Carey was our capable maintenance man who was in his late 50’s, possibly early 60’s, gruff, rugged, and had a deep, disconcerting voice and he generally gave off a leave-me-be vibe. In stark contrast was his chatty wife, the breakfast bar attendant, who was the sweetest little lady you have ever met, keeping command of her kitchen like a captain at the helm and making every guest and coworker feel adored and well cared for. Even their physical appearances were opposite. Carey, a six foot something, thin and tough. And his wife, a five foot nothing, younger version of little red riding hood’s nana.

When I first began my job at Hotel what-cha-ma-call-it I was scared of Carey. His blue collar shirt, work pants and boots and his dirty old ball cap combined with his leather tanned skin and hard exterior gave him a distant fatherlike aura. Every day he walked by the front desk to leave for and return from lunch without so much as a peep. One day, several weeks into my new job, Carey stopped at the desk when I was welcoming the housekeepers back from their lunch breaks. He looks at me poignantly and says “Why don’t you ever tell me to have a nice lunch?”

Stunned for a split second I receded into the vast empty spaces of my front desk girl head. Had I offended Carey? Was he really upset with me? What did he mean? Then it struck me: Carey’s comment was practically dripping in sarcasm and this sticky comment wasn’t dealt with seething discomfort, but rather, was an olive branch of friendship.

I finally bounced back into consciousness and retorted “Oh Carey, I’m so sorry,” emphasizing each word like an energetic tween, “How was your lunch???”

He laughed in a grumbley sort of way and walked off to do whatever it is the maintenance man did (which was of course something very important and constantly driving Carey into even deeper cynicism).

From that day forward, I over-jubiantly wished Carey a good morning, lunch break, back from lunch break, evening and anything in between. He acted like he hated it, but secretly grew our relationship into sarcastic cohorts.

One day, I hear a hustle and bustle behind the wall on the blind side of the front desk. I lean across the faux marble top to try to learn what the commotion was about. The morning rush was over, the breakfast bar long picked over and most of the check outs were already gone.

Someone tells me there is a snake inside the hotel and Carey is trying to coax it out. After letting myself out into the hallway to see for myself, I learn that Carey’s “coaxing” is really him pinning the snake between the wall and the business end of a broom. The little, harmless snake is less than a foot long, thinner than a grown man’s fingers and has its head reared back in “attack mode” and his offenseless tail shivering like a rattlesnake -making himself (or herself) look as mean as a run-of-the-mill garden snake can.

Chuckling to myself I ask Carey what the heck he is doing? He tells me he has been trying to shoo the snake outside for several minutes and can’t get the thing to go in the right direction. I ask him why he doesn’t corral the snake in something and throw it out? In a rare moment of weakness, Carey admits (in so many words) that he won’t come any closer to the thing than the length of the broom!

I grab two styrofoam coffee cups from the breakfast bar and (in true snake charmer fashion) scoop the snake in between the two cups and carry it matter of factly through the back doors and release him back into the wild/the bushes in the back of the hotel -forever being the front desk girl who earned true respect from the maintenance man.


Scene 1:

You’re standing at the front desk, it is 10pm at night. You have an hour left until your shift is over and the TV is on CNN because your boss stole the remote control and you are too lazy to walk over to the TV and change the channel manually. Solitaire and Mine Sweeper have become your best friends/worst enemies.

You hear the clacking of plastic wedge-heels down the hallway, and when you look up, a woman is approaching the front desk.

Ms. Goldskirt and Tube Top: (checked in at 3pm, paid cash) “Exuse me?”

You: (Forced smile, looks more like pained expression is slapped across your face) “May I help you?”

Ms. Goldskirt and Tube Top: (In the most barbie-esk/Anna Nicole Smith drawl she has obviously practiced since hitting puberty) “Yeah, I have a problem. The maids didn’t change the sheets and someone pee’d in my bed.”

You:  (Raise eyebrows in what you believe is a sufficiently surprised expression) “I am sorry about that, let me give you a different room” (direct attention toward computer and begin clicking away…”What room are you in?”

A man comes sauntering down the hall. He is dressed like a cheap Elvis, including ridiculous patterned shirt unbuttoned half way down his chest revealing too much chest hair and gold chains. His hair is slicked back and he is wearing sunglasses. You notice his gaudy gold pinky ring as he rests his hand on Ms. Goldskirt’s muffin top.

