Humanity and Hospitality
$500 SIGN UP BONUS. $1000 SIGN UP BONUS. 19 DOLLARS AN HOUR. FULL BENEFITS!
Is strewn across every job listing site. No one is applying, but everyone is hiring. Some say it’s because of unemployment, some point to that being a myth. Many people say that it’s because of the environment of your average service industry job. I am inclined to agree, but I have a different perspective.
In the service industry, you’re not a person.
It is almost a given that any job in the service industry will suck. Even the most dedicated, loving, people-persons working in the industry have their stories. Whether it be labor law violations or abusive customers, or simply the nature of often physically strenuous, underpaid work, everyone has a story.
It’s a meme, even. So interlinked into pop-culture that the awful dead end fast food job is seen as a right of passage. Its something that’s meant to toughen people up, a proof of humanity’s most cruel and demanding aspects.
I like hotels. I spent much of my life in hotels. On long road trips, in brand-less Inns off the side of the freeway in small southwestern communities. I stayed in mid-level hotels, ones where the rooms were always clean and that was enough. I’ve even had the chance to stay in magnificent hotels, overlooking the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip, and I have stayed in shady motels in Southern California where the housekeeping was said to be paid below minimum wage.
I honor hotels very deeply. I honor the service they fulfill, and the atmosphere of almost-home. I find it simply fascinating.
I was hired into my hotel job with a single phone interview. I knew nothing about the brand, and I’d never even been near the building. I knew it was downtown, which is where I wanted to work, and that it was willing to take a risk on someone with no hotel experience. And truthfully, I just wanted a job. My love of hotels is second to the fact that retail sees my mobility aid and turns me down, and that this job was paying almost two dollars more than my city’s minimum wage.
I was led down a flight of cream colored stairs to the basement. I was shown the break room; it was a small tan room with two bathrooms and a table with a single foldable chair. I was led around the corner to the housekeeping office. This office was filled with racks of toilet paper, empty bottles of shampoo, and pillows, and in the corner was a single desk. I was sat down and given a mouth swab drug test with a long explanation about how because weed is legal here, we don’t test for it. We’re testing for meth, we’re testing for cocaine. Which I found funny.
They scanned my birth certificate and ID and then I was led back up the flight of stairs, blending into the wall, and told to come on Sunday at seven AM sharp to start my new job.
I did not loathe it, in fact, I find it thrilling. I am someone built for customer service. I have a high tolerance for rudeness, a strong will, and I am enthralled by the ability to meet new people. Like an old woman sitting on a bench in a mall, I am there to observe. I am there to consider, to find new varieties of people. I am extroverted and with my experience in the non-profit sector, I am more than used to dealing with the claws of people who dislike me inherently.
I was trained for a week, picking up the basics of the technology, and then I was thrown forward into the limelight, alone for 8 hours during the evening. I was playing a hundred different roles, with eyes constantly on me.
The hotel had only recently opened up again, without a manager, and with perpetually tired staff working morning, evening, and overnight shifts with barely any notice, everything was sloppy. It was perfectly clean, but the attention to detail had fallen about.
Troubled times, as they’d say.
Notably, before my state lifted their mask mandate, we were told not to tell guests to wear masks and not to offer them masks unless they asked. It was a safety concern, a safety concern for us. A co-worker explained it to me. They don’t respond well to being told to wear masks, its safer not to ask them to wear masks.
We were told to always take lunch breaks, though this was with complete awareness and aggressive acknowledgment that we would have to work through them.
Corporate made us put plastic sheets at the front of our desks, but because the middle computer wasn’t being used, there was a wide open space that guests could easily stand in, leaning over, and talking or screaming at us, breath and spit flying. I’d step back when they did, looking right at them, staring them down, right in their eyes. All I could hope is that they’d freeze, step back.
The first man who screamed at me was a businessman, dressed in all grey, middle aged, and not wearing a mask. My face was reflected back at me in his glasses. He was very polite to me at first, understanding of the hotel’s current issues with staff and with our lack of services. Then he changed, and in a brief moment he turned and over and he berated me for not being able to give him 18 dollars worth of bottled water for free. I held firm, and he went off, upset, muttering something about me under his breath.
