The worst thing about having a young, ambitious staff is that eventually you’re going to have to say goodbye to each and every one of them. Stephen, who our general manager would only ever refer to as Little Stephen, will be an especially tough one for her in particular because he grew up on her street. She met him when he was a five-year-old who just kept wandering away from his parents’ house and showing up at her doorstep. She had no kids his age at the time, there was no one in particular for him to play with there, but he’d turn up every day, not unlike Dennis the Menace. A few years later his parents divorced and he finished his growing up somewhere else, but when he turned up at the hotel looking for a job, all he had to do was remind her of who he was and he was hired. He’s been here for a few years now and every time she looked at him, she saw the skinny little towhead wanderer. Well, now it’s time for him to wander away.
The funny thing about Stephen’s departure is that, while we’re all saying our goodbyes and wondering if and how we’ll ever see him again, there are some of you who’ll now be seeing a lot more of him. You see, he’s leaving us to be a courier at Apple. For those of you who are getting more Stephen from here on out, maybe think of indulging our boss with whatever little bits of gossip you can dig up from his new life. For the rest of us, we’ll say goodbye for now, and look forward to how he’ll show up the next time.
Lily leaving meant a big hole not only in our hearts, but also in the smooth function of our day-to-day operations. She wasn’t promoted, after all, just because we all thought she was so nice. Lily kept the ever fluctuating, necessarily unstable front desk madness going at a steady, friendly, reliable clip. Who would fill those small, but so firmly grounded shoes?
Well, when we looked around at our staff, it turned out there were lots of strong candidates. It was, actually, a nice moment to appreciate how well resourced we are. After a more-difficult-than-anticipated decision making process, Joe Carmona became our new front desk manager. He’ll be an unfamiliar face to a lot of you, when you run into him, though he’s been with us for years. Those of you who do recognize him will maybe only have him in blurred memories of late arrivals, early departures or nights of insomnia. Joe’s been working the graveyard shift ever since he got here, a slot he stayed with because his girlfriend, a nurse, works nights too and they were living their inverted life together. For the chance of promotion, though, Joe decided to reenter a life of circadian rhythms.
To work nights for years on end takes discipline and an independent spirit, so we have every faith that Joe is going to excel in his new role. We also know, though, from having just looked more closely than usual, that our staff is full of outstanding individuals who will not falter in a time of transition.
Lily was here last Sunday afternoon, getting a few things organized for the upcoming week. No one expected her, it was this nice little treat, and before she could get the work she had come to do done, she had to make the rounds, giving everyone their turn to hug her. Why was it so special for Lily to come in on a Sunday, you ask? Well, friends, the sad truth is that Lily doesn’t work here anymore. The business she came in to attend to was about finishing up the last details of handing the job of front desk manager over to her successor, before going in on Monday for the first day of her new job.
This wasn’t a surprise departure, of course. Lily has been working her butt off for a long time and we always knew she meant to move out into the world. She’s at First 5 now, an organization devoted to, well, the first five years of the lives of children in the community. She’s preparing her grad school applications, with ideas of going into teaching, but also of continuing on with Chicano Studies. Unsure as she is of the specifics, it’s clear to her that non-profit, community outreach needs to be a part of her range of experience, and so she left us.
We’re so proud and it’s just awful. She grew up here with us. We watched her become the intelligent young woman she is now and she’s only going to get better, except we won’t get to be her daily reference point anymore. And for those of you who remember that her mother works here, or who know that she has so many friends here and assume she’s going to keep hanging around here even if she doesn’t work here, listen to this: She’s applying to UC Santa Barbara! Oh, why must love be so painful?
How many of you have noticed that Adam is always working? He does a variety of different jobs, so it might be possible to not quite make the connection, but suffice it to say, Adam is always working and it’s been this way for years. He works as many double shifts as he can and even sneaks in the occasional, illegal triple shift. Sometimes some effort is made to make him calm down, back off, go easy on himself, but it’s wasted breath. Adam is a man with a passion.
