I spent a lot of time with my grandmother when I was a wee lad (yes, I actually was a young, innocent, non-snarky child once) living in St. Catharines, Ontario; my time with her shaped my life in ways I never could have imagined at the time.
Then again, what child ever realizes just how important their childhood is going to be to the rest of their life? And if you can show me a child who is that self-aware, I’ll show you a kid who’s wasting the best years of their life. (And who will most likely wind up supporting a Trump presidency.) At any rate, among the memories that have stuck with me through my life is one revolving around a shop on the corner beside my grandmother’s apartment building.
This corner store predated the cold emotionless aura that mega-stores like Walmart give off. It was run by two German immigrants; they were the kindest souls you could ever hope to meet. Clad in crisp, white aprons, they greeted every visitor to their store with a genuine smile. One of them always had a broom in his hand, sweeping away like nobody’s business.
They had survived the horrors of the Second World War to build a new life in Canada. Their hearts were overflowing with hope and it showed.
One of the greatest joys of my childhood was digging a scoop into one of the many barrels of shelled peanuts laid out before me. (Yes, stores used to do that.) The idea of having a little power was intoxicating. I can still hear the mechanical hum of the freezers and pop fridges. The sound of the wooden floor creaking beneath my feet will stay with me forever. In my mind’s eye, beams of sunlight shine through the windows and illuminate the whole place, filling in what dim overhead lights missed.
It was decades ago. It was yesterday.
I haven’t been there in forever. I visit it every day.
Of course, no one has been there in forever. It vanished years ago, a victim of “retail evolution”. But the kindness of the proprietors – and the point of this little trip down Memory Lane – has remained with me all the days of my life. I look for it in the faces of the travelers I deal with daily.
Sometimes I find it.
Sometimes I find its polar opposite.
I’ve met saints and sinners. Billy Joel was right: the sinners are much more fun, but I’ll stand with whoever puts the greenbacks in my hand.
I’ve served angels and demons. Angels really aren’t all that angelic; they just look good compared to the demons, who, by the way, usually aren’t as demonic as society would have you believe. True evil is barely recognizable to the common citizen.
Every day I see a different variety of deadbeat dad, the type that is there without actually being present in the moment. As I scribble this in a notebook, a grown man, a father of three in fact, is so engrossed in his phone he refuses to acknowledge the gift Fate has seen fit to bestow upon him.
His children, bursting with life, are racing around the lobby like little cherubs on Red Bull. His impossibly-breathtaking wife is sitting quietly on a bench watching her flock as her spouse ignores the real world in favor of a piece of technology that can never say, “I love you, Daddy” with any real emotion. Part of me wants to walk over to him, pluck him up off that bench, throw him against the wall and thrash the living spit out of him.
However, since I enjoy being gainfully employed, I won’t.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, in eighteen years, I’ve met travelers with whom I’ve established real friendships. Granted, these relationships are few and far between; most guests are in and out of my life in a flash.
Some guests leave things behind. Lessons I’ll carry forever. Stuffed friends. Empty bottles. (So, so many bottles.) Toys of all varieties. (But we’ve discussed such enough recently, haven’t we?) DNA. In some cases, travelers arrive together and leave separately. On more than one occasion, in zip ties. (Handcuffs are just for hookers now, it seems.)
As the summer in Niagara Falls springs to life so does my world. Human beings come in shapes and sizes. Each has a moral code, though for some, they’re more like guidelines – which they never follow. People are capable of anything, of this I am certain. The point is, in a one-thousand room hotel in Niagara Falls anything can – and often does – happen. And I’ll be there to observe, record and slightly judge it all.
Join me, won’t you?
See you in the lobby, friends…