Hello, I’m The Hook and this is what’s on my mind at the moment.
Ironically, there is very little occurring between my ears at the moment. My synapses are frozen solid by the frigid Canadian winter that has blasted its way onto the hotel’s lobby, courtesy of a gaping hole left by our construction crew. Actually, referring to a group of men who wear hardhats and tool belts but never actually construct anything as a construction crew is reckless and flies in the face of everything the building industry stands for.
To clarify, I’m not referring to the hotel’s engineering department, those guys are the best bunch of souls to ever wear striped shirts and wear steel-toed shoes. Today I’m taking aim at the outside company tasked with building onto my home away from home.
The truth is, our crew are deconstructionists; they’re masters at tearing things down, they’re passionate about erecting barriers and they live to walk around carrying cellphones while sipping coffee and discussing the work they’re going to engage in – eventually – but they rarely build anything. Across from my desk there sits a wall of drywall panels separating a gaping hole in the building where a set of doors once stood. Our crew assured us the new doors would be in place in two weeks, their words.
Today marks the start of Week Fourteen.
My fingers are desiccated. My lips are chapped. My joints and limbs are slow to respond to my frosted brain’s commands and so the few luggage calls I’ve engaged in have not gone smoothly.
“No offense, but I refuse to let my luggage out of my sight! Also, the lobby is disgustingly cold! I don’t want to have to wait there for my car, is there somewhere warmer we can wait?” was the sole request made of me by my second call of the day, a middle-eastern Kim K clone.
My answer was equally frank.
“How do you feel about Antarctica?”
And so, my friends, given that I cannot form a coherent thought while my body remains clenched in a vain attempt to retain body heat, here is an excerpt from my second book. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find an empty oil drum in which to burn copies of my first book in order to stave off frostbite.
“You’re a bellman, Robert? What exactly is that?”
People often ask me “Hook, what does a bellman actually do?”
Of course, they also ask me “Do I really need to call the cops to get you to put on some pants and get the hell off my lawn?”, or my personal favorite, “You actually said that to a guest?”
Returning to the first query, in order to understand what a bellman does, one needs to fully realize just what a bellman actually is.
A Bellman is…
A detailer: The guy who cleans out the used coffee cups, food wrappers, crumpled brochures and other refuse you accumulate while travelling, as he removes your luggage from the trash heap you have the audacity to call a trunk.
A cartographer extraordinaire: The possessor of invaluable knowledge such as how to get from the parking garage to the Front Desk, how to load a literal heap of luggage into a clown car or keep your spouse from strangling you while contemplating which of your friends – or relatives – to bang after you declare “We don’t need a ‘bellguy’, honey! The kids can handle it! Little Susie is almost five, I was rolling two suitcases at her age!”
Well-connected: Someone who knows everyone, from the guys who park your ridiculously over-priced ‘mid-life crisis mobile’ to the people who prepare your food to the folks who clean your room after a particularly active night between the sheets. If you want the inside track don’t go to the manager, seek out the guys in the trenches.
An ally: The one you can call upon when you find yourself in a tight spot, such as when you’re told there are no rooms available at that time or when you realize your room is right beside your mother-in-law’s, a prospect that fills you with such dread you pray for the ability to wish your entire life away to a cornfield.
The bellman is the guy who has access. He can navigate the labyrinth of a jam-packed lobby and make his way behind the impenetrable embankment that is the Front Desk and negotiate a better deal with a sympathetic managerial ally. The result can add hours of pleasure to your trip rather hours spent lingering in limbo. Remember, vacations have a finite shelf life; if you don’t make the most of your time before the clock runs out you’ll never get those moments back.
An enabler: Most of us hate dealing with people in suits with fancy name tags and titles. We allow ourselves to be drawn into the whole “Us vs. Them” mentality. A Wall Street stockbroker I met in my first year as a bellman said it best: “I hate dealing with Front Office clerks and managers, they make me feel like I’m back in school. They don’t understand my needs. What’s a guy behind a desk know about partying or scoring a hooker or some weed? That’s why I love you bellguys. You know the score cause you’re like me “
There are times when the only person you can turn to is the guy who straddles both worlds. At that moment the bellman is forced by virtue of his personal code to be whatever you need him to be.
I speak up when I feel the situation warrants it, but sometimes the best way to do my job is to just shut the hell up and do it. Sometimes it isn’t about right or wrong, its about just doing what must be done in order to get through the day intact.
An enemy you don’t want to make: Trust me on this one, guys. Part of my job is to eat shit and ask for a second helping, but I have a code that kicks in sooner or later. That code requires me to get the measure of a guest in seconds. There are people who launch a reign of terror while travelling; they decimate service personnel as they go, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Eventually, someone needs to say “No more.”, and fight back – respectfully, of course.
In fact, when my colleagues hear me say “With all due respect, sir -”, they know someone’s about to get “Hooked”. Never forget, the bellman knows everyone from the guys who park your car to the people who handle your food to the men and women who clean your room – and they’ll do him a favor if he asks.
A relationship counselor: He is the figure in the corner of your eye, the one you pay little attention to as you fight with your partner over trivial details such as how many beds you requested or the smoking status of the room. These matters matter little in the grand scheme of one’s existence, but they can precipitate a war nonetheless, one that often unfolds in full view of children or other travelling companions.
So bitter are these feuds that they become the basis of family legends. “Remember that trip to Niagara Falls, the one Mom and Dad spent fighting the whole time? The one we took just before Mom shacked up with Aunt Janey?”
A bellman can be the voice of reason, his lack of emotional connection voids the need for a filter. He speaks his mind and offers an opinion formed by watching you implode during what should be a relaxing situation. I remember during one of my first shifts at the first hotel I worked in, an amalgamation of a motel and hotel, a guest in his forties was just screaming at his family during the entire check-in process and all the way to the room. As I returned to the guy’s car for my second load of luggage I ran into a senior colleague who could see the anxiety on my face.
“What’s the problem, young fella?” Yes, people still spoke like that back then when the world still had a little class left. I told him how crazy this jackass had been, how he was really going off on his family during what should have been a golden moment in their family history, and he just smiled and said “Put him in his place. Management won’t really blame you if they hear the whole story. Hell, the wife will probably slip you a few extra bucks or maybe even blow you later. it wouldn’t be the first time.”
I was shocked. I mean, here I was, greener than The Hulk and this old guy is telling me to tell this loser off in front of his family. “But what if he gets pissed off and doesn’t really hear me?” I asked.
“Who gives a shit?” he said in a no-nonsense manner – one that reminded me of my grandfather’s Old World candor. “You’ll never see this asshole again anyway! Never forget, this guy’s in your house and you set the rules. You hear me?”
And I sure did. So listen to the bellman, folks. After all, you’re may be the guest, but he’s the master of the house.
So what does a bellman actually do?
Whatever he needs to.