What, you ask, is this fire burning in our most ubiquitous front desk worker? Adam is a racecar driver, which turns out to be a very expensive sport. The car needs constant, costly repairs, I guess due to being pushed to its limit every time it goes out, not to mention crashed around a bit and though the goal is sponsorship and having someone else pay for it all, the only way to get there is to spend a long time paying for it all yourself. So Adam works. And works and works and works. And when he’s not here working, he’s someplace working on his car. All for little short bursts of driving, every now and then. Those shorts bursts must be amazing.
If you’re interested in learning more about racing cars, or if you’d like to see a guy talk about something he’s very passionate about, now’s a great time to go have a chat with Adam. The season is on and he’s been winning and a fun conversation is there to be had.
Forgive a bit of bragging, but this month’s employee story will be devoted to how very proud we are of Liliana Francisco. Lily has been with us since she was a teenager, working behind the front desk as soon as she was old enough to have a job. We knew she’d be dependable and solid because her mother was, and still is, the manager of housekeeping, and genetics and accountability are two of the major hiring principles around here. Still, there was no way to know just what a devoted hard worker she’d be, or how much pleasant good humor she’d bring into work with her every day. We have loved her and will continue to love her and she’s been the front desk manager for the last few years and she just absolutely rocks, but this is not a story about Lily’s job here with us.
After high school, Lily spent a couple of years going to community college and then transferred to San Jose State University. Her major was Social Science. Last week she graduated, and when Lily walked down that aisle and accepted that diploma, she became the first member of her entire extended family to hold a college degree. Do I need to talk now about the odds she’s come through, or what a sparkling gem of a person she is? The fact is enough, I think. It holds so much in it. We are both happy to have been a part of the structure that she used to get herself to this place, and humbled by someone doing such big, important work right here in our midst. Please, when you see her in the next weeks, months or year, give her as many congratulations as she’s willing to take.
When Olivia, who now works behind our front desk, graduated from high school, she was confused about what she wanted to do with her life. Surprised? I’m guessing no. This is the story of nearly every one of my under-30 coworkers, our little hotel serving as a nice, warm incubator for those who know they are headed somewhere, but just need a little more time to find the starting line. Olivia, though, 18 and unsure, did something you have not yet read about in this little newsletter: She moved to Sierra Leone for a year to work on a farm.
She says that being there taught her about simplicity and that coming back to life in the American suburbs was a little confusing. She’s 20 now and she’s been with us for a little over a year, meaning that she came to us just a couple of months after leaving Africa. This hotel, she says, has been great for her because she loves to be connected to all the travelers. She sees more travel in her future and, in the mean time, values the connections to an international life that she can make through you, our guests.
In the mean time, as she was transitioning from African field work to Silicon Valley hotel work and found herself still confused about a larger pathway, her mother persuaded her to go through a dental hygienist course, so that she would have a career. She now cleans people’s mouths during the week, learning from that that there are things that she most certainly will not be choosing to do with her life long term, and comes here on the weekends. Her dream is to move back to Africa. She says she will live there permanently as soon as she can figure out how. Until then, we’ve got her and she’s got us.
Last month our big employee announcement was the return of Sunshine, the little ray of light behind who sits, again, behind our front desk. It wasn’t mentioned last time, though I think it had been mentioned before, that she, who is so genuinely loved and was so happily welcomed back, is also our general manager’s niece. And, as many of you well know, this is not the only case of blatant nepotism here at our little hotel. Our general manager hires her family rampantly, and when she’s employed all the relatives who’ll have her, she moves on to their friends. It’s not just her own family either; the family of nearly every other manager here is, to put it mildly, at least represented on the staff. This hotel is practically tribal.
Occasionally our general manager will get a little slack for this behavior. Nepotism is kind of a dirty word, after all, implying that positions haven’t been earned and that the potential function of an organization is being watered down. She’ll defend herself to the end every time, saying that she’s hiring people she knows she can trust and that there’s greater accountability this way. Still it rankles the modern American sensibilities we’re all carrying around, and besides that it just seems a little unfair.
Today, though, I read a little blurb on nepotism, written by a professor of business ethics, who talked about the argument Max Weber made against nepotism. According to this guy, James Fisher, Weber was anti-nepotism because family ties could “thwart the development of more impersonal social networks essential for modern business organization and practice.” Yikes! Isn’t the impersonal nature of modern business, like, killing our souls? Sorry, that’s a bit strong. At the very least, I know for certain that a hotel shouldn’t be run according to a philosophy of de-personalization. I write this feeling much better about our interwoven, unabashedly familial, tribal, non-modern business.
