Friday, May 23, 2014

Doorman Breaks Down a Bad NYC Bellman Shift - Act I

Doorman Breaks Down a Good NYC Bellman Shift is my most popular post, mostly due to people researching bellman and doorman salaries on Google. I promised I would write a contrasting piece, showing how shitty one of these shifts can be. Here it is. 

We've recently lost a few guys due to termination and injury, so the schedule has me working inside as a bellman a couple of days a week to help out. I was hired as a bellman, but took the door for a few reasons: 

1- At the time, I was fully immersed in gathering material for the blog. 

2- I like working outdoors. 

3- Working as a bellman on the night shift flat-out sucks. 

Having a bellman day shift is much more lucrative. You're booking car services all day, stacking up commissions, and getting tipped for binging people's luggage down from the rooms. To make it simple, you're actually working and earning your money. Problem is, you're going to have to put in at least ten years before you can so much as smell an early-afternoon shift. 

Working at night is a different bird. Everything slows down. No one is checking out, and the ones who are have already made their transfer arrangements with the morning guys. So, what you're left to rely on is retrieving luggage from the storage room, and "fronts". 

Fronts are the most soul-crushing part of working as a bellman. In many old-fashioned hotels, a guest is not allowed upstairs to the room without being escorted by a bellman. It's mostly to ensure the keys work and it's the proper room the guest booked. Far too often, when the bell rings and I hop-skip over, fresh with a goofy smile and combover, the guest will look at me like I'm a steaming piece of shit, turn to the Front Desk Agent, and bluntly say, "Oh, I don't need him to show me", as if I weren't even standing there. 

Truth be told, I get it. I really do. Why should I have to be forced into a tipping situation when all I have is a carry-on suitcase, which I've managed to heave on my own since Scottsdale, Arizona? Why should I, after a long day of traveling, be forced to strike up meaningless small-talk with this double-chinned luggage monkey, who is just fishing for a couple of bucks? 

People, I feel your pain. This is why I hate working as a bellman. It's embarrassing. With all of the bullshit I deal with working as a doorman, one thing is for certain - I never have to beg. People have to come to me and ask for help. They have no choice. Whether they want to tip me or not is up to them, but I never feel like I have to be invasive in scoring my gratuity. 

However, allowing a bellman to bring you up to the room can have it's advantages. If you have a good, sociable guy who knows the city and doesn't mind answering a few questions, you've just made a new friend in the hotel by throwing him five bucks. People take that for granted - a friendly, approachable face in the lobby. I never, ever snub people who tip me in the beginning. In fact, I go through obvious lengths to avoid people who stiff me in favor of those who were generous with their small bills upon arrival. 

But I digress- here's a breakdown of a shitty NYC bellman shift, which occurred this past Wednesday. There's a tidbit at the end of Act II regarding salaries that will surely make your blood boil. 

And GO: 


Bags down from room = A guest calls to have their bags brought down from the room.  

Bags down from storage = Guest gives me a luggage claim ticket and I bring the bags down from the storage room. 

Front = When a bellman escorts a guest to the room. 

Room change = Escorting a guest who is unhappy with their room into a new room.

4pm: I punch in. 

4:03pm: Collect a car service commission from one of the morning bellmen. $7. 

4:11pm: Bags down from storage- French couple hands me the ticket. 2 suitcases. Checking into a room in the East Wing. The East Wing is separate from the storage room elevators, and it's another staircase that I have to lug the suitcases down. Time to lube up. I send them up to the room and tell them I'll be there in five minutes. Get the bags from the storage room. Both of them have broken fucking wheels. 

Ever drag a suitcase with broken wheels on carpet? Doesn't work. I have to carry them, like the good old days. They both weigh at least 50 lbs. Take the elevator down, carry them through the lobby, down the steps to the East Wing, up the elevator to the 7th floor. I arrive, ask them how the room is, they are all smiles. I see a lone dollar bill on the nightstand. I deflate like a whoopy cushion. Drop the bags right in front of the door and consider telling them to keep the fucking dollar. I don't, because I hadn't been tipped yet and don't want to bring on any bad mojo. The French man hands me the dollar like he's my dad sending me to the candy store in the 60's. I snatch it out of his hand, don't say thank you, and slam the door behind me. $1. 

4:32pm: Front. Guy in a Hawaiian shirt who looks and sounds like a straight Rip Taylor. He's there with his wife, who looks relatively normal, carrying a bouquet of flowers. 

They're all smiles. After the initial bit of bullshit banter, I inquire about the occasion, which is their daughter's graduation at Lincoln Center: 

Doorman - "Wow! They're having the commencement at Lincoln Center! That's amazing! I had mine on the lawn of my campus when I graduated!" 

The wife laughs. She likes me. Her husband says this: 

Husband - "And look where you ended up!"  

I guess I set myself up for that one. For a moment, I let my guard down and thought I was talking to a decent human being. It was early in my shift, so I was still chipper, but that gut-punched the life out of me. Instead of snapping back at him and defending my work ethic and tenacious pursuit of a career in writing and film, I just turned my back on them for the rest of the elevator ride. They continued their conversation in outdoor voices:

Wife - "Bill! That's not nice!" 

Husband - "What? The guy's probably gonna have keys to the place soon!" 

Wife - "Don't say that." 

Husband - "What?!? The guy looks like he's got all the connections!" 

Wife - "Bill..." 

We mercifully get to their floor. I power walk to their room, dump the bags in side, wish them a nice trip, and try to escape before he says anything else that would prompt me to punch him in the mouth and ruin what was likely going to be the proudest weekend of his life. 

Husband - "Wait! Hang on, buddy!" 

I really didn't want his money, but he pulled a ten out of his pocket. He was shaking, as if he wanted to make amends for his douche bag comment. He hands me the sweaty, crumpled up ten.  

