Sunshine first turned up around this hotel as a small child. She was six when she moved to the Bay Area with her mother, a tiny, nearly mute girl who you sometimes felt was trying very hard not to smile, no matter how pleased she was. Her official title those days was “boss’ niece” and we saw a lot of her because her mom had come to stay with her sister, our boss, for a bit.
A lot of us that knew her back then are still here, which feels nice to report. Still, I’d say we were all pretty surprised to learn that enough time had passed for her to turn into a beautiful young lady, and a perfect addition to our front desk staff. Bits of childhood shyness have stayed with her; she’s not yet willing to offer lots of herself out to the world. But she’s much more generous with her smile these days. Plus there’s this: When we first met Sunshine, she was called Analise. She says she never liked that name, it never felt good to her, so she found one that made her feel good. This was a bold move. To change her name, a girl would have to have a strong willingness to find her own path in the world, even if she wasn’t so eager to talk about it with everyone who asked. We’re all curious to see where she’ll be in another 10 years. We’re thinking it’ll be pretty interesting, and that we won’t know a thing about it before it happen. As for us, I guess we’ll mostly still be here!
It’s been 12 years since Anjelica, one of our most senior housekeepers, first came on board with us, and she’s happy. And the reason we know she’s happy is that she’s still here. Seems simple, I know, but think, for a moment, of all the people you know who stay in unhappy situations. It’s one of our most common modern clichés, in fact, to feel trapped and miserable for years, but just keep staying. Our world is full of victims of sociology and psychology and bad decisions and laziness. Anjelica is not one of those people. She was unhappy in her native Guatemala, so she left. She had two young sons, whom she had to leave with her mother, but she left with confidence and was successful and now they’re here with her. When she first arrived 15 years ago, in a foreign land with a foreign language, she had a series of jobs that she did not like. As she did not come to America to continue being unhappy, she left those too, one by one, until she finally landed here with us. It took her three years to find this hotel, and, though she’s careful to say that one never really knows what life’s bringing next, she plans to stay as long as she can. We don’t often recognize the power we have to choose the lives we’re going to live. Anjelica is one of the people who does, and she’s happy.
In contrasting Russian tubercular patients against their European counterparts at an alpine sanatorium, Thomas Mann’s Herr Settembrini talks about a “liberality, [a] barbaric extravagance in the use of time [that] is the Asian style.” I think this is a great description of Matt, who works behind our front desk. Matt, who is taking a casual, if somewhat overextended, stroll through his college course load, says that he knows he’ll finish someday. Sure it’s been seven years, but all of life is still ahead. A year ago his truck broke down and he borrowed another from Jerry, our director of sales and marketing. Jerry didn’t need his truck, so Matt relaxed. He got his own fixed yesterday, saying that he meant to fix it right away, but that the year had just sort of gone by. And our dear general manager thinks this initial breakdown was more like a year and a half ago. But what’s a few extra months?
This was not a compliment Herr Settembrini was giving, and Matt is not Russian. So, what is my point? Well, how about looking just a little further east and, instead of calling Matt’s potentially Asian-influenced style “procrastination”, as he himself calls it, thinking of it more along the lines of something like Zen? To me, a “liberality…in the use of time” sounds like a pre-requisite for doing things like living in the moment and accepting yourself. Matt keeps loose goals in his eyes, but stays, also, open to the things in life that just come up. And he’s not afraid to drop a class when they do!
The only real problem I see, to be honest, is convincing Matt himself to stop hanging his head when he says he doesn’t really know where he’ll end up. Maybe he’s a little non-Western in his life vision, but he’ll certainly enjoy his path.
There’s a little staffing oddity here at our hotel and this month I’d like to try to tell you about it. His name is Kaz, he’s a rapper and he works for our hotel out of his bedroom in Los Angeles. It’s fun to write and it’s even true!
Ok, but while we do have a rapper on our staff, we don’t actually have an on-staff rapper. What Kaz is, is the sole member of our off-site sales team. I spent some time with him on the phone last week. What I wanted was to try to understand how his job works, as he’s not here with us every day and I’m curious. Notice how that curiosity is still in the present tense. Interrupting Kaz is not an easy task, especially when he knows that he is meant to be the subject of a conversation. There’s so much he’d like to share and it’s fun to listen and I know I’m not the best interviewer in the world, but after it was over I found that I had neglected nearly all of my questions and had instead just enjoyed the experience of Kaz.
