Computers shouldn’t know better than the customer

It’s a fantasy, that’s what it is.

That belief in indestructibility is a fantasy. It starts when you’re a young punk watching television shows with old people in them. You know, old – at least 35, maybe older. No wonder they have problems, you think, they’re old.

Suddenly you’re watching the oldies channel, and all those people who once seemed too old to be allowed out alone now look like they’re babies, too young to be allowed out alone.

Fantasy. Perspective. There but for the grace of God stuff. Only in this case, it’s God’s grace that keeps you getting older.

I’m trying to understand, truly I am. I’m trying to understand how it happened overnight. Once I was; now I once was.

Now I’m one of the multitude facing likely cataract surgery, and it doesn’t make me feel any better that Dr. Fox says it’ll be a while yet. The need to buy a new car hurts less when you hear the mechanic say it’ll be a while yet. But cataracts? There’s just no good to come from the knowledge that it will be a while yet.

A few days ago, I tried to buy myself an Amtrak ticket online. That seems to be the thing to do these days, buying tickets online.

Buying anything online baffles me. Prompts send me places I can’t find in most cases, and even when I can maneuver to the correct location, that’s not the end of it. Oh, no, not at all.

So, I’ve got the Amtrak information up, I find the right train, the right date and fill in my form. Check it twice. Hit submit.

“We are unable to complete your request.” Or some such baloney.

The computer told me my pin number was incorrect. How, I wondered loudly and not so nicely, did the computer even think I didn’t know my own pin number. But there, just as plain as a cloudless day, the pin number box had mysteriously emptied. I filled it again. And again.

Way back when microwave ovens first came out, I didn’t want one. I didn’t want to be dumber than my stove, but with the help of a good salesman and a convection microwave, I climbed that hill of inability. Surely that hill could not have formed again, especially when I was looking right at that dag-nabbed pin number and it WAS correct.

While getting electronic Amtrak tickets, you get just three do-overs then you can’t even apply. If you don’t know yourself in three tries, the computer figures you might not be you. But I was me, a mad me.

Finally I got into an area where the computer wanted an answer. I refused to give one and hit all sorts of boxes, finally lighting on a box that gave me a phone number. A real Ashley helped me buy the ticket. And it wasn’t the pin number that was wrong. It was the expiration date of my credit card. With almost-cloudy eyes, I couldn’t see the number correctly.

Computers don’t like that. But, still, how did it know?

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, former lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at