To my new readers/friends/people I’ll eventually borrow money from:
How are you? I’m sorry to hear that, but they have ointment for that sort of thing these days. You should be right as rain in seven to ten days.
Or so I’m told. But let’s move on.
As a perspective traveler there are three questions you must ask yourself before taking one step out your front door.
1) “Where do I want to go?”
2) “Where can I afford to go?”
3) “Will I get laid on this trip?”
If you’re like millions of like-minded, budget-conscious
travelers, the answer to the second question will bring you to a high-rise, luxury hotel in Niagara Falls, Canada, which, to your amazement, isn’t covered in eighteen-inches of snow. Or surrounded by igloos. You’ll approach a desk and ask for a “rolly-thingy”. Your request will be countered with a brief explanation of just what the term “full-service hotel” means (you’ll giggle at the double entendre and you may even make a joke you consider to be original even though its anything but), after which you’ll be offered the services of a bellman.
Some grumbling may occur, – of course that has more to do with unresolved childhood angst which has led to adult psychosis than anything else – but in the end, you’ll accept the bellman’s help and as you traverse the crowd together you’ll take note of a few of the more colorful individuals around you. There may be a hooker or two, a bickering couple that have been on the verge of divorce for, well, forever, and maybe a child who is literally bouncing off the walls. You’ll look at your bellman and you’ll realize he has a look that says he’s seen it all before – and then some.
“I bet you have a story or two to tell, right?” you’ll ask.
I’m that bellman. And yes, I have a tale or ten to share. I’ll change the names to protect the guilty – and stupid. Then again, maybe I won’t. The truth is, I think we need to keep the mystery alive for as long as we can in order to keep this relationship fresh, don’t you? But trust me, everything else you’re about to experience is as real as it gets.
For a bellman, days can begin at 6:30 a.m. with fifty room bus tours filled with more dysfunctional, wildly unpredictable characters than an Elmore Leonard novel and end at midnight with encounters with coked-out cast members of The Sopranos crashed out in the hallway.
The hours in-between are burned up by encounters with families with more secrets than the Kennedy clan, hookers with hearts of gold and vajayjays that guys in Hazmat suits wouldn’t touch on a dare, corporate drones whose noses aren’t red because they’ve been pressed against the grindstone, politicians who think no one is watching, celebrities who know everyone is watching and love it, gamblers whose moods spin like a roulette wheel and are as predictable, and every other variety of human being that exists in Heaven and Earth.
A bellman’s life is copious amounts of coffee in the morning, more greasy fast food than any human being should even consider consuming at lunch and whatever scraps he can find in the staff cafeteria and kitchen in the evening.
Monday you’re chatting with O.J. Simpson in the lobby bar.
Tuesday you’re delivering up Air Supply’s bags (Incidentally, the Air Supply boys are not exactly big tippers. I wish I could make tips out of nothing at all, guys. But I can’t.)
Wednesday you’re rolling your eyes as DJ Jazzy Jeff chats away on his phone, virtually ignoring you while you drop off his bags and you walk away shaking your head after you begrudgingly accept that even a closing remark like “I’ll get out of your way now. I can see you’re busy speaking to someone who isn’t Will Smith.” can’t faze him.
Thursday your head explodes as you chat with a former adult film super star of the 1980s. (You quickly realize just how long ago the 80s were and that time is not a kind mistress.)
Friday is reserved for baseline mammals and their bag of tricks.
Saturday you’re obeying orders to stay away from a pop diva whose name is a color so she doesn’t steal her husband’s thunder.
Sunday you meet Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta long before she becomes the meat-dress-wearing force of nature known as Lady Gaga.
So grab your coat, cellphone and sunglasses from the car and I’ll walk you inside. We’ll have a few minutes to chat before you reach your room, but to be clear, I’m going to do all the talking…
But I doubt you’ll mind.
And before I forget, I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help with question number three. I’ve been married for over twenty years; I know less about sex now than when I was single.
“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 some pants on 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 cups of swill you fuel your body with, the wrappers that once enveloped the “food” that will inevitably squeeze your heart into submission, the crumpled brochures filled with empty promises and other refuse you accumulate while traveling, as he removes your luggage from the mobile 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 most importantly, how to 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 four 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 days 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.
Pimp. Bartender. Pusher. Gopher. Pal.
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.
Comic relief: A family of five checks in. Mom and dad are on the verge of divorce, with only a few pen strokes on a few ridiculously overpriced legal documents separating them from twenty years of marriage. The entire trip is a sham, a ruse perpetrated to ease the transition for their three young daughters.
Except the girls aren’t buying it. Neither is anyone else. Not with dialogue like this being thrown about.
“I can’t believe I agreed to this trip! The kids are going to be fine!” the resentful, soon-to-be-ex-husband ranted in the elevator, his horrified children looking on in horror.
“They’re not going to be fine, their parents are gong to be divorced!” his bitter, bogus, loving wife hissed back.
“Everyone’s parents are divorced!” was his rationale.
“Well not everyone’s father hooks up with their aunt!” was her best shot, delivered with fierce intensity.
“You pushed us together!”
“I let her stay with us while I took the kids away for a cheerleading tournament. Her girlfriend had just thrown her out! You were supposed to help cheer her up, not fuck her! In our daughter’s bed, no less! Sally deserved better than that, don’t you think?”
I take that back. That was her best shot. Their children wore expressions that indicated they had seen and heard all this before. And so mom and dad kept on firing.
“Well, we’re together now and she’s still your sister, so we have to make the best of it. Her birthday is coming up so the least you can do is get her something nice.” was his plea for a cease-fire. It was also my opening.
“She did give her something, sir,” I interjected, my tone even and emotionless, “You.” As their jaws hung open, I continued. “What you need to do is pool your funds and get Sally some new bedding!”
The elevator exploded into raucous laughter. The girls barely understood what had transpired but they knew the smiles on their parents’ faces were temporary at best and so they celebrated the uneasy peace I had achieved.
I cannot stress enough how invaluable a role humor plays in the hospitality biz, friends. There have been months that my mortgage payment has depended solely upon my ability to channel Louis CK or Kevin Hart for fifteen minutes. In this particular case my smart-ass attitude, focused precisely at the right target at the right moment, allowed me to save the day and get paid doing so.
The ultimate voyeur: A change of scenery can have a completely unpredictable effect on a person. In their mind the playing field has changed and so the regulations by which they have governed themselves are tossed out like the proverbial baby and bathwater. In other words, they behave like JFK, David Duchovny, and Sinatra rolled into one. And that’s just the women. As you’ll soon see, a bellman’s presence not only fails to slow these people down, it appears to enhance the thrill exponentially.
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 traveling; 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 traveling 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.
It occurs to me that some of you may find yourselves caught up in the moment after reading my glowing narrative and may be considering a career in the luggage transportation field. And so, my friends, I present to you the most valuable advice I have in my vast storehouse of “wisdom”…
The First Rule Of Being A Bellman: Always Be the Smartest Person In The Hotel Room.
That’ll be fifty bucks. In US funds, of course.
See you in the lobby, kids…