I have some details, though. I’ll share some with you and we’ll see how far it gets us into understanding him and his position. He tells me he has all the parts of a suit except the jacket. He tells me that he buys packages of miniature candy bars, has his girlfriend wrap them in cellophane whose color matches the nearest holiday, and then hands them out to admins. I think he chooses the admins based on a list sent to him from us, rather than at random. He tells me that people are often surprised and delighted when he shows up in their office wearing almost all of a suit and carrying festively wrapped bite-sized treats. He says that he has a phone meeting every morning with Jerry, our director of sales and marketing, and that he is generally in bed for that meeting.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I understand Kaz’s job any better than I did before I talked to him. I do know that I laughed a lot on the phone that day, and that I felt good when I hung up. I’ll say this, then, whatever the structure of his position, if this guy is a part of our sales team, I know we are stronger for it.
I talked recently to Joe, our night auditor, about riding his motorcycle. He said that the thing, for him, is to move at a speed that feels fast but also controllable. It’s important, he said, to make sure you can react to whatever the road has to give to you. He used the word prudent. Just so we’re clear here, of the seven speeding tickets Joe’s gotten, the highest speed he was ticketed for was 130 miles per hour. Which is, of course, just the fastest he was ever going with a policeman watching. But still, there was this clear idea of finding a comfortable cruising rate, and then letting the bumps and curves come when and how they may.
When he then switches to talking about his life, it feels very much the same. He’s been working the graveyard shift here at the hotel for five years now. It’s given him a strange existence, out of sync with most of the rest of the world, but he’s adjusted, continues to adjust. He speaks of this odd job as something that was given to him by Life, and that he is seeing through to the end. There are other jobs, he knows, that would be more stimulating, but they would also be more stressful. His girlfriend also works a night shift, so there is comfort and ease in that area. He feels content, but stresses the difference between contentment and happiness. He worries that this story about him will be boring. But he waits for Life. Right now, it seems, he’s on a long straightaway. It’s easy; he can relax. There will steep inclines and hairpin turns in the future. In the meantime, he’s finding it best to relax, conserve resources, be ready.
It’s time for me to let you in on a little secret we’ve been keeping at this hotel. For quite a while now we’ve had a licensed aesthetician on staff. That’s right: facials, waxing, all the usual spa treatments are available at the hands of Rachel, who can be found behind the front desk. It’s been over a year since she got her license and for most of that year our dear general manager has talked about how nice it would be to offer the possibility of in-room facials and the likes to you, our guests. But time passed, weeks turned into months, and now that we’re over the year mark, the only one who’s gotten any in-room treatment from Rachel has been the aforementioned general manager. She has her eyebrows waxed in her office ever other week these days. (Which, by the way, if you’ve noticed how much better those eyebrows are looking these days, well that’s a nice example of the quality of Rachel’s work.) Our fearless leader has gotten herself a nice little morsel of decadence and the only question is, why is she being so stingy with it? Rachel would be happy to give treatments to all of you, as I’m sure you’d be happy to receive them. The broken link is a sometimes devious little lady who maybe just wants to be sure she can always have a pot of wax ready when she wants to get beautiful. I’ve been suspicious for months. And, so, today I’ve decided to break this thing open. Rachel is available. Nee to relax after a hard day at work? How about a facial? Got a knot of unsightly hair that needs attending to? Have you considered wax? Rachel’s gentle, professional, licensed and, best of all, will come right to your room!
For the last three years, Alejandra has worked alongside her husband and her eldest son. She works in the kitchen, her husband, Sammy, is the bartender and her son, Sam Jr., is the bellman. Both preceded her here. In fact, she took over the job her husband had held for 20 years when he was made bartender. I’ve written to you already about both of the men. I asked all three of them what it’s like to work so closely with one’s immediate family. Husband and son both said it’s nice. No problem, said Sammy. A nice way to get to spend more time with my parents, said Sam Jr. Finally, from Alejandra, I got what I had, admittedly, been looking for! With a twinkle in her eye, she told me that she was shocked to find out how her husband had been preparing food for 20 years. Now it’s a regular battle, him teasing and cajoling her for taking too much time to do things, her incredulous at how lazy, sloppy and, well, man-ish he had been doing his kitchen work for all that time. Actually, she’s the only woman working now in this hotel’s kitchen. There was one before her for a short time, but our kitchen is typically for men only. Alejandra feels that she has the not-so-easy task, then, of forcing a woman’s touch into the operation. If the vegetables have been fresher, meaning cut less often, in the last few years, Alejandra had to fight someone to get them that way. In all likelihood, it was her husband, Mr. 20 years, she calls him, that she was up against. Go Alejandra, go!
