The staff was in the middle of a shift change when the well-dressed man wandered into the lobby. The hotel was showing its age but still fiercely held onto its four-star rating thanks to a combination of an experienced staff, dumb luck and a legendary legacy. Each year, a new, well-funded competitor would construct some new monstrosity nearby and make every attempt to lure the wealthy and the status-conscious from the old and historic to the new and shiny but their clientele remained loyal because the hotel was loyal to them. Many of the hotel's guests were long-term friends with no desire to change addresses; things were just fine and would remain that way if they had anything to do about it. That attitude also trickled down to their guest's children as weathly responsibilities had a tendency to follow bloodlines. This stabilization of wealthy patrons caused the management to remain happy with the future as the average guest age remained at a healthy target number.
The well-dressed man waited patiently while the staff switched over. Once settled in, the desk clerk looked up from the counter and made eye contact. She was sure that she had seen him before but it seemed like every guest looked the same: rich and in a hurry. She smiled and greeted him to the hotel and leaned forward to make sure she caught his name. She lived in fear of asking someone important to repeat information because if she was rich and famous, it would drive her crazy.
He smiled back but did not initially proffer a name but it was apparent the delay from born out of common courtesy, not snobbery. As their faces grew slightly closer to initiate a conversation, the man took off his hat and said, "I am Mr. Hoover from Vancouver." He had a slight northeastern accent so it sounded more like "Mr. Hoovah from Vancouvah." Considering the geographical inconsistencies, the message was sent in a polite but direct manner and received the same. Annie Ritzke found the man fascinating in an old school manner and moved in another inch to strengthen the dyad. The young, pretty woman nodded as if that was the next thing she was going to say and quickly viewed the guest manifest for the evening. She quickly spotted his name, bolded at the bottom of the first page and handed him the key to his favorite room. There was no need to request identification or obtain an imprint of a credit card; this hotel took care of all of this behind the scenes and within thirty seconds of his one and only comment, a porter was escorting him up to his room via a private elevator. The porter knew Mr. Hoover from his dozens of previous visits and also knew that this man didn't like to waste time.
Once the elevator door closed, the pretty young woman let out a sigh of quiet relief. Bolded names on the manifest list were somewhat rare but they all meant the same thing: this guest was a über-VIP in a hotel full of VIP's and that meant something. To achieve special consideration above and beyond their normal outstanding service was an indication this wasn't his first trip out of his house. The man seemed polite and wasn't overbearing; his rhythmic self-identification was likely just the most efficient use of everyone's time and his quiet confidence implied only he knew what time is was. He didn't appear to take any special enjoyment in making the declaration but one could tell that he was used to getting from A to B without a lot of fanfare and the rhythmic nature of the phrase seem to calm and educate the masses.
The pretty woman instinctively stood back at attention and intermittently processed a few more guests which showed up before midnight but the rest of the third shift was quiet and she had time to think about more about the visitor from Vancouver. General guest information was easily accessed from her computer screen and provided her with some basic insights: he was a frequent visitor, had a standing request for a corner suite on one of the top floors, all charges were direct billed to his company and she noticed a special note that Mr. Hoover enjoyed having a substantial breakfast served to him at five-thirty in the morning or earlier to assure he was the first meal of the day. There were no other notations and in light of many of the hotel guest's legendary proclivities, this behavior bordered on charming and full of time-worn logic. Working the third shift anywhere allowed the curious plenty of opportunity to learn about anything which peaked their interest. Armed with a direct internet connection and an empty lobby, she spent the rest of shift doing searches and slowly assembled an interesting portfolio of insights on her newest preoccupation. She was not a stalker by any means but she loved a mystery and with motivation and time on her hands, this was going to make the shift go much faster.
James Hoover from Vancouver, British Columbia was a self-made billionaire dealing mainly with start-up ventures and initially risky opportunties. He made his money early in investing in third world countries infrastructures and showed an uncanny ability to meet and develop relationships with many of the future leaders of the country. As these leaders moved up the ladder and became more powerful, Hoover Corporation was brought along with them as an old friend. There was never a scandal or a crisis attached to Hoover and in the region of corrupt governments and bribe-influenced activities, James Hoover rose above it all with shining examples of cooperation, a disinterest in making something other than a fair profit and a consistent and sincere desire to invest back into their countries. He had been awarded many humanitarian honors, been rumored to be a sure candidate for a Peace Prize before his time was up and appeared to have established friendships in many places where friendships were considered liabilities. He did seek out public recognition nor did he avoid it when it was deserved as it appeared his ability to establish true and lasting friendships with key individuals around the world transcended regime change, political strife, balances of power and the collective will of many groups of people.
