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.
It’s always fun to meet and get to know the new additions to our staff, to learn about where they’re coming from, where they plan to go to, and, in so many cases around here, who on the staff they’re related to. But, I have to say, the ones whose stories I’m always the most curious about are the ones who take the graveyard shift. This decision, to work through the hours that the rest of the world is sleeping, is pretty dramatic, and the people who make it have strong reasons. Of course, I’m also hoping that someday we’ll hire a vampire and, through my insightful questioning, I’ll be the one who figures it out. But I digress.
As you may have guessed, all this is to say that we’ve hired a new graveyard bellman. Matt is his name and he’s been here for just a couple of months. Matt’s a student at San Jose State, with plans to teach PE and coach sports. Well, actually, it isn’t just a plan, he’s already coaching middle school sports and he loves it. But until he gets his degree, he can’t take on the PE classes that would fill out his schedule and allow him to live off of this work. Still, having found the thing he wants to do in his life, he doesn’t want to take a break until he’s done with school. Instead, he took enough graveyard hours to fill out his work week, without cutting into his middle school or his college time. He sleeps, he says, from 8am-12pm and then again from 8pm to 10pm. When I asked him how that felt he said that he used to sleep a lot and so he figures he’s got enough rest stored up to do this for a while. Which reminded me that he’s 22 and will be just fine. And, anyway, all good coaches know the importance of hard work and sacrifice. Even better if they have experience of it.
At this hotel, our employees come to us, as you may have noticed, from lots of different places and for lots of different reasons. It’s a great transitional job and most people working here sought it out because it gave them something that they needed on their path to or from someplace else. Not so for Guadalupe! Miss Guadalupe started working here because she was bored. That’s right. As it happens, Lily, our front desk manager, is also her cousin and so when Guadalupe was complaining of boredom a year ago, Lily said something like, “Hey, if you’re bored, I’ve got something you can do.”
Don’t get me wrong, we’re super lucky to be taking advantage of Guadalupe’s ennui. She’s studying to be a nurse, she says, because she feels called to help people and is unafraid of the more gruesome aspects of that job. So when you come to check in and it’s Guadalupe who greets you, you’ve got someone who both loves service and will never see the problems that arise at a hotel as more than what she can handle. Plus she laughs easily. It’s great for us that she got bored.
It’s fine, too, if once she becomes a nurse she still finds herself bored on the weekends. If we fill a void in her, we’ll be very happy to continue on into the future.
Every month, as you know, I use this space to introduce you all to another one of our employees. Our team comes from all sorts of different places and they’re working here for all sorts of different reasons and it’s always fun to learn about people’s different passions and plans and philosophies. But these people are not fixed objects! Pee Wee/Dave, the bartender, for example, was the first employee I ever wrote about, however many years ago, and back then he was all about music and the music career he was going to find for himself. Well, a year ago he became a father and now his story is very different indeed. Why didn’t you learn about that from me? I guess what I’m telling you that I’ve done, actually, is I’ve managed to convince our general manager that, from time to time, I get to use this space as a kind of a gossip column. Yes! Now it really is my dream job!
And I’ve got a pretty exciting inaugural edition, I must say. No less than three of our employees have gotten engaged in the last few weeks. Jonathan, who you may remember used to think he was going to be a cop, and is now studying business and working in reservations, just proposed to his girlfriend. Rachel, the aesthetician who works behind our front desk and waxes our general manager’s eyebrows, just said yes to her proposal. And, finally, Kaz, the aspiring rapper who does sales for us in Southern California, popped the question to a girl who’s been described as “basically another Kaz”. Congratulations or words of warning are encouraged.
One employee who hasn’t changed much is Adam, who can still be found rotating from the front desk to bell to the bar, trying to work as close to 24 hours a day as he can get, all in service of his race car. His season just opened, though, so he’ll cool off on his shift hording for a bit. And if you’re ever curious, he’d love it if you’d come cheer him on.
That’s all for this time!
One thing that I’ve learned from working at this hotel is that the people who work the graveyard shift are not dull. It makes sense, I guess. It would take a major imaginative shift to decide to work all night and sleep during the day, totally reversing all the patterns set up by biology and society. You would have to really be the kind of person who could let go of normal in order to find the life you were meant to have.
