I booked my first cruise in January of 2005. Although I began cruising almost a decade earlier as a teenager, my first cruise I ever booked, paid for, and sailed on would take place five months later, in May of 2005 aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam.
To book my cruise, I bumbled into Sears Travel’s Robson Street location at the corner of Robson and Howe in Vancouver. I’d been raiding them of their cruise brochures for months, and the three person team that worked there gently tolerated my pilfering. Those three travel agents – Bob, Marty and Thelma Poirier – would end up becoming good friends of mine over the next decade.
While I booked cruises with all three, it was the always-smiling Thelma Poirier that turned out to be my go-to travel agent for several years – and I inundated her mercilessly with all kinds of whacked-out cruise requests. “
Thelma!”, I’d write in an email, “can you price out the following voyages for me, in a balcony stateroom?” That would be followed by some sort of run-on list of voyages around the world that I found particularly interesting. Thelma did it, gamely, and never once complained. In fact, she’d add to my growing fantasy list of voyages to take. She’d send me news alerts from Holland America Line – my go-to cruise line at the time – letting me know when they were having some big blitz of a sale.
Since I still worked downtown at that time, in the animation industry, I’d pop into Sears and ride the escalators up to the fifth floor, where Thelma would have a nice stack of brochures she’d put aside waiting for me. She never assumed a line was out of my league or my income bracket, and always made sure to have my personal fantasy lines – Cunard and Silversea – represented with new brochures at the top of the pile.
But aside from booking cruises, I liked visiting with her. She was probably in her early 60’s at this point, and I enjoyed the friendly banter that would occur around this small corner of the store, which Sears succeeded in making smaller with each passing year. But if Thelma, Marty and Bob minded, they never let on – in fact, as their workspace got smaller, their jokes only seemed to get funnier.
Eventually, Thelma left Sears Travel. She’d gotten a job at a mining exploration company that came with what I assumed was a considerable pay bump over Sears Travel. Her colleague Bob then took o