I went to a travel agency yesterday.

I did not realize such places still existed. The last time I was in a travel agency was in 1997; I had thought that the Internet had killed travel agencies.

It turns out that Amtrak is also living in the past; they require a paper ticket. I would have to pay an additional $15 to have my ticket shipped if I bought the ticket online. I figured that if travel agencies still existed, I could probably get the ticket for about the same price as the online price, not pay the shipping fee, and support the local economy all at the same time.

It was difficult to find a travel agency. The search engine I used referred me to several phone numbers that were no longer in service before I found one that worked.

The person who answered the phone at the travel agency assured me that they ‘specialize in train tickets’. I could only imagine that they specialize in anything that brings in cash in this post-travel-agent world. The agent helped me with the reservation and I told him I would come pick up the ticket this afternoon.

Stepping into the travel agency was like stepping into an alternate universe. The place was lit with whale oil lamps. The clerks were using quill pens.

Okay, actually not. There were four desks outfitted with 1980’s vintage Sabre terminals. All of the desks were covered with papers; three of the four desks appeared as though the agent had just stepped out, even down to coffee cups and pictures. Hidden behind a terminal at the fourth desk was a crouching form.

As I came through the door, the figure peered expectantly around the side of the terminal. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I beheld a person looking much like Inspector Clouseau impersonating a dentist. A shock of grey hair surrounded a visage containing a red nose and rheumy eyes.

I told the man that I had called earlier about a train ticket.

“Ah, Bxiie Pyndejo. I have your reservation here on my screen.”

What a surprise.

I handed over my debit card. The man studied it for a minute as though he had never seen one before. Finally he leaned forward and started tapping digits into his terminal at the rate of one digit every five sections, peering through filthy bifocals back and forth from the card to the screen. The man worked with one eye screwed shut.

Finally he appeared to be done with the data entry and pressed a final key. The terminal booped.

“Are you sure this card works?” The man asked.

“I just used it, ” I assured him.

The man sighed. He again looked repeatedly from the card to the screen. After about four minutes, the man pressed another several keys.

“The expiration date was wrong,” the man said. “It was 02/10, not 22/10.”

That explains it.

I heard a dot matrix printer start up elsewhere in the building. The man tossed my card in front of me and sat back in his chair.

I looked around the room. A coffee cup held down stacks of curling, dusty travel pamphlets. Ancient posters adorned the walls.

“Visit Ceylon!”

“Safari in Rhodesia!”

After a minute, the printer sound stopped. The man creaked up out of his chair and shuffled down a hallway in the direction from which the sound had come. His shirttail hung from underneath his sweater. He reappeared with paper tickets in his hand… The kind of paper tickets that one would… Well… Get from a travel agent, back when I was a kid.

The man carefully lined up the tickets and stapled them.

“This one is your itinerary… This one is your ticket. Don’t lose the ticket.”

The man offered me a paper sleeve for the ticket… I took it. It invited me to enjoy Oktoberfest in beautiful West Germany via Eastern Airlines.