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.
People get granted all kinds of gifts in life. Some can run fast. Others can cook well. A lucky few can sing like birds. Many of you are good with numbers. I can hold my breath longer than most people I know. Roberto, who you can find behind our front desk, has a gift for customer service. It comes naturally to him, he says. It’s easy for him to be with people, to spend his days helping all of you transition into your time in Silicon Valley. He believes that this is the gift that he was given.
Though he’s only been with us since 2008, Roberto has been working in hotels for the last 15 years. He has a string of household names in his past; ours is his first adventure in non-corporate hospitality. A super-professional, he will say very adamantly that he does not compare hotels. But if you push and push and really make a nuisance of yourself, it’s possible to learn from Roberto what we always suspected to be true anyway: The big chains don’t care as much as we do. Officially, as in their policies are just less supportive of customer service. Which, especially for someone who feels that their specialty in life is customer service, is just not as satisfying an environment to spend a working life in. Score yet another point for small business in America!
There’s an ad for Dos Equis beer, maybe you’ve seen it, that stars a tall, dark and handsome man with a not-quite-place-able accent and a lot of stories of adventure. He is, according to this ad, the most interesting man in the world and we’re all supposed to want to be him, or to at least know him, and Dos Equis supposedly a step in the right direction. I fear this guy is probably a narcissistic adrenaline junky, though, and I would like to propose an alternative ideal: The most interested man in the world. Someone, that is, who finds joy and nourishment wherever he is, who is curious and enthusiastic and not merely a jaded experience collector. My candidate for the title? Ed, our weekend bartender.
Let me defend my candidate, first, by saying that there is nothing that I have seen Ed do that he did not do meticulously and beautifully. This includes, but does not stop with, installing a bay window, playing guitar, drawing, reading complex philosophical texts and hiking. If I weren’t so afraid of clichés, I’d call him a renaissance man. To avoid that I will just say that Ed applies every bit of himself to everything he does and he seems to do it out of a desire to suck every bit of knowledge out of every new situation he’s in. He takes nothing for granted, rushes through nothing and he does it all out of genuine interest.
What makes the most interested man in the world superior to the most interesting? Well, given that you and I will probably be neither but will get only to maybe be friends with one or the other, it’s good to remember that, of the two, it’s the most interested man in the world who will pay attention to you. And, because he’s paid such good attention to so many others, he’s got a diverse, complex perspective to bounce back at you. Nice choice for a bartender, no?
To talk to Iris, who’s worked behind our front desk for close to a year now, about her schedule is a bit troubling at first. I spent the first few minutes of our conversation thinking that I should probably try to get her fired, hard working and friendly though she may be, because if she’s not going to take care of herself, then someone else should try to. I know that sounds mean, but listen to this: She works three jobs, one full-time, two part-time. Her full-time job is supervisor at a kid’s camp. Her other part time job is doing promotions for the San Jose Earthquakes. She’s in school. She writes for the school paper. And she’s on a soccer team. I couldn’t even find a pattern and it sounded like compulsion to me. Which only exposes my own lack of imagination because actually Iris has got it all figured out.
It turns out she’s preparing herself for a career in sports journalism. Hence the newspaper work, the job with the Earthquakes (our local professional soccer team), and the AA she just received in communications. In the fall she’ll start at San Jose State with a major in TV journalism. The soccer team she plays for even fits this story. She took a job at the hotel so that she could ease her way out of the kid’s camp job. She’s working hard, it’s true, but her goal is very clear, she’s laid out a pretty solid path for herself and she’s not afraid of the hard work it’s all going to take. I’m sorry I thought of getting her fired because, truly, our ability to get motivated, strong people like Iris to spend a few years with us, as they work their way toward their dreams, is maybe our biggest secret weapon.
Every month, as you know, I write to you about one of my coworkers. That means that once a month I sit down and talk to someone else about their life, their interests and their job. I’ve been doing it for a while now, so it’s getting to be kind of a lot of people that I’ve chatted with like this. And in all this time, Michelle, who works behind the front desk, is the first one who said that she was excited to talk about herself and her life plans.
It wasn’t long before I understood why she was so willing. Michelle is on a clear path that she believes in very strongly. She’s doing a degree in criminal justice at San Jose State with the intention of becoming a juvenile probation officer. It’s a decision that she came to after asking herself how she might best be of service to the world and though she knows it won’t be simple, she seems to know, also, that she’s making the right choice. And she seems happy.
Does this sound familiar? I wrote something very similar just a couple of months ago about our bellman Louis, who’s in pursuit of a job in the prison system. Well, I’m not one to gossip, but let’s just say they do know about the synchronicities between them.
Oh, and one more little Michelle anomaly: When asked what she likes about, her job her number one item, reported with what seemed to be genuine enthusiasm, was getting to organize papers.
Stephen, who’s now working behind our front desk, first interviewed for this job fifteen years ago. If you’ve seen him, you’ll now be thinking to yourself that he can’t possibly be old enough for that, and it’s true that he was only five at the time, but little Steven announced himself to our general manager, all those years ago. in such an unforgettable way that when she next encountered him, a young man of working age, she immediately offered him a job. He had lived on her street, you see, and she reports that he was the cutest little kid she had ever come across. Blond and covered with freckles, not unlike Dennis the Menace, he would come over everyday and ask to play with her son, Jerry, who was sixteen. Fifteen years later she was still so touched by this, and trusted whoever that little kid had grown into enough, to ask right away if he would be willing to come work for her.
Talking to him, you know she was right. He’s soft spoken but open, looking forward to his life. He laughs easily. He’s taking a break from business classes to do an EMT training, with the idea of opening up a pathway to becoming a firefighter. He’d like to move to San Diego, where he has two half brothers and the sun always shines. Basically, he’s a really nice and very sincere guy, just like he was a really nice, sincere little kid. He is exactly what she expected him to grow into.
Please, though, people, this is not an invitation to start sending your children to our general manager for evaluation.
One of the scariest parts of this financial crisis, for me, has been thinking of the individuals who, if not made it happen, at least allowed it to happen. Lenders who targeted low-income families, bankers who took risks with abstract interests that were the livelihoods of real people, and all of them thinking only of their own profits. Is this what became of the American dream? Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps at whatever cost, assuming that only a select few will get the privilege of wealth and that it’s each man’s responsibility to either win or lose that race.
It feels good, then, to talk to our bellman, Luis. With the whole world open for him to choose from, and parents encouraging him to find what he needed, he decided to train to be a corrections officer. Having visited prisons since his schooling began, he agrees that he’s heading into a rough life, but his experience has led him to believe that the insides of those institutions need more compassion and that he’s capable of doing the job, so he signed up to learn how. It’s not just that it’s not the most financially rewarding job that makes that such an admirable choice, it’s that he has decided to live, everyday, in a place of emotional stress, because he did some research, then looked at himself, and decided that this was needed and that he could handle it. If more of us Americans exercised our much-touted freedom like Luis, maybe the world wouldn’t be such a big mess today.