And then I learned that Sam Jr., who talked to me about how nice it is to have this extra time with his parents, sometimes finds that his mother is grateful to have the time and space to tell him about some thing or another that she disapproves of. She feels bad, she says, again with that sly smile on her face, but there they are together for so many hours and sometimes, when it’s slow, she’ll take him into the kitchen and let him know what’s on her mind.
I feel, now, that I need to tell you that I was laughing the whole time Alejandra talked to me about these things. There was not a hint of malice in her voice, she did not mean to turn anyone against these guys. It just was, finally, the truth about what it’s like to work everyday with your immediate family. Thank you Alejandra!
We are a first name kind of a business as a rule and, for the most part, this rule is only broken when someone has a nickname that is funnier than his or her first name. Pee Wee, for example. The one exception to all of this is Mr. Chan, the graveyard front deskman. He is our international man of mystery, and no one would dare call him anything but Mr. Chan. It’s widely discussed when he’s not around, people always wonder how it came to be and why it continues, but then, suddenly, when he is there, you just know that he’s Mr. Chan and would never disrespect him by questioning it.
The international part is a given. He was born in rural China, grew up in Hong Kong and then moved to the Bay Area suburbs with his father when he was in high school. That’s three countries, and three very different environments, before he was a legal adult.
Now, let me tell you, another fact about Mr. Chan is that he works the graveyard shift because he likes it. Sure, he’ll give you a shy smile and try to get you to believe it’s because he’s a timid introvert. But I have a question: Would James Bond ever work 9-5? No, he would not. Sure, 10 years would be a really long time to keep a cover-up job, and that is how long Mr. Chan has worked here, but Austin Powers was frozen for decades before he was needed again to help save the world. Just keep that in mind the next time you run into Mr. Chan, though he’s not someone people run into so often around here.
Our beloved general manager’s nepotism is not news. I’ve written to you about it, she brags about it. This hotel is one giant web of family and friends and when you’re around here enough, it makes sense. From her point of view I get it, from the point of view of all the people who went to high school together and are now entering adulthood together, I get it. But from the point of view of Sam, the bellman, I am a little bit awed. Sam, who turned 24 last week, has been with us for 6 years and most weeknights you can find him working the same shift as both his mother and his father, with whom he still lives. And, hard as it is for me to believe, he’s happy about it. In the earlier days of his employment here, they had such different shifts that they never saw each other, at work or at home, and he missed them.
Not that this is a man who will not reach out past his parents grip. He is a licensed electrician who, unfortunately, got that license in these times when starting a new career is not so easy. He dreams of foreign cities and tropical islands and knows he’ll get to them someday. But this is the son of Sammy, the bartender, one of the most relaxed, easygoing men in the world. Sam Jr. is his father’s son, enjoying the comfort of working alongside parents he gets along well with and looking forward to a future that will come when it is time for it to come. And if every now and then Sam Sr. tells Sam Jr. to do something that maybe isn’t Sam Jr.’s job, well this is the kind of son who can laugh about things like that. The best justification for nepotism is that good people will bring in people who are like them and this is the perfect example.
Someday, perhaps when we find ourselves on the other side of this recession, our hotel is going to have to consider making a donation to Santa Clara High School. So many of our most loved, and even a few of our least loved, employees passed first through that unassuming little institution. To my knowledge there are no hospitality classes offered there, but they turn out one after another enthusiastic, hard working, loyal people who, thankfully, have felt that our little business hotel cum bed and breakfast is a nice place to pass through the years that will transition them to adulthood.
I didn’t really realize quite how many of us had come out of Santa Clara High until Jesse, our bellman, cited it as one of his favorite things about the job. He works with all the people he was friends with in high school, they still are the people he spends his free time with and, so, coming to work, for him, is fun. This means that he has long standing relationships with more than a few of his coworkers, which creates an investment in the well being of the whole operation. He says that these are connections he intends to keep for the rest of his life. There is in him this open-heartedness, the sensitivity of one who values human connection above everything else, that makes him exactly the kind of person we can feel good about sending to pick you up when you’ve just come off a long flight, or having knock on your door with a tray of food in the middle of the night.
But, as I said, this hotel tends only to be a transition. Someday soon Jesse will be a firefighter, following the example of several family members before him. We’d better make a recording of his laugh before he leaves, I can’t imagine what this place will sound like without it.