When Olivia, who now works behind our front desk, graduated from high school, she was confused about what she wanted to do with her life. Surprised? I’m guessing no. This is the story of nearly every one of my under-30 coworkers, our little hotel serving as a nice, warm incubator for those who know they are headed somewhere, but just need a little more time to find the starting line. Olivia, though, 18 and unsure, did something you have not yet read about in this little newsletter: She moved to Sierra Leone for a year to work on a farm.
She says that being there taught her about simplicity and that coming back to life in the American suburbs was a little confusing. She’s 20 now and she’s been with us for a little over a year, meaning that she came to us just a couple of months after leaving Africa. This hotel, she says, has been great for her because she loves to be connected to all the travelers. She sees more travel in her future and, in the mean time, values the connections to an international life that she can make through you, our guests.
In the mean time, as she was transitioning from African field work to Silicon Valley hotel work and found herself still confused about a larger pathway, her mother persuaded her to go through a dental hygienist course, so that she would have a career. She now cleans people’s mouths during the week, learning from that that there are things that she most certainly will not be choosing to do with her life long term, and comes here on the weekends. Her dream is to move back to Africa. She says she will live there permanently as soon as she can figure out how. Until then, we’ve got her and she’s got us.
Last month our big employee announcement was the return of Sunshine, the little ray of light behind who sits, again, behind our front desk. It wasn’t mentioned last time, though I think it had been mentioned before, that she, who is so genuinely loved and was so happily welcomed back, is also our general manager’s niece. And, as many of you well know, this is not the only case of blatant nepotism here at our little hotel. Our general manager hires her family rampantly, and when she’s employed all the relatives who’ll have her, she moves on to their friends. It’s not just her own family either; the family of nearly every other manager here is, to put it mildly, at least represented on the staff. This hotel is practically tribal.
Occasionally our general manager will get a little slack for this behavior. Nepotism is kind of a dirty word, after all, implying that positions haven’t been earned and that the potential function of an organization is being watered down. She’ll defend herself to the end every time, saying that she’s hiring people she knows she can trust and that there’s greater accountability this way. Still it rankles the modern American sensibilities we’re all carrying around, and besides that it just seems a little unfair.
Today, though, I read a little blurb on nepotism, written by a professor of business ethics, who talked about the argument Max Weber made against nepotism. According to this guy, James Fisher, Weber was anti-nepotism because family ties could “thwart the development of more impersonal social networks essential for modern business organization and practice.” Yikes! Isn’t the impersonal nature of modern business, like, killing our souls? Sorry, that’s a bit strong. At the very least, I know for certain that a hotel shouldn’t be run according to a philosophy of de-personalization. I write this feeling much better about our interwoven, unabashedly familial, tribal, non-modern business.
I’ve got some really exciting news for you this month. A full two weeks before daylight savings hits the rest of the country, Sunshine has come back to our little hotel. A lot of you, I know, will remember the aptly named little beam of light that used to shine from behind our front desk. She moved away last fall and we, and she, thought we were saying a permanent goodbye. Happily, it turns out we only had to make it through the winter without Sunshine. What a sweet thing she did, just making us live through a bit of poetry and then coming back.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll soon be seeing a small, shining girl when you check in and out. She shines when she smiles, she shines because she weaves bits of gold and silver into her hair, she shines because even the tiniest blank surface, to her, is a place for a rhinestone. And then, when you come close enough to read her nametag, you’ll see that she’s called Sunshine.
By the time you read this, she’ll be back at work. Whatever didn’t work out for her in Southern California, we hope it wasn’t too painful, and we hope to not show too much overt happiness about her misfortune. We are, however, truly very grateful to have our Sunshine back.
Lots of you live in different cities, states, and even countries, from your where your parents are, I’m sure. You call, go visit when you can, but you’ve made a home somewhere else. Or else they have. Either way, your values, comfort zones, and communities are different. This is more or less the norm these days. Kennedy, our new front desk worker, is basically falling in line with the modern standard, then, choosing to live in California though his mother is in Texas.
