so that she could follow my lead. I hit the customs official, answered her questions like a champ and then proceeded on.
I stopped about fifty feet away near the exit and waited for Sally to come through. At that particular time, the flights arriving into Toronto were light, so the customs traffic was light. There was not that much sound….
Until a very, very loud squawk pierced the air…
"What… Why are you asking me these questions? Do you know how much money Americans spend in Canada? Do you know that we have to come here to do work for you people because you people cannot do it?" Squawked Sally very loudly.
My shoulders slumped as I fell back against the wall. A customs official came out of one of the side offices, looked at Sally and then looked at me. He was the same customs official that pulled me out of line and questioned me twice before. He looked at me and asked:
"Is she with you?"
"Yes", I answered exasperatedly. "Why don't you guys take her for a while, we've all had it with her".
As the official, who was now joined by three others, started to approach Sally, I quickly decided to duck through the exit into the airport, grab my bags and grab a rental car and flee the airport.
I stopped by the hotel just long enough to check in and drop my bags off in the room. I headed out to my dart bar and partied until the late hours.
What makes it even funnier is that we had only one rental car and it was in my name.
I wonder what type of tip the cabby got?
I saw Sally, the next day in the Toronto office. She never even mentioned the customs incident. She didn't even ask me why I did not call her for breakfast. What was even better was that I did not spend one breakfast, lunch or dinner with her from Saturday to Tuesday. I never even spent any time with her going over the training material.
I guess NAFTA was a good thing after all.
Leastways, at least for me anyway.