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Lunch at the Hewlett-Packard Cafeteria

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

I had a 9:00 meeting with my HP sales rep. I needed to buy an entire new series 70--the works. He said it would take about an hour. Three hours later, we'd barely gotten the datacomm hardware down on paper, so he invited me downstairs for lunch.

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

MMUs (Main Menu Units)

0001A    Burger. Includes sesame-seed bun.
         Must order condiments 00110A separately

   001   Deletes seeds.
   002   Expands burger to two patties.

00020A   Double cheeseburger, preconfigured. Includes cheese, bun and
         condiments.

   001   Add-on bacon.
   002   Delete second patty.
   003   Replaces second patty with extra cheese.

00021A   Burger Upgrade to Double Cheeseburger

   001   From Single Burger.
   002   From Double Burger.
   003   Return credit for bun.

00220A   Burger Bundle. Includes 00010A, 00210A and 00310A

   001   Substitute root beer 00311A for cola 00310A.
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 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 cheeseburger with the vegetable option and without the burger and cheese? It would be a BLT!"

The woman charged off in the direction of the telephone, running steeplechases 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 the 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. "Thats 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 thats not supported either, the bun can take it but the burger won't fit in the box. The sales rep defended himself. "Just not at first release." "It is being beta-tested, sir."

I checked the overhead screen. Fries, number 000210A, 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." The confused the waitress profoundly. "Sir, Vanilla as an option is configured only for series 00450 Milkshakes." My sales rep chuckles. "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 my way to the table, and decided it would 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 his corner surveyed the crowded room, looked at me and said, "Two weeks. But I can get you a stand alone chair by the window right away."

I handed him the tray. A woman rushed up to me with two small cups of chili and sauerkraut for a hot dog somebody 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 five 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 I called in sick.

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