Karla, who has just recently begun appearing behind our front desk, says that she’s finally getting comfortable with how our system works. Starting any new job, of course, there’s going to be a period of acclimation, which can be awkward and a little stressful. What’s nice for Karla about coming into work at this hotel is that if she feels any of that anxiety, she’s got a bit of a support system ready to help her. Her father, you see, works in the kitchen, as do her aunt and a couple of uncles. Plus she’s got a cousin who’s a bellman. I asked how this is for her, knowing that this is not a dream situation for every 18-year-old girl. The answer is that she loves it. Her family, she says, is a lot of fun and it’s great for her that she now gets to see so much more of them.
That family, just to say, is one of the strongest currents running through this hotel and is a big part of how we can be as good as we are. She may be biased, but she’s not wrong.
Back to Karla, though, who is in her first quarter at De Anza College. She’s getting her general ed requirements done, taking the first steps down the path to figuring out what she’ll do with her life. Next quarter she’ll try kickboxing. She has dreams traveling, she says, to the other side of the world. Someday she hopes to live in Spain. In the meantime, she has good friends and an amazing family and no reason to be in any hurry. For our part, we plan keep her until the day before her travels begin.
A few years ago I read, somewhere on the internet, about a swan in Germany that had fallen in love with a swan shaped boat. The problem was that swans mate for life, so this one was setting itself up for a bizarre, and ultimately unsatisfactory, swan life. I can’t remember all the details, but the real swam was removed from her beloved boat swan and was despondent. At the time the story was being reported, the lovers had just been reunited so the living swan was rejuvenated, though there was concern for the future, on the part of the boat owner in particular.
Well, unfortunately, we here at this little hotel are not unlike that poor swan when it comes to our employees. If we like someone, our natural inclination is to act as if we were mated for life. Not that anyone who works here is a wooden swan boat who’s been fooling us, but sometimes people turn out to need different things and then they have to leave to go find them. It’s a double whammy this time, actually. Sunshine and Sam Jr. are both gone. Neither one of them chose a different swan, so to speak. Sunshine moved to LA, and the commute seemed overly challenging. Sam Jr. decided he wanted to work in health care, and he wouldn’t accept our proposal that kitchen work IS health care. Understandable, and yet, if you notice a bunch of sad swans swimming through our halls in the next weeks, well, now you know why.
For months and months now I’ve wanted to fill this space with the story of Norman, the man responsible for the revolution in our room service menu and the soon-to-be revolution of our nightly hors d’oeuvres selection. I’ve called and left messages for him, I’ve gotten a few brief moments of live talking, where he makes a date to chat that he then ignores. Once he texted to tell me that he couldn’t talk because he was watching Dancing With the Stars, but he’d call right after. He didn’t. I’ve even seen him from time to time, in person, and he’s promised that we could talk soon…he’d call me. Yeah, right. And so now I’m doing something that I’ve never done here before: I’m writing about someone I haven’t talked to. This won’t be his story, of course, but just what I’ve seen of him. Still, I think he’s a fun guy for you all to know about, though he just will not get it together to call me. This is the difference between a journalist and me!
Norman is just about the most easy, laid back guy you could meet. He went to high school with Jerry, our director of sales and marketing, where he is reported to have slept through classes and parties alike. There’s a photo of him from that time in a suit and tie, with sunlight streaming through an open window, asleep with his head on a piano. Norman. After high school he worked here for a bit as a bellman, drifting in and out of his responsibilities the way he drifted through high school. He was so easy to be around, but was he only just going to be on the lookout for the next cozy nook? Still, there was one other little thing going on with Norman. Every now and then, for example, he would show up for a tailgate party with some crazy concoction that he had had marinating for the last two days. And it would be delicious. He played around like that for a few years, then, finally, he went to cooking school. Now he can be found in a corporate cafeteria that I can’t name, but suffice it to say that some of you reading this will have eaten there. But he was ours first and lucky for us he’s willing to come by from time to time and help us out with our food. Though, yeah, you do have to be able to catch his drift.