My boss sent him the water anyway.
I rode the train home, arms crossed over my chest. It was funny. I texted a friend on the way back, he wanted to feel like a big man, he wanted to be in power over someone. I do not believe in giving power they do not deserve.
A woman and her husband came to my desk, wanting to check in. The valet was gone for a moment, and they’d parked in paid parking, and didn’t want to feed the meter. I asked for an ID and I was screamed at. I was delaying the situation.
She leaned down on the middle section, and put a hand on the counter, My daughter is sitting alone in the car. My daughter is sitting alone in the car and you’re making me do this.
Before I could reply, she and her husband whipped around, stomping out the door, saying just loud enough for me to hear, That stupid fucking bitch.
A few moments later she returned, ID in hand and daughter standing off to the side. The daughter is on her phone, and she looks to be almost as old as me.
- My boss threatened to take away my ADA accommodations.
- Security had to escort me to the end of the block for my safety three days in a row.
- A man stood over me and stared down, and told me I was a “worthless girl” because I didn’t have any coffee for him.
- People bragged to me about mistreating the housekeepers
- I smiled at people who harassed me for wearing a mask.
- Hundreds of men leaned in close, calling me sweetheart and baby and honey, trying to touch my hand as I handed them their keys
- I fell behind on my freelance work, since I would only get my schedule a day or two before the week started.
What pushed me over the edge was a writer.
A woman in a bright chartreuse sports jacket and a black skirt, a new novelist, entered the lobby. She was the type of writer that I’d worked alongside, that I’d been around for years, the type of person who I’d sit with at events, and chat about the industry, and the nature of creativity, and compare our work. The type of woman who’d question me about writing plays, while I questioned her in kind about novels. The type of woman who, in any other context, that I’d interact with in an atmosphere of the utmost mutual respect.
She berated me, screamed at me, until I was shaking, and then stormed off.
And I stood there, still for a long moment, and I couldn’t bring myself to laugh about it.
The thing about those atmospheres of the utmost mutual respect that I’ve been in due to my status as a certified, egotistical, writer, is that they’re built off a simple fact:
Because we are similar, you are also a person.
It’s self proven, without any argument. We are given the gift of that basic understanding.
In any other context with her, I’d be a person. I’d be a person, a human being, but at that moment I was not a human being. I was a figure, and a lowly figure at that. I was a person shaped object. I was a doll with a voice box, standing, nodding and smiling, and apologizing, and the representation of an abstract monster preventing this writer from being worshipped.
I was the not-living barrier to her greatness being truly and lovingly acknowledged by everyone in the world, it was me. Every single issue, minor and major, was placed upon my shoulders, abstracted and taken away, and held up by something that looked and sounded like me.
I’m not alone in it. I put my notice of immediate resignation in and I knew even then, I was not alone in it.
Online there are communities of front desk workers, like Tales From The Front Desk on reddit, where workers swap stories, ask for advice, and express grievances about how they are treated, primarily in hospitality. The pandemic has worsened many of their experiences, and most of them push through with courage that I couldn’t find in myself.
I did one online training lesson, in my own time, from the hospitality company that owned the franchise I was working for. They pressed into me one thing, We live in hard times and we are not providing the typical service that guests expect, so you must understand and empathize with the guest and treat them with kindness even when they are not kind to you.
That is a wonderful sentiment, but when it is not returned to us, when we are not seen as people by the guests and by our management, when we offer hospitality and they respond with venom, how are we supposed to understand and empathize with them? Self respect is not letting people spit at you. Kindness is a two way street. I am not willing to waste my empathy on people who look at me with empty eyes, unable to recognize me as a person.
The service industry is struggling to pull in employees. The Great Labor Shortage of 2021, looming over everyone’s head. Guests would routinely stand at my desk, leaning in, and make small-talk by telling me how unemployment was keeping people from wanting my job. People didn’t want my job!
I’ve decided to be a person.