It’s a little more complicated, though. Kennedy, you see, was born in Texas, as was his mother. But while she grew up a Texan and moved to California as an adult experiment, Kennedy, who was 4 when they arrived in the Golden State, spent all his formative years becoming a California boy. So that when he was going into his junior year of high school and she couldn’t find work and decided to move to what she considered home, he tried to go with and found that he couldn’t. Home for him was different than it was for his mother and so, after just a few months, the two of them agreed that he could move back to California. He was sixteen. He moved in with a friend, got a job, supported himself in the choice he had made to let his mother go. He’s since graduated from high school and though he applied, and was accepted, to college in Texas, ultimately he couldn’t do it. He’s going to junior college now, planning to transfer to UC Santa Barbara.
And so he’s here with us, the youngest member of our little team. But though he’s full of all the youthful uncertainty about what he’ll do with his life and what he wants from the world, this is a guy who’s made a tough decision and made it work. When the right thing comes, he’ll know how to act. And when you have a problem, he’ll figure out how to solve it.
Karla, who has just recently begun appearing behind our front desk, says that she’s finally getting comfortable with how our system works. Starting any new job, of course, there’s going to be a period of acclimation, which can be awkward and a little stressful. What’s nice for Karla about coming into work at this hotel is that if she feels any of that anxiety, she’s got a bit of a support system ready to help her. Her father, you see, works in the kitchen, as do her aunt and a couple of uncles. Plus she’s got a cousin who’s a bellman. I asked how this is for her, knowing that this is not a dream situation for every 18-year-old girl. The answer is that she loves it. Her family, she says, is a lot of fun and it’s great for her that she now gets to see so much more of them.
That family, just to say, is one of the strongest currents running through this hotel and is a big part of how we can be as good as we are. She may be biased, but she’s not wrong.
Back to Karla, though, who is in her first quarter at De Anza College. She’s getting her general ed requirements done, taking the first steps down the path to figuring out what she’ll do with her life. Next quarter she’ll try kickboxing. She has dreams traveling, she says, to the other side of the world. Someday she hopes to live in Spain. In the meantime, she has good friends and an amazing family and no reason to be in any hurry. For our part, we plan keep her until the day before her travels begin.
This month, instead of writing about a particular employee, I’d like to involve you in a little hotel scandal. Or controversy, maybe controversy is a better word. As some of you may have noticed, when both the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s got into the playoffs this year, the staff here started showing up in gear devoted to whichever of those two teams they preferred. As I write this, some are still coming in in orange and black. This was not optional, if you were wondering, but decreed from above. Fun, said our dear general manager, good old mandatory fun.
Except, if you noticed the jerseys and t-shirts behind the front desk and the wheel of the limo, maybe you also noticed that your breakfast was being served in the same white shirt and vest as always, your room cleaned in the same old pastels. That’s because the housekeeping and kitchen staffs were forbidden to obey the temporary change in dress code by their respective managers. Carlos, our kitchen manager, is said to have said that those who made the change looked like clowns and he would not permit his employees to disgrace themselves like that. For my part, personally, I can’t really disagree. Still, is this treason?
I saw poor Sammy, who works on the kitchen staff in the morning, but then tends the bar at night, which is not technically a kitchen position. Carlos had told him that he was absolutely not to wear anything baseball related to work, and yet there he was, Sammy, being asked by the general manager why he was heading behind the bar in a tie.
By the time you read this, surely, the Giants will have lost and gone home and everyone will be back to normal. But I thought it might be a fun little peek behind the scenes for you, our guests.
A few years ago I read, somewhere on the internet, about a swan in Germany that had fallen in love with a swan shaped boat. The problem was that swans mate for life, so this one was setting itself up for a bizarre, and ultimately unsatisfactory, swan life. I can’t remember all the details, but the real swam was removed from her beloved boat swan and was despondent. At the time the story was being reported, the lovers had just been reunited so the living swan was rejuvenated, though there was concern for the future, on the part of the boat owner in particular.
Well, unfortunately, we here at this little hotel are not unlike that poor swan when it comes to our employees. If we like someone, our natural inclination is to act as if we were mated for life. Not that anyone who works here is a wooden swan boat who’s been fooling us, but sometimes people turn out to need different things and then they have to leave to go find them. It’s a double whammy this time, actually. Sunshine and Sam Jr. are both gone. Neither one of them chose a different swan, so to speak. Sunshine moved to LA, and the commute seemed overly challenging. Sam Jr. decided he wanted to work in health care, and he wouldn’t accept our proposal that kitchen work IS health care. Understandable, and yet, if you notice a bunch of sad swans swimming through our halls in the next weeks, well, now you know why.