Now officially intrigued, she knew to learn more she had to reach out across the other hotel communities in an understated but covert manner. In a large hotel, there are two groups who are consistently in the know due to the nature of their job: the cooks and the maids. These groups see the rich and powerful in their base desires of eating and sleeping. She did not know many of the maids, they primarily worked the first shift and were legendary in their unified front of solidarity. However, if she tried to find out the breakfast choices or how he liked his eggs; information would only be available to a select group of cook staff. Unlike the maids who appeared and disappeared through a maze of doors leading in and out of the back area labyrinth, she had a few friends down in the kitchen and since their shifts overlapped, it would be pretty easy for her to learn more about him without making it known of her benign curiosity. She spent the rest of the late evening/early morning) completing a wide variety of tasks and standing orders for the evening shift: supervising the cleaning crew as they quietly cleaned the lobby, answering the phones and supervising the distribution of all of the newspapers to the guests. This group did not just get the standard fare: all guests at this hotel had the choice of many premium papers: International Herald Tribune, Le Monde, Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Izvestia and a bunch of papers just known to newspaper wonks (certainly not to Annie) and almost all of the guests requested them all. When the guest awoke, they would find an elegant pile of uncracked papers waiting for them outside their door. That type of distribution was dabbawallian in nature: each guest's personal recipe of hard copy news organized and presented to them by five in the morning.
Armed with her new knowledge of Mr. Hoover's lead off breakfast expectation, she felt a new adrenaline with her task of causing the creative collision of both his early morning appetites. The night went quicker than she had hoped and she went down to the kitchen promptly at five to say hello to the arriving kitchen workers. Her presence down in the sub-basement was not unexpected as she had made a point of visiting the group periodically just to be friendly. They in turn, pleased with her respectful and non-obvious motivation for food would reward her cordial nature by giving her fresh pastries and coffee before anyone outside the kitchen.
Today, she was on a bit of a mission. She was trying to gain additional insights on the mysterious Mr. Hoover and she knew the room service group would be able to tell her something.
"Good morning, Annie" said the crusty old fry cook. "What brings you down here so early? You usually come down when your shift is over."
"Good morning, Charlie. I am down here early because it was a boring night, the papers have been dealt out and I just wanted to stop in when I had a chance."
"Oh, I am a wee bit hungry."
Charlie smiled and instinctively opened a low-boy to see what he could whip up something for her. As he peered inside, he said, "So, how is the paper shuffling business?"
Everyone at the hotel knew about the thankless paper job: a rite of passage for most newbies, the ability to assemble and distribute unique combination of newspapers was both an art and a science. Sunday mornings were the worst as the sheer bulk of some orders necessitated tying up room service carts just for the papers. Given the two hundred rooms and the vast majority of those rooms requesting a unique combination of papers, the ability to get them to doorsteps before anyone woke up was a hellacious trick. It had been likened to shuffling ink-stained playing cards of dubious size two hundred times in four hours with a tremendous opportunity for failure. "Silence is our applause" had been scribbled across the mail room many years ago and the comment was taken to heart by all who had passed through there.
"Just fine. It always blows me away with the combinations."
Annie knew it was time to lie a bit to introduce her latest pre-occupation but since she was the only one privy to that morning's newspaper combo platter, she felt it was an easy lie to maintain.
"Really," said Charlie. "What is the weirdest one?"
There was an unwritten but fully complied with law in the hotel not to use any guest's full and formal name. The hotel took great pains in protecting their guests so all staff had been trained from the outset never to reference a particular guest or particular request. Over the years, specific anecdotes created formal names such as "Mr. Ten Egg Benedicts in a Soup Bowl" or "Miss Towel for Toilet Paper" but even Annie knew she had to get a bit closer this morning to gain some insights.
"There is this one man (small violation number one), that takes the full listing, even his own Canadian (small violation number two) papers but also asks for all the international papers in their original language as well as the English versions (small lie to differentiate him)."
Charlie looked at her: he knew who she was speaking about and wanted to join in but was too afraid for both of their jobs to allow for significant fact building. The man she was referencing had simple food and drink tastes, was one of the only VIP without any odd demands except for the time of day of his breakfast and was always pleasant to deal with during face to face conversations. He had always made a point of asking for the first meal of the day and as a result, the first egg cracked and hash brown fried was heading up the corner suite on the second to the top floor. Charlie had decided long ago that the request was reasonable and the same motivation which he and the rest of his team requested. The rules of the kitchen are fairly straight-forward: we eat first, we eat best and clean is better than dirty. The request was also well within his abilities since it was not started until Charlie clocked in and the cook had always appreciated the polite symmetry of the request. Also, it made sense and if Charlie was rich, he would do the same damn thing.
