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.
And now, for a story of good and evil, I will tell you about Liliana Francisco and her time behind our front desk. When Lili first came to work with us, seven years ago, she was an eighteen-year-old high school senior. Her mother is the housekeeping manager here and Lili needed a job and so that was that. She worked hard and was well liked and we were all sorry when she quit after a couple of years, but she had found another job and this is the way these things go.
What was this other job, you ask? Well, in fact, Liliana was selling mortgages. And so she had a front row seat for all the greed and corruption that the whole world is feeling the result of now. She went into it eagerly, but soon realized that the way to really do well was to learn to lie and manipulate. She found herself depressed and unable to adapt to these bizarre business ethics. It took her some time to quit, but when she finally did she came straight back to us. Now we have her because she chooses to be here and not by default, which is much nicer on both sides.
The other thing she did, after her little stint with evil, was to go back to school. She’ll get an AA in Communications and is planning on a BA in Political Science. She has thoughts of teaching and some hints of beginnings of thoughts of law school. She’s begun going on sales trips for this hotel, giving presentations to potential clients. He parents worry that she wasted that time that she spent on the wrong side of history. I respectfully disagree.
I sat down recently with Anita, our most senior staff member, and Jonathan, recently promoted bell-manager. I wanted to hear from her about the ways that the world and her life had changed in the time that she had been working at these hotels. Jonathan was clearly bored by the subject. He slumped in his chair and looked sorry about how difficult it would be to just get up and walk away.
“Jonathan,” I said, “she’s been working here for as long as you’ve been alive.”
I got him with that one. He leaned in, eager now to hear about the 22 years that spanned his entire existence.
But Anita tells her story as if it were simple and commonplace. She came here from Mexico 23 years ago, worked briefly at another hotel, then found the Cupertino Inn just as it was opening. Since she started as a housekeeper all those years ago, she has had four children and bought a house. Clear, concise and, out of her mouth, relatively unremarkable. And yet, of 85 employees, she’s the only one who’s been here from the very beginning. She created stability for herself in an unfamiliar country and she’s raising children in comfort and security.
Earlier this week I saw a Chinese circus. The big, celebrated moment of the show came when a beautiful, lithe woman balanced en pointe on her partner’s head. She was exquisite, graceful and completely still, but, beneath, her partner was working like mad. He took one step in one direction, two in the opposite, shifted his head, then a step forward to compensate. All this work to fight for the image of stillness. I think of this when I think of Anita’s 22 years.
Jonathan, I think, went back to feeling unfazed. Fine. Perhaps it’s better if her story is heard as normal. If it could actually become normal, the world would be better off.
This month I’m going to tell you about one of our employees who has no long term plans to stay with us. Arnulfo came on board by chance and hopes for as speedy a departure as possible. We hope for the same, actually, the faster he can leave the better.
It was Arnulfo’s brother who was originally hired to work at this hotel, in maintenance. Isidoro was always a hard worker and a valued employee, but a couple of years ago he was in a fairly serious car accident that left him partially paralyzed. Arnulfo learned of the accident by chance, calling his sister on Cinco de Mayo and finding her in tears. He was on the next bus to the Bay Area, with no plan except to see how he could help. In his brother’s hospital room he met Jose, our maintenance manager, and was offered Isidoro’s job. Saying yes would mean both supporting his brother in time of crisis and also continuing the support his sister had been getting from Isidoro. But it also meant leaving his own job, his own house, his own life. Arnulfo had, in fact, already spent some time living in the Bay Area in the past and had decided it wasn’t right for him. He stayed, though, and here he still is.
Isidoro gets stronger and stronger. He’s back at work, more and more able to take responsibilities. Arnulfo will leave as soon as he’s no longer needed. We hope, then, in spite of our admiration and respect for Arnulfo and in spite of what an asset it is to have such a generous, dedicated person on staff, that his stay with us is as brief as it can be.
We have a staff full of people who seem to enjoy and appreciate their jobs, but surprisingly few intentionally chose the hotel industry as the place to spend their working lives. Mostly people came to us because they knew someone else who already worked here and things just sort of worked out. We have a lot of students and quite a few nearly complete family units. One of the exceptions is Roy, formerly night auditor and bartender, currently controller and photographer. Roy studied accounting and was working in hotels long before he came our way a mere ten years ago. Get to know him a little and you’ll understand that he’s someone who would decide to go into the business of taking care of people. For twenty-two years he’s lived here in California, away from his native Manila, away from his wife and kids, working to give a better life to them. He tries to return three times a year, to soak up the familial comforts, but the spaces between those visits are long. It’s a tremendous sacrifice he makes so that his family can live well. On a day-to-day basis we demand nothing so large of him, but to have on staff someone who loves deeply enough to give really all of himself so that others can be well adds to our collective knowledge about how to take care of you, our guests. I suppose that’s nothing you’d ever directly feel, as hidden and foundational as the job of controller itself. If you’d like, you can go out of your way to find him and introduce yourself, or you can just come back to us with a little more knowledge about why this hotel is such a nice place to be. He’s kind of shy anyway.
A friend of mine recently wrote a story about a professional conversationalist. It was fiction and he imagined his main character visiting the houses of the lonely, talking with them about their lives and their thoughts. Comforting the alienated was her job. It failed, the story, because his professional conversationalist was awkward. She fidgeted, was distracted and was coldly professional in the way we have come to think of prostitutes as professional. No person seeking genuine human interaction would have asked that character back week after week.
If I were to re-write that story for myself, I would model my professional talker after Frank, our bellman and weekend bartender. To chat with Frank is like curling up on an oversized, worn leather couch with a big soft blanket. It’s just so easy and comfortable. He asks lots of questions and really listens to the answers. He talks unselfconsciously about himself, his interests and projects. I think I didn’t properly understand before talking to Frank how much of a difference it makes when a person is really open and free when they talk about themselves, how much easier it is, then, to ask questions and be in a dialogue.
This makes him an excellent hotel employee, and we have appreciated all of the nearly three years he’s given us. Perhaps some of you readers can relate when I say that traveling, especially for work, can be lonely and alienating and so Frank is, not surprisingly, beloved by guests. But if all of this is making you want a little face time with Frank, come quick. Eventually he will move on to the career that his studies in marketing and advertising lead him to, but his even more immediate plan is to continue those studies on the big island of Hawaii. This move is most likely a year away, but the time will pass and then so will he and trust me, this is a guy you want to meet.
Jose Betancourt has been the maintenance manager of our hotel ever since our current general manager has had the helm. Ten years, that is. He preceded here her by eight years, starting off briefly in the laundry, then shifting over to maintenance. Which is to say that he was professionally fixing things when our dear leader first encountered him and so what she did was merely to recognize the superiority of the skill he was already practicing. Almost immediately she made a manager out of him, believing instinctively that she could rely on him to mend all wounds in and around her new hotel. A few years later, when the second hotel was opened, he was there, this time establishing the maintenance system for a whole new operation. She was right to trust him from the first, but she did not know quite how right until very recently. Earlier this year her oldest daughter moved pretty far away, the first of her children to do any such thing. She was a bit sad and Jose would find her crying, feeling a loss. And so her maintenance manager, the man she had trusted all those years to repair what was broken, stepped up to this problem as well. He asked her to be godmother to his just-arrived baby, offering a brand new child into her life, just as her own was leaving. This fact goes so far beyond any words I could find right now. Love, trust, respect. They’re all so inadequate. Openness like this is not the obvious choice in today’s world and I feel really grateful to Jose. This hotel has become a community, instead of just a workplace, because the people who work here are willing to make it that way. This is one of the best examples I could possibly give.