For months and months now I’ve wanted to fill this space with the story of Norman, the man responsible for the revolution in our room service menu and the soon-to-be revolution of our nightly hors d’oeuvres selection. I’ve called and left messages for him, I’ve gotten a few brief moments of live talking, where he makes a date to chat that he then ignores. Once he texted to tell me that he couldn’t talk because he was watching Dancing With the Stars, but he’d call right after. He didn’t. I’ve even seen him from time to time, in person, and he’s promised that we could talk soon…he’d call me. Yeah, right. And so now I’m doing something that I’ve never done here before: I’m writing about someone I haven’t talked to. This won’t be his story, of course, but just what I’ve seen of him. Still, I think he’s a fun guy for you all to know about, though he just will not get it together to call me. This is the difference between a journalist and me!
Norman is just about the most easy, laid back guy you could meet. He went to high school with Jerry, our director of sales and marketing, where he is reported to have slept through classes and parties alike. There’s a photo of him from that time in a suit and tie, with sunlight streaming through an open window, asleep with his head on a piano. Norman. After high school he worked here for a bit as a bellman, drifting in and out of his responsibilities the way he drifted through high school. He was so easy to be around, but was he only just going to be on the lookout for the next cozy nook? Still, there was one other little thing going on with Norman. Every now and then, for example, he would show up for a tailgate party with some crazy concoction that he had had marinating for the last two days. And it would be delicious. He played around like that for a few years, then, finally, he went to cooking school. Now he can be found in a corporate cafeteria that I can’t name, but suffice it to say that some of you reading this will have eaten there. But he was ours first and lucky for us he’s willing to come by from time to time and help us out with our food. Though, yeah, you do have to be able to catch his drift.
It’s always fun to meet and get to know the new additions to our staff, to learn about where they’re coming from, where they plan to go to, and, in so many cases around here, who on the staff they’re related to. But, I have to say, the ones whose stories I’m always the most curious about are the ones who take the graveyard shift. This decision, to work through the hours that the rest of the world is sleeping, is pretty dramatic, and the people who make it have strong reasons. Of course, I’m also hoping that someday we’ll hire a vampire and, through my insightful questioning, I’ll be the one who figures it out. But I digress.
As you may have guessed, all this is to say that we’ve hired a new graveyard bellman. Matt is his name and he’s been here for just a couple of months. Matt’s a student at San Jose State, with plans to teach PE and coach sports. Well, actually, it isn’t just a plan, he’s already coaching middle school sports and he loves it. But until he gets his degree, he can’t take on the PE classes that would fill out his schedule and allow him to live off of this work. Still, having found the thing he wants to do in his life, he doesn’t want to take a break until he’s done with school. Instead, he took enough graveyard hours to fill out his work week, without cutting into his middle school or his college time. He sleeps, he says, from 8am-12pm and then again from 8pm to 10pm. When I asked him how that felt he said that he used to sleep a lot and so he figures he’s got enough rest stored up to do this for a while. Which reminded me that he’s 22 and will be just fine. And, anyway, all good coaches know the importance of hard work and sacrifice. Even better if they have experience of it.
At this hotel, our employees come to us, as you may have noticed, from lots of different places and for lots of different reasons. It’s a great transitional job and most people working here sought it out because it gave them something that they needed on their path to or from someplace else. Not so for Guadalupe! Miss Guadalupe started working here because she was bored. That’s right. As it happens, Lily, our front desk manager, is also her cousin and so when Guadalupe was complaining of boredom a year ago, Lily said something like, “Hey, if you’re bored, I’ve got something you can do.”
Don’t get me wrong, we’re super lucky to be taking advantage of Guadalupe’s ennui. She’s studying to be a nurse, she says, because she feels called to help people and is unafraid of the more gruesome aspects of that job. So when you come to check in and it’s Guadalupe who greets you, you’ve got someone who both loves service and will never see the problems that arise at a hotel as more than what she can handle. Plus she laughs easily. It’s great for us that she got bored.
It’s fine, too, if once she becomes a nurse she still finds herself bored on the weekends. If we fill a void in her, we’ll be very happy to continue on into the future.