I'll allow it. $10. 

Needless to say, that set me off into a tailspin. I'm perfectly content with where I am at this point in my life, and I don't need to prove myself to anyone, especially that fucking idiot. With everything I have going on outside of work, I should let a shitty comment like that roll off my back, because the second I walk out that door, they're going to forget about me. I should be doing the same. But it isn't that easy. It's not going to change the fact that, yes, after 7+ years in the real world after I graduated from college, I'm still schlepping bags and taking shit from people. 

Remember in the Good Bellman Shift post, where I mentioned that luck and mojo were important, like a casino? That keeping a positive mindset will keep the tips flowing? Well, same goes for when you're in a bad mood. The stiffs and assholes flock to you. And when you're not smiling, the nice people are less inclined to be generous. Once you set yourself up in a bad state-of-mind, your tips diminish rapidly. 

4:43pm: I storm back into the lobby. Bags down from storage. A white American guy, about my age, in a sharp, fitted suit, hands me a ticket. I snatch it from him and take the stairs to the storage room. I fight the urge to take a quick detour to the locker room to smash a chair and punch a locker or two. 

There's a "3x" on the ticket, meaning he has three pieces in the storage room. One was a carry-on suitcase, the other a suit bag, and the last item being a light purple shopping bag from Bergoff Goodman. Bergoff Goodman is a high-end clothing store on Fifth Avenue - the type of place where you can buy a scarf for the bargain price of $300. 

I bring the bags down and hand it to the Suit. He takes them, says "thank you", and walks away. The mother fucker can afford to shop at Bergoff Goodman, but he can't give me three bucks to assure that nothing in his precious little Bergoff Goodman bag goes unharmed. 

Doorman - "No, thank YOU!" 

I stomp off. He takes his shit and leaves, either ignoring or oblivious to my facetious rebuttal. 

4:48pm: A Brazilian man stands waiting to be helped. I approach him with the warmth and hospitality of a drill sergeant. 

Doorman - "You being helped, sir?'

Brazilian Man - "Ehhhhh... yes, I need to get something out of one of my bags, but I don't have the ticket. 

Oh, hell no. This is a nightmare for two reasons: 

1 - There are five storage rooms. If he doesn't have his luggage ticket, it means I have to walk him to each one till he finds his crap. 

2 - People never tip you when you bring them to the storage room because they've left something in their bags. It takes up time you could be spending on the floor making money.

As the man is telling me this, the bell rings. It's a front, and it looks like Hispanic people. Do I take the risky front, or walk around with this moron till he finds his bags? 

I opt for the former. 

Doorman - "Okay, someone will be right with you, sir." 

He's visibly annoyed. I don't care. 

4:49pm: Front. Two women from... Spain. FUCK. Spaniards don't tip. I take them to the East Wing. Two suitcases. They don't speak English. I speak my best Spanish to them, managing to ask how long they're staying and if they've ever been to New York before. I'm sure the effort to communicate saved me here, because they managed to scrounge up a couple of singles together. $2. 

This dark cloud looks like it may have been averted. Getting a tip from a notoriously ignorant culture when it comes to tipping is always a good omen of better things to come. 

4:55pm: I hustle down to the lobby, hopeful to get the mojo in my favor. 

I get to the front desk, and guess who's there waiting? 

The Brazilian Man, who I'd just snubbed, got a picture message of the luggage ticket from his friend. Eight suitcases, which he now wants brought up to the room. 

With the Front Desk Agent already handing me the keys, I have no choice. Front. 

Eight suitcases are a pain-in-the-ass any day. Eight suitcases from Brazil is as physically exhausting as trying to manually move Stonehenge.

I find the pile of suitcases in the storage room - just a menacing, gluttonous mountain of cheap, overstuffed sacks of testicle-popping hell. 

I painstakingly load two carts, sweating like a fucking hostage. Push one cart while pulling the other down the hallway, every vein in my forearms bulging out like a couple of porn star dicks. 

Since I had two carts filled to the brim, I couldn't share an elevator, so I had to let three or four pass before I could get an empty one. This cost me about 15 minutes alone. 

5:25pm: Finally drag the carts to his room and pound on the door. He answers, wearing a stupid sweater. I don't remember what color it was or what patterns it had on it, all I remember is looking at the sweater and thinking, "what a stupid sweater", as I worked.

He watches me bring in every suitcase, keeping a close eye, you know, in case I decided to steal a few things while he was in the room, instead of the twenty minutes beforehand when I was alone with it all. 

Every time I bring a bag in, I look at his hands. I look at the dresser. I look at the table in the kitchenette. My eyes scan the room, looking for money. He has no money out for me. He has nothing ready. His hands aren't in his pockets. His hands are free. I get down to the last bag, and still, hands out of pockets with no intention of going in. He's not going to tip me. 

I say my Hail Mary line, which I always use when I'm stalling for a tip: 

Doorman - "Okay, sir. How's the room? Is there anything else I can do while you have me up here?" 

He doesn't go into his pockets.

Brazilian Man - "Ehhhh... no." 

I stand there for a moment, waiting for my tip. Most bellmen will do this in any situation- stand there and wait with a smile for a tip. It's excruciatingly uncomfortable for me, which is why I never do it, but I just worked my balls off and wanted to pull out all the stops. 

Brazilian Man - "Ehhh... I will find you. Ehhh... in the lobby... and... ehhh... give you some money." 

If I had all of the money I was promised by people who said they would "get me later", I could retire at the age of 40. 

I leave the room and push the carts down the hallway. It's funny, I got the sense that he probably enjoyed that, seeing that I snubbed him in the lobby just before. The second I left the room, I literally said aloud to myself, "yeah, I had that coming."

And now the precedent is set for the rest of the evening... 

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