Ms. Goldskirt and Tube Top: “I am not paying for that room.” (squinting her light blue-caked eyelids and pinning her eyes on you just long enough to be uncomfortable)

You: “I understand that, that’s why I am moving you to a new room….”

Wash up 80’s Elvis steps in: “She means you need to give us our money back.”

You: (More firmly this time) “What room are you in?”

Elvis: “141”

You: (Pulling up their room information you notice that they have used a coupon rate for this room and paid cash when they checked in at 3pm, earlier that afternoon. They paid $39 for one night. “I’d be happy to refund your cash if you would like to check out even though it has been several hours since you checked in?”

Elvis: “Listen sweetheart, someone pee’d in the bed and the maids didn’t clean it up before we checked in……”

You: “Let me go look at your room real quick…..” (You quickly make a room key for their room and walk out from behind the front desk. Your coworker is laughing to herself that you have been pinned with dealing with these customers.”

Scene 2

You are standing in room 141 and inspecting the “stain.” You notice a few bits of luggage strewn about the room along with clothing and towels on the floor. The shower has obviously been used, the bed has been “used” and the cover is pulled back revealing a very recent water-like spill on the sheets. You notice a water bottle next to the bed, as well as suspicious looking “herbs” on the night stand.

Scene 3

Back to the front desk.

You: “Well Ms. Goldskirt, the best thing I can offer is to move you to a new room or refund your money so you can find a different hotel.”

Ms. Goldskirt and Tube Top: (Shifting from one hip to the other) “We are not leaving until you comp our room!”

You: “Well, MA’M….since housekeeping left at noon today and your room wasn’t even rented the night before, and the stain on the bed is obviously fresh, I think I am being more than fair to allow you to move to a different room without any charge….”

Elvis: “What is the corporate number? I am going to complain about your terrible customer service right now!”

You: “Sure….let me find it….”

Elvis: “Hello? Corporate?…..(Turning to you) “What is your name??”

You: “Ryan.”

While this is a dreadful and saddening thought; it is true: People frequently choose hotel rooms to commit suicide. Among other reasons, I have heard it is so that their family doesn’t have to see them or clean up after them. Seems like this is unfair for the housekeepers, who have to find/clean up after the deceased.  And the hotel, who has the added cost of hiring the proper authorities to clean up the bio hazardous human fluids….or what used to be in a fluidous state (that is, of course, if your hotel does contact the proper authorities…..some do not….I know because I watched my GM scrub a tub and try to shove 1 day old blood down the drain).

(Aside: I know I made up the word fluidous. I quite like it and will be adding it to Urban Dictionary shortly.)

Back to the subject.  A hotel will often use a cover story or “spin” the truth to not disgust and ultimately lose customers.

For instance: (This actually happened to my mom and sister) If you arrive to your hotel destination (which may or may not be in Palm Beach) and:

1. there are several emergency vehicles outside, including several cop cars, and also bug termination trucks, and people running   around in bio hazard suits.

2. When you get to the desk and inquire if they are still admitting guests and you notice that one of the floors has been completely barricaded off from the rest of the hotel, and

3. The the employee assures you that they are “of course, checking people in” and they are just “spraying for bugs”

Then you can assume that:

a. They have a massive bug problem that requires the ghost busters to come in and use their special powers to remove bugs at which time you should GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE!!!!!


b. They had someone commit suicide in a hotel room that was paid for several days and that person put the “Do not disturb” or DNR sign on the door before selfishly taking their life and letting their rotting carcass attract maggots into the hotel and that is why the bug termination vehicles are there and the bio hazard suits are required for proper disposal of the now coagulated blood pooled in and about the bath tub….at which time you should GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE!!!!!!!!

(The names and places in this story have been changed to protect their rights).

Now, after such an occurrence you can generally assume that the spirit of the dead move on to a better (or worse) place. But in some cases, the spirit remains.  One such case happens to be from room 422 at the good ole ******* *** ******* that I worked at and associated myself with for four years.

