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Our relaxing vacation that almost never was

Now that I'm back from vacation, I am hoping to catch up on my rest.

It wasn't a bad vacation, exactly, but there's always a danger when one goes somewhere new - which is what the other person who lives at our house and I did this time. On the advice of friends, we went to Palm Springs.

Of course, only truly crazy people go to Palm Springs in the summer time, if you don't count the people who live there and can't afford to summer somewhere else (which, I suspect, is a really small number).

I have to say right up front that Palm Springs is a beautiful place, even though the last two days we were there, it was 114. But the temperature really wasn't our problem with this vacation. No, our problem was getting there in the first place.

It all started many weeks earlier, when my wife, Doreen (not her real name), set out to book this little trip, as a way for us to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary.

She found a reasonable plane fare and hotel accommodations through one of those travel websites, which I'd rather not name specifically, so let's just say it rhymes with Stupedia.com.

Anyway, she was right at the end of the process of booking the trip when our computer lost its Internet connection. This, of course, is something that happens frequently, even though we give a wad of money every month to a company that I not only don't want to mention, I don't even want to tell you what it rhymes with because I'm pretty sure they have ways to spy on us and make our lives even more miserable.

Right before her eyes, all the boxes indicating days and times and rates and whatnot went away. When she got the computer back up and running, there was no indication we had a trip booked at all, which caused her to seriously ponder the matter.

The other person who lives at our house is much more inclined to ponder these things than me. I have a tendency to freak out and then go off, as she likes to say, 'half-cocked.' It usually ends with me breaking something. But she didn't do that.

First, she checked our email inbox for any sign of a confirmation from the folks at Stupedia. After a while, she decided to call Stupedia to inquire whether we had a trip booked or not. From their end of the communication universe, there was no sign that we had, so she concluded she should go ahead and try again.

That was the last we heard of this until, many days later, our credit card bill came, and there were two identical vacations on it, for the same amount.

Doreen (still not her real name) called Stupedia and asked, 'Hey, you guys, what gives?'

After a good deal of back and forth, in which they kept reminding her that she had accepted the terms of a contract more than twice as long as the U.S. Constitution, she got them to agree to cancel one of these vacations, something that Stupedia.com pretty much never, ever does.

Let us zoom through time now, to the Thursday night before the morning we planned to catch our flight to Palm Springs. Doreen, never one to take too much for granted (even though we did have in hand a printout of the itinerary and vouchers verifying flight info and hotel reservations), decided to call Stupedia to confirm we still had a vacation on the books.

Actually, they said, you don't. It's been canceled. For the next three hours plus, Doreen was on the phone to an assortment of Stupedia people, mostly, she says, in Korea. They took no responsibility for the problem and would only agree to rebook the flight if we paid an additional $300 per person, which was not acceptable to the other person who lives at our house. Your only other option, they said, is to get up in the morning, call again, and maybe the answer would be different.

She did, and it wasn't. We left for the airport pretty convinced we might be coming right back.

We were telling our tale of woe at the United Airlines ticket counter when we struck out the final time, but fortunately for us, the woman helping us, an angel named Heidi Vedder, solved our problem for us.

Realizing we weren't going to pay several hundred more dollars than originally agreed, she suggested we just go down to Southwest Airlines and book another flight. Apparently, we looked so pathetically inept that she just said, 'Why don't I just go on their website right here and see if we can't book something?'

And that's what she did. We flew directly to Ontario, Calif. (our original United flight was going to go through San Francisco, L.A. and then to Palm Springs), where we rented a car and drove the rest of the way.

Thank you, Heidi Vedder. You saved our vacation. They could really, really use you and your customer service skills at Stupedia.com. But you probably would have to move to Korea, so never mind.

Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Kelly is now chief of the central editing and design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.