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.
Our bellman Tony is patient. He spent his formative years as a serious soccer player, serious enough to play for Cal State Monterey, which implies a not insignificant amount of hard work and, yes, patience. But when he understood that his career would not be in soccer and that he was at Cal State Monterey, paying an increasingly heavy tuition, solely for soccer, he decided to step back. He transferred to a much more affordable junior college, where he could take the same major, kinesiology, and he traded soccer in for, well, us. This will take more time, but, he says, he’d rather spend the time now when he has it. An incurable athlete, he knows his future lies in fitness, but he’s not sure quite where and he’s not interested in forcing the question. He takes his classes, genuinely interested in the material, and waits to know what he should do with it all. He’s repeatedly offered personal training jobs at the gym where he works out, which he turns down. It’s not the time to be getting into that, he says.
And as long as Tony waits for these answers, we get to keep him. He likes working in a hotel because he gets to meet so many different people from so many different places. As he sits in Silicon Valley traffic now, he knows to be calm because an Indian guest told him how much worse it is when you have to share the roads with cows, and he loves that he knows that. He’s glad to be at this hotel in particular, instead of a big, corporate chain, because he feels like he can have real, personal relationships with the whole staff, from management through kitchen, in this smaller environment.
What we get, then, is a calm, easygoing guy with a smile almost as bright as the giant diamonds in his ears, who really likes the time he spends with all of us, and all of you.
And now, a love letter to Sammy, our bartender. Sammy pours drinks nicely. Sammy is always on time. Sammy has been with us for many years and has done many different jobs very well. For all of this, he would be welcome to stay for as many more years as he liked, a solid, well respected employee.
What really needs to be said about Sammy, though, is how wonderful it is to be around him. How he is always smiling. A sly, twinkly smile that makes you feel like he’s letting you in on a secret. He’s relaxed and calm and so you see, through him, how nice it is to be relaxed and calm. Sammy shows you, by example, how to breathe a little. He exudes genuine happiness. This is an excellent quality to find in a bartender. It’s a little piece of brilliance to have him there to greet all of you exhausted, stressed out workaholics at the end of long days in unfamiliar places. But, to be a little selfish, I am most glad that he’s around because he makes my own personal life nicer. I look forward to Sammy, as I’m sure many of you who have been with us over the years do too, on days when I need to remember how to smile, and on days when I want to share a smile.
I don’t need to encourage you to come down to our bar at night. Complimentary drinks very rarely need to sold on people. So, instead I’m just taking this opportunity to express my appreciation for Sammy. As I said, a love letter.
Mike Pinsil, or Pinsil (pronounced like the writing implement) has the honor of being the only one on staff who was recruited from afar. A college friend of our sales manager, he was living in Southern California when the front desk manager’s position opened up. Said sales manager knew he’d be perfect and pretty quickly our general manager agreed, and so the two of them set about convincing the man to relocate.
Now, the question is: What is it about Mike Pinsil that made those two determined to get him? Certainly they had Bay Area candidates. Normal procedure in this hotel, anyway, is to promote from within. But they both felt that they needed Pinsil.
I will say that he’s a nice, easygoing guy. Uncommonly easygoing, even. He’s a guy that people always want around, and just as he was invited to move up here, once he got up here I watched him be constantly invited to anything and everything people were getting together to do. There is an instinctive feeling of comfort around him. To take this one step further, I’ve also watched people treat him as something of a father confessor in the two years since he’s been with us. Mike Pinsil hears a lot of secrets. In short, this is a guy who probably always has been and always will be sought out. Instead of wondering why we felt we had to get him, we should just be glad he picked us.
If you want to strike up a conversation with the man, but feel unsure of how to begin, I have a suggestion! Ask him what he thinks is the bare minimum number of baseball hats one should bring on a three day business trip. He’ll love to answer it, I promise.
A hotel’s night auditor is one of its least visible staff members, his shift being the one that most people sleep through. Maybe you have late night check-ins or very early morning flights from time to time, and so see him in passing, but these do not tend to be the moments when travelers are at their most alert, and so the night auditor remains a kind of a ghost. Unfortunately, this means that most of you don’t know Kareem, the lone political exile on staff.
Kareem left his home originally to study abroad, but the perspective he returned with gave him increasing discomfort in his country’s shifting environment. When he left the next and final time, he had a successful veterinary practice and a young family. He had, then, ahead of him, a life of stability, if only he could shut down his unease and live by the changing rules. Instead he came to California. Initially, the plan was to continue as a veterinarian, but the language gap in such technical work eventually proved insurmountable, especially as his main effort always had to be supporting his family. And so he became a night auditor, perhaps not the job he dreamed about as a little boy. All these years later, America is still foreign and lonely for him. Extended family and community are fond, untouchable memories.
His daughter, though, is currently earning perfect marks at UCLA. She’ll be a lawyer someday soon, a professional in their adopted home. He did it, this means. It took an extra generation, but he successfully transitioned his family to this newer, freer world. His story is better than any late night television, you should go let him fill in the details I missed some sleepless night.