Allegedly the occupant of room 422 went to a KISS concert several years ago and when he returned to his room he later died from complications indicating that he had overdosed on drugs (fancy that, a KISS concert aye?).  Anywho, I had heard this story soon after becoming a member of this fabulous hotel’s faculty and thought little of it until one day…..

The phones started going all haywire. I mean, people started calling me from several rooms telling me their phone kept ringing and when they answered it there was nothing, just “white noise.”

Now this so happened to be around the time the movie White Noise came out in which a man is able to speak to his wife through “Electronic Voice Phenomenon” or whatever.   Still this meant nothing to me until we realized that when the mysterious broken phone started calling the front desk and we could see on the system that the room it was coming from was 422!

Obviously, it seemed like a co-ink-i-dink and we called the phone guy to come out and fix our system. He did come to the hotel the next day and spent several hours testing our system and going back and forth from the phone operating system to his truck and the front desk and the maintenance shop. Finally, he brings his report to the desk and declares that he has fixed it.  But then, he shares this little tidbit of information with me:

“You know, a problem like that, usually has to do with your main system and an electrical error….But this was just the phones in that room that needed replacing.”  You don’t say?…….

Well, happy that this little problem was over, I came to work a few days later. Around Ten O’clock it was a dark and rainy night. The wind was a bluster and lightening cracked and thunder rumbled. And then it happened: Riiiiiing Riiiiiiiiing.

A guest called saying that they were getting strange phone calls with no one on the other end. I quickly flung into action, redirecting all of that room’s phone calls to the front desk. The next time the phone rang the display read “internal,” (that means the phone call is coming from inside the hotel….)  I hesitantly reached to pick up the receiver and when the phone clicked off the hook the display was:    room 422.

Regretfully, I placed the phone to my ear and heard the all too familiar white noise! I slammed the phone down and confessed to my coworkers (a newer front desk girl, and our trusty houseman Jimmy) what the situation was.

TIME OUT: Back story on Jimmy the Houseman. Jimmy and his wife had been with the hotel for several years. To give you an accurate portrayal of Jimmy you could use the word “gruff.”  He is on the overweight side and a steady smoker. He has tattoos on his forearms and knuckles. He came across bearish and rough and tumble, but was actually a great coworker and kept the hotel and guests in line (especially those coming back from business dinners with slight slurs and handsy approaches).

TIME IN: So at this point I call our maintenance king “Terry the Great.”  Terry says to me matter-of-factly: “Well, you’re just going to have to unplug the phones in that room.” I hang up the phone and turn to Jimmy and say: “He says, you’re just going to have to unplug the phones in that room.” Jimmy says “I’m not going up there” with the most cowardly attitude a man covered in what looks like prison tats and stringy hair to his shoulders swept back in a loose pony tail could possibly have.

I decide a compromise is in order and tell Jimmy that we will go up together, we will give Olivia (said newbie front desk clerk) a walkie talky and Jimmy and I will take a walkie talky and unplug the phones together. We take the elevator to the 4th floor and walk the long corridor to room 422. We stand in front of the door with room key drawn and abated breath. I turn to Jimmy and say “You take the phone on the desk, I’ll get the one by the bed,” and he nods his head in agreement.

I swing open the door and let Jimmy go in first and I quickly follow. He quickly snaps the phone line out of the wall and looks over in my direction. I am standing in front of the phone, muscles taught with horror. He asks me what is the matter? I point at the phone and direct his attention to the blinking red light indicating that there is a message awaiting.

With new found boldness, Jimmy says “Let’s listen to it!” I reach down and press the button and wait to hear it over the speaker phone.

“You have one new message” the voice from the phone says, “First new message…….”  A low, familiar crackling noise rolls out of the speaker and then in a small, frightened little boy’s voice: “hello?”…….agonizing pause…….”hello?”

Jimmy and I look dead into each others eyes and try to catch the shrieks of horror in our throats. I reach down, grab the phone with both hands and rip it out of the wall and throw it across the two double bedroom and Jimmy and I run out of the room, bounding down the nearest stairwell and do not stop until we have reached the safe haven that is the front desk.

True Story.

In hotels, as many buildings, there is an elaborate fire alarm system that generally works about 4% of the time. This fire alarm system will go off if, say,  the temperature in one of the meeting rooms somehow rockets above 85 degrees.