Dennis, our graveyard bellman, is no exception. Dennis came to the mighty Silicon Valley from Texas, fresh out of college, with a degree in bio-chemical engineering, because this is where you’re supposed to go with that kind of degree. But there was a recession hitting and, anyway, he hadn’t really liked getting the degree and wasn’t looking forward to the work it would bring him. So he got a job as a club promoter and then, because he had all this free time and was getting antsy, he enrolled at the Art Institute. It was around this time that he came to us, needing to pay for art school, but not having time for another job. The graveyard shift was appealing because it didn’t interfere at all with his school schedule. But it turned out that almost entirely scheduling sleep out of his life was unsustainable and so he went on hiatus from art school, just shy of a degree. He’ll go back, he says, but when I asked him how soon he told me, instead, about how he had just been certified to teach English abroad and is about to apply for a position in Thailand. He can stay anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
I, personally, am so impressed with people like Dennis. He’s drifting a bit, sure, but he’s also taking dramatic chances in his search for what he wants from the world. I love and envy this. If you get a chance, say hi to him before he’s gone.
A few weeks ago I went car shopping with a friend. I learned a few things that day, one of which was that I should not go car shopping with a friend if I myself am so terrified by the idea of buying a new car. The other thing I learned is that selling forty cars in two months is a pretty difficult feat for a car salesman. And yet that is exactly what Brian, our bellman, did, in his brief little moment of car salesmanship. Talking to him, it’s not hard to imagine why. He has a slow, deep voice; you kind of have to wait for his words, but it’s worth it because the things he says are, well, fun to listen to, and it seems like he enjoys talking. Plus he has this Hollywood good looks thing going for him, like he could have had a part in one of those Twilight movies if he had been in the right place at the right time.
Brian has been with us for about a year, though it’s his second tour. He left the first time to go back to school, but then he left school because he thought that he should figure out what he wanted out of his schooling. And so he came back to us. Now he’s considering going back to school so that he can figure out what he wants to do. He’s untroubled by the contradiction. Talking to him, actually, I’m not so bothered by it either.
Here’s another little piece of Brian: In high school, he was a part of a performing arts program, a sort of school-within-the-school. He says he had no interest in theater or being an actor or anything to do with the aims of the program, he just liked the people involved in it. And then Mr. Uninterested put together a final project that was so creative, timely and well executed that not only did it earn him an A+, but he still gets excited reliving the details today. And don’t forget those 40 cars in two months. This boy’s got an interesting future ahead of him. For now, though, he’ll be happy to help you with your bags.
Here’s something I never thought about before: The graveyard bell shift is one of the most delicate positions at this hotel. When Buddy, who’s worked that shift for the last three years, explained it to me recently, I was reminded of what a sensitive business we’re in. You come to us to take off your clothes, bathe and sleep; I don’t think that we, as people, are ever more vulnerable than when do those things. So, when we, as a hotel, agree to ensure that you feel completely comfortable and safe with us, it’s a pretty big responsibility we’re taking on. And one that I, the newsletter writer, can almost entirely forget about. As can, I would imagine, a lot of the daytime staff.
Not the graveyard bellman, though. It’s Buddy that’s here when things go wrong in the middle of the night. When you’ve got an important meeting in the morning and you should be sleeping, but something’s gone wrong in your room, as, we admit, does happen from time to time, it’s Buddy who knocks on your door to fix it. Even the managers are sleeping when Buddy’s on duty. He’s a problem solver, a forgiver of crankiness, a forgetter of bad hair. He’s a nice guy who moved to the Bay Area from California’s Central Valley because only McDonald’s was hiring. He’s happy to work through the night, happy with the comfort and security of his work here. He only just wishes that people would remember having signed a paper that said they would not throw parties when he has to come a break those parties up.
Do any of you like to play Boggle? You know, the word game where you shake a plastic cube full of letters, let them settle into a grid in random order and then find as many words in that grid as possible? Well, this month it’s a little bit like someone picked up our little hotel and shook it like a Boggle game and wherever people landed, those are their jobs for the next few weeks. Chaos makes life more fun!
What actually happened is that Jerry went on leave for a month and a half and someone needed to do his job. Jazz was the obvious choice for interim Director of Sales and Marketing, since he seems to want to hold every position in this hotel at least for a few weeks and he always does a good job so there’s no reason to stop him. But then there was a hole in reservations. Steady, reliable Matt, our rock behind the front desk, would no doubt be just as easy and constant upstairs as he is down, so he took Jazz’s seat. And who did we bring into the Monday-Friday first thing in the morning front desk shift? Well, Sunshine, of course! I don’t know how Matt’s going to get his old post back now that the brilliance of having literal Sunshine there to greet you first thing in the morning has occurred to our dear general manager. But that’s weeks away! In the meantime everyone’s got to get busy learning their new jobs, hopefully before it’s time to give them back.