He was unique as well but not requesting anything specific but saying that "as long as the food groups were being represented, he would have no problem." Each day when notified of his presence, Charlie would make a substantial breakfast of eggs, potatoes, meat, coffee, pastry and juice and would have a free reign in its selection. Some days he poached the eggs and fried sausage links and some days he scrambled the eggs and presented a noble breakfast steak. Mr. Hoover from Vancouver always made sure his thanks got back to the kitchen via an occasional personal note or face to face comment to the hotel manager. When one receives such a note in this rarified environment of elite lodging, it shows someone went far above an already established and tremendous level of service to an ecumenical level of lodging. Each note received was dutifully read and passed along through the management food chain with copies placed in employee files and distributed photocopies, complete with echoes of further adoration-soaked gushes of new layers of praise presented in handwritten exclaim. Charile had hundreds of these notes and had filed his away for future bargaining chips. Hotel managers and their promises come and go: Charlie made sure he had everything he wanted in writing because he felt Mr. Hoover would follow him across the street if requested.
"I know the guy," said Charlie. "But you are dangerously close to trouble if you want to get closer to a guest."
Annie blushed and it was evident on her face. She wanted to deny it but Charlie was a friend and his gentle warning spoke volumes.
"We all become fixated on a guest or two: it is human nature," said Charlie. "But you can't ever talk about them, even to me, ever."
Annie nodded emotionally, "I am sorry but there is something about him that fascinates me. Not in a personal way but almost from the sidelines. What does he do? Why is he here all the time? Why this hotel? Is he a super spy? Is he a true captain of industry or a some rich schlubola that just likes hotels?"
Charlie smiled. He was always analyzing the guest's eating habits: plates would come back across the spectrum from almost licked clean to hardly (or ever) picked at. He would wonder if it was his food or something that happened that day to affect an appetite. It took years to realize that some incidents had good reasons but many situations had no reason (whatsoever) behind their results. People were people and rich people were no different. He made attempts to force those thoughts below the surface but noticed he was drawn to returning trays to gain insights on his cooking. As a head chef, he had the rank to totally ignore the mundane parts of his job but he spent more time with the dishwashers than any other group; he wanted to know how his food was playing upstairs.
"Don't worry about it," he said as he began to fry up a frittata.
"Thanks, Charlie. From now on, I will do my thinking strictly in my head."
"Best place for it, sweetie. Now, sit down and have some breakfast. It is the second thing I have made today. Your friend will be number three but don't tell him. On days like today, I treat his request as 'the first breakfast cooked for a guest.'"
Annie smiled for the food and the small piece of information but decided she was done trying to out a loyal client of the hotel. He was a nice man and she decided to chalk it up to a combination of early shift adrenaline and some passive serendipity. She finished her meal, thanked Charlie for the hospitality and headed up for the last hour of her shift. She noticed as she walked back to the large lobby area that she was more tired that usual: it was a long night but most of fatigue was likely due to the brief mental fixation of the mysterious Canadian or the recent deflation due to a possible loss of clues upon her trail. She settled in behind the large ornate counter and casually leaned against it for some relief. This non-vertical posture was a major violation of all the decorum-based rules of the hotel but she was alone, her feet ached and she was almost done for the day. She would be back at 10:30 pm for the eleven to seven shift but her weekend off was only two days away: she would be fine.
As she surveyed the empty lobby, she noticed the tapping of her foot on the marble floor. It caught her by surprise because she was not by nature a foot tapper nor did she engage in any similar rhythmic appendage endeavors: she was usually quiet and non-demonstrative but today she was antsy and tired at the same time. The counter was clean and all paperwork was completed and ready to be handed off to the morning shift that would be arriving at anytime. The morning crew was the most experienced and counted on to conduct themselves more than any other shift. The morning was when the action happened: breakfast meetings, deliveries, check-outs and all the hustle and bustle of a waking city.
Promptly at seven o'clock, her replacement relieved her of her duties and Annie was free to go. The paperwork was completed and all keys were handed off: Annie grabbed her coat and headed for the door. The sunrise was spectacular and as she squinted her eyes as she surveyed the street, Mr. Hoover walked right by her, sweetly tipped his hat, stepped into a waiting limousine and was promptly driven away.
This one has a nice vibe. Not a "this baby will write itself" vibe but a nice one.
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