Unfortunately, this fire alarm system will sound in all of the hotel rooms at any time of the night without warning and cause 20 percent of the guests to call down and ask if there is a fire, 30 percent of the guests to not to anything, and 50 percent of the guests to complain that night, the next morning, and demand a refund for being awakened by this potentially life-saving inconvenience.

Now, don’t get me wrong, every once in a while the fire alarm goes off at the fault of the staff. This mistake will probably be made by the GM who is paid a million times more in salary than you and she was probably trying to make cookies in the kitchen for a late-night snack but instead burned them to a crisp causing the smoke detectors in the kitchen to blare a nasty sound in the ear of everyone within a 3 mile radius.

Now, when the fire alarm goes off here are the following steps you must take.

Step one: Pee your pants. Unless you are a seasoned front desk agent and this has happened to you before or unless you are experiencing a malfunctioning alarm system and it has already sounded twelve times in the last hour then you will undoubtedly pee your pants.

Step two: Stop playing Solitaire on your computer. I know the computer has been beating you all evening and you’re only playing draw one. But the fate of every guests’ REM cycle rests firmly on your shoulders.

Step three: walk over to the fire alarm panel and stare knowledgelessly at the many flashy lights. At this point you will want to stop, grab the phone, and call the maintenance man immediately. But resist the urge. He won’t answer the phone anyway.

Step four: Silence the alarm. This can be tricky. I usually complete this step by pressing all the buttons, twice.

Step five: Answer Phones. This is the time to calm those guests who have decided to call instead of run through the lobby in their underpants.

Step six: Call the fire department. This number should be posted on the desk next to the sheriff dispatch number. But it’s not. So call the sheriff’s dispatch number and ask for the fire department number.

Step Seven: Watch the fire truck pull up anyway because you called too late. While still quelling the fears of the guests you should also head outside and tell the firefighters that your hotel is indeed not in any danger and yes, they may search the premises anyway.

Often when you work in a smaller hotel, one that is not full service, you find that while your job title is front desk girl, you are also the maintenance man, bell boy, housekeeper, and room service attendant.

When these other jobs arise you never know what may happen. pretty often you will have to bring a plunger up to a room (because you don’t give the guests the option of plunging the toilet for them), or you may be asked to pick up the stiff, baby opossum that died next to the pool gate (while a family of four watches you try to grab its tail through a trash bag with a pair of kitchen gloves on your hands and quietly squealing: “ew, ew, ew, ew…”), or perhaps a guest needs five extra pillows even though they are rooming alone and already have four pillows on their king-sized bed (I think they secretly build forts out of pillows, chairs and the comforter).

But every once in a while when you are dragging a crib (or child death trap as I like to call them) up to a room or perhaps the fifteen towels a guest requested, you will be faced with the ultimate situation of panic: the nude or nearly nude guest.

It never fails that this guest is either a) a very hairy man or b) a giant woman or possibly c) a combination of both.

When this happens there are a few actions you should take:

First, avert your eyes!!!! I know it is like a car accident and you want to crane your neck to see the horrible, mangled wreckage that stands before you, but remember: once you see it you won’t be able to forget it…or sleep for several days. While you must treat each guest with respect you probably will not be able to mask the distaste of the little bit of throw up that is now in your mouth.

Next, assess the situation. Are you in danger? Are there any guests close by who could hear you if you screamed? Can you out run the tub O’ lard that stands before you? Generally, these guests are not dangerous. Besides accosting your eyes they are harmless.

Lastly, get out of there! hand off the toothbrush or bottle of shampoo you brought up there, manage a weak smile (more like a pained wince), and back away.

At this point you will become aware of the amount of sweat that has perspired from your body. Take a few moments for yourself in the housekeeping bathroom to breathe and freshen up before you run back to the desk to spill the story of the yeti you just met on the third floor.

Much like the nude guest you will also have to interact with the wildly inane client. This guest has no sense of reality and indeed lives in a little world of their own creation.

One very such guest, Mr. House, will seemingly intentionally make your job exceedingly difficult. He will do things like: not pay for his room, bring massive amounts of model boat-making kits into his room, not allow housekeeping into his room, get un-seaworthy model boats stuck in the middle of the retention pond, rent small water crafts to retrieve said model boat, paddle onto the pond in his under shorts, successfully retrieve model boat without incident, proceed to roll backwards down the embankment of the pond in his under shorts and break the model boat he just retrieved.

