Lunch the H-P Way

From my files dated October 1995 -- when Hewlett-Packard still had a pretty darned good reputation (read: before they bought out Compaq).

This is the story of a different kind. No melting CPUs, no screaming disc drives, just the kind of psychological torture that scars a man for life.

I had a 9:00 meeting with my Sales Rep. I needed to buy an entire new Series 70, the works. He said it'd take about an hour. Three hours later, we'd barely got the datacomm hardware down on paper, so he invited me downstairs to lunch.

This was my first experience in an HP cafeteria. Above the service counter was a menu which began...

MMU's (Main Meal Units)

My eyes glazed over. I asked for a burger and a root beer. The waitress looked at me like I was an alien.

"How would you like to order that, sir?"

"Quickly, if possible. Can't I just order a sandwich and a drink?"

"No sir. All our service here is menu driven. Now what would you like?" I scanned the menu. "How big is the 00010 burger?"

"The patty is rated at eight bites."

"Well, how about the rest of it?"

"I don't have the specs on that, sir, but I think it's a bit more."

"Eight bites is too small. Give me the Double Burger Upgrade."

My sales rep interrupted. "No, you want the Single Burger option 002 'expands burger to two patties'. The Double Burger Upgrade would give you two burgers.

"But you could get return credit on the extra bun," the waitress chimed in, trying to be helpful, "although it isn't documented."

I looked around to see if anybody was staring at me. There was a couple in line behind us. I recognized one of them, a guy who nearly mowed me down in the parking lot with his cherry-red '62 Vette. He was talking to some woman who was waving her arms around and looking very excited.

"What if... we marketed the bacon cheesebuger with the vegetable option and without the burger and cheese? It'd be a BLT!"

The woman charged off in the direction of the telephone, running steeplechase over tables and chairs. My waitress tried to get my attention again. "Have you decided, sir?"

"Yeah, give me the double burger -- excuse me, I mean the 00020A with option 001. I want everything on it." She put me down for the Condiment Expansion Kit, which included mayonnaise, mustard and pickles with a option to substitute relish.

"Ketchup." I hated to ask. "I want ketchup on that, too."

"That's not a condiment, sir, it's a Tomato Product." My Sales Rep butted in again. "That's not a supported configuration."

"What now?" I kept my voice steady.

"Too juicy. The bun can't handle it."

"Look, forget the ketchup, just put some lettuce and tomatoes on it."

The waitress backed away from the counter. "I'm sorry, sir, but that's not supported either. The bun can take it, but the burger won't fit in the box. "Ah, but it will." The Sales Rep defended himself. "Just not at first release."

"It is being beta-tested, sir."

I checked the overhead screen. Fries, number 00210A, option 110, French, followed by option 120, English. "What the hell are English Fries?" I turned to the Sales Rep. "Chips they call them. We sell a lot of them."

I gave up. "OK, OK, just give me a plain, vanilla Burger Bundle." This confused the waitress profoundly. "Sir, Vanilla as an option is configured only for Series 00450 Milkshakes." My sales rep chuckled. "No, ma'am, he just wants a standard 00220A off the shelf. I wondered how long it had been on the shelf. I didn't ask.

"Very good, sir." The waitress breathed a sigh of relief. "Your meal is now on order. Now, how would you like it supported?"

"Support?"

She directed me to the green shaded area at the bottom of the menu, and I began a litany with my Sales Rep that I'll never forget.

"Implementation assistance?"

"You get a waiter."

"Implementation analysis?"

"You tell him how hungry you are, and he tells you what to eat."

"Response Center Support?"

"He brings it to your table."

"Extended materials?"

"You get refills."

I stuffed some money at the waitress and told her to take it. She gave me my check on three sheets of green-bar paper. I studied it on the way to my table, and decided it'd pass as an emergency napkin.

Table? My Sales Rep had been bright enough to order us a table. He hadn't been bright enough to check on a delivery date. The table waiter slouching in the corner surveyed the crowded room, looked at me and said "Two weeks. But I can get you a standalone chair by the window right away."

I handed him the tray. A woman rushed up to me with two cups of chili and sauerkraut for the hot dog someone else had ordered. The room began to grow dim, my eyesight faded...

I woke up clutching the water glass at my bedside table. It was 5:00 am, four hours till my meeting with HP. I had had a vision, I did what it told me to do. I dialed my office, and called in sick.

Posted August 18, 2004

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