Mr. House will seem to be completely dimwitted and his only goal is to make your job difficult. However, he may be overcome by your politeness and take your hospitality as a sign of flirtation. In this case, this guest will go to radio shack to buy you a gift. He’ll purchase an electronic pen that can record messages. He then record a personal message just for you! This message will be along the lines of: “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re beautiful.”

I know that you will probably be extremely weirded out by this unique gift and a little upset with the fact that after listening to it you dropped the five pound pen on your toe. But the best thing to do in this situation is to continue to be respectful and kind toMr. House and to point out how much he reminds you of your father as often as possible.

When you work in customer service for a very long time (that is, any amount of time past six months) you come to realize that every time someone complains, or asks a really dumb question, or hits on you, then you lose a little piece of your soul.

It is unfortunate because your soul does not grow back. It is not like the tail of a lizard where it can just fall off and writhe around as a distraction to those around you while you run away from the front desk and hide while your soul grows back. You just lose that little piece forever.

How do you know that you are losing pieces of your soul? If you dread the five minute drive to work every day. If you clock in at least five minutes late every day. If you are turning into the crotchety front desk lady that has been there for six years…then you are indeed losing your soul.

There are different amounts of your soul lost depending on the situation. A tiny piece of your soul is lost when, say, a guest is checking in and you run their credit card and have them sign their registration card. Then, you proceed to go through your little front desk spiel:

“Sir or Madam, you’re on the (insert floor number), the elevator is down the hall on the left (point in the general direction), breakfast is from six to ten in the morning and six-thirty to ten-thirty on the weekend, tonight we are having a reception from six to seven with free drinks and appetizers in the lobby, these doors (point at the entrance five feet away) are the only entrance into the building and do lock at 11pm. At which time you will need your room key to reenter” (gasp, gasp, pant for breath).

After this one to one minute and thirty second speech, inevitably every other or every third guest will look at you with a blank stare and say something along the lines of:

“So, where do I park?”

As the front desk clerk for a hotel chain well-known for catering to business travelers who are paying for their rooms with business credit cards and who drive company cars and have most, if not all, of their food/dry cleaning/long distance phone calls paid for by the company they work for -I am astonished and amazed that while I did not mention that the only parking lot (the one they drove in and parked their car in) adjoining the only entrance (the very one I just pointed out) is indeed the exact location in which they should park their vehicle and where their vehicle shall remain for the entirety of their stay.

Larger pieces of your soul are lost when you are being shouted at by a guest who does not have the company credit card and their secretary forgot to fax over a credit card authorization.

“Sir, I simply cannot check you in on your “good” character and the hopes, dreams, and rainbows that you are trying to sell me.”  Too many guests have promised to give me their credit card, or come back later to sign, only to realize later that this guest has broken my heart. Again. Not today, my friend! Not today!

I might also point out that the hotel overlooks a “lake” (also known as a retention pond) that sits on the opposite side of the hotel than the parking lot. So your choices here really are: 1) leave your car in the parking lot in which it is already parked and has the only entrance to the hotel that you can get into after 11pm with your room key, or 2) drive on the grass around the hotel and park in the lake. Please, be my guest.

Now, as the daughter and sister of avid spear and hook and line fishermen I realize the temptation that water brings when you set your eyes on it. But, as I mentioned before, our lake is little more than a glorified retention pond that our little ducky and turtle friends enjoy. If you ask me if their are fish in the lake I will say to you “Maybe” or “I imagine” or “Possibly.” But what I mean is: “Please don’t ask me for bait and tackle.”

That little card in your room that says we can supply you with basic toiletry needs if you forgot them at home does not mean I keep a Scooby Doo pole and a can of worms behind the desk.

While we’re on the subject, there are not any “gators” in the lake either. I know this is Florida and you are from Minnesota and you think the alligators run rampant in these here hills.  But sadly, you may let your small children run as close to the water’s edge as they please. No gators will be snapping them up today.



I dedicate this book to my fellow cohort and front desk girl, as well as the other half of the “A Team”.