Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Creatures of the El

Everyone knows public transportation can be a harrowing experience at times. We’ve all sat next to that person who snored on the plane, smelled bad on the bus, or perhaps just sat too close for comfort on the train. I’ve certainly had my fair run-ins with public transportation characters: the schizophrenic preacher (I wish I was kidding) who simultaneously hit on me and tried to convert me while on a Greyhound bus; the woman who was sobbing on the El, engrossed in a Self Help book; the two German men on the sleeper between Venice and Köln who told jokes all through the night; and who could forget the physical brawl between a man and woman that I found myself caught between as I desperately tried to board an over-packed Tube. Public transportation can be scary and you never know what Dateline special you may inadvertently find yourself a part of.

Last week I had an interview for a job that I was in no way qualified for. I applied to the position out of sheer boredom at work one day and my only thoughts were, “They don’t require a cover letter? Sweet. Don’t need to exert any effort then!” Half an hour later I got an email asking if I could come down for an interview. The position I had applied for was Social Media Manager. Sure, I am on facebook nearly every hour throughout the day, I know about Twitter and I keep a blog, but a Social Media Manager I certainly am not. Nevertheless, they showed some interest so I turned up.

As it turns out, this company knew as much as I did that I was unqualified for the position. They had asked me in for an interview because my resume “fascinated” them. The manager was thrilled I had worked for the National Park Service and adored Mackinac Island. He was also a native of Alabama and stated, “My heart goes out the fellow Southerners.” After explaining to me as nicely as possible that I wasn’t actually qualified for the job and therefore would most likely not be getting it, the manager asked if I might consider a part-time internship. I asked what the internship would be and he replied, “I’m not really sure yet. We would sort of have to create one for you. I would just really really like to fit you in here.” I left not knowing if I should feel flattered or slighted (the internship would be, of course, unpaid).

Per habit, I immediately called a close friend on my walk back to the El (the company was located in Uptown). I told her of the trippy experience and related another Twilight Zone-esque interview I had experienced the week prior when I had been told (by the interviewer) that I must have forgotten to wear my lipstick that day. We scoffed over the nerve of Miss Lipstick as I boarded the Red Line. The car was packed so I had to stand. Just a few feet away from me stood an unstable (both physically and mentally) homeless man I had seen once before on the El. Normally he traveled from car-to-car, panhandling. Tonight, he swayed dramatically from side to side, distressing the commuters around him. As my friend told me about her day, Unstable unbuttoned his pants. He slid them to his knees, looked down, and pulled them back up. He then went and sat beside a college student, who was trying very hard to seem immersed in his Physics textbook.

The train pulled up at the first stop. Seats near me were vacated and I took one of the window chairs. An Indian woman and her boyfriend sat in surrounding seats. My friend continued to talk about recent happenings in her job, but I suddenly noticed the entire car had gone completely silent. The doors remained open and everyone seemed uncomfortable in their seats. Suddenly, the train conductor along with a CTA security guard boarded the car. They approached Unstable and asked him to leave the premises.
I continued to give hushed one-word responses to my friend and felt bad that it was becoming obvious that I was distracted. I wanted to narrate all that was happening, but felt it inappropriate as the security guard escorted Unstable from the platform. The train conductor strode to the front of the El.

I again tried to shift my attention to my friend, but was then distracted by the immediate passenger gossip:

“Did you hear what they said? The code the police said into their radio?”

“Gang bang.”

“Yes! I heard it, too. They said ‘gang bang,’ didn’t they?”

“What do you think that means?”

The woman beside me seemed more offended by Unstable’s smell and pulled out a bottle of perfume. She sprayed the air, hitting the side of my face in her aromatic circle. My coughing perplexed her and she asked if I thought the fragrance smelled bad.

By this point my friend’s call had graciously dropped and I was able to text her a quick synopsis of what had been taking place since I boarded the Red Line. Just as I hit Send, Unstable jumped triumphantly into the car. He puffed out his chest and stared valiantly at those brave enough to make eye contact. Movement on the platform startled him and he dove behind my seat. The CTA security guard walked swiftly past the open doors and a young girl sitting across the aisle from me sprang after him. Unstable looked around for a less obvious hiding place when a man across the car called him over saying there were plenty of empty seats where he sat. Unstable took his rooster stance once again and strutted across the car. The young girl returned followed by the security guard, train conductor, and a cop. They once again approached Unstable and asked him to leave the train.

The excitement finally over, the conductor made an announcement that, due to the delay, the train would be running express and would skip the next seven stops. Three quarters of the car departed leaving only myself and five other people: the Physics student, a small Hispanic woman, a young girl with a mutilated face, the man who had offered Unstable a seat, and a guy with amazing dreadlocks. The doors closed and we finally left the platform after our nearly fifteen minute delay.

The car bounced along hurriedly, the conductor trying to make up for his lost time. I continued to text with my friend and update her on Unstable’s reappearance. Suddenly, the Hispanic woman who had been behind me took the seat right next to me. I tried not to look taken aback, but wondered why, when there was currently a ratio of about 10:1 seats to passengers, she had decided to sit right next to me. It was then that I noticed the girl with the scarred face looking towards the other end of the car. Unstable was back and shuffling towards our seats. He passed us and opened the emergency door. He left the car and stood on the jack that connected our car to the one behind us.

The girl looked at the Hispanic woman and me. “Is he going to jump?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” the Hispanic woman responded.

“Should we do something?” I asked.

We watched him as he wavered back and forth on the jack. We didn’t want him to jump, nor did we want to open the door and possibly cause him to fall. And let’s be honest, interacting with him wasn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s list either. El cars are not the same as Metra trains. The doors leading from car-to-car are for emergency only because when you leave a car you are outside. There is no platform, no railing, nothing to keep you from being jerked to the ground. Unstable wavered a moment more and then opened the door again. As he re-entered the car the three of us looked around the floor and ceiling as if something else had interested us.

Unstable wandered up and down the car once before taking the seat next to his good buddy Physics Student once more. He then proceeded to bark. Now, I’m not talking “Woof! Woof!” I am talking about legit barking like a dog that really wants to bite the postman. Poor Physics Student. He sat there, textbook book pressed close to his face, but his eyes were glued to Unstable.

Finally, after what seemed like an interminable train ride, we arrived at the second to last stop. Unstable departed of his own free will this time. The next stop was Howard, the end of the Red Line, and those of us traveling to Evanston got off the train and waited for the Purple Line to show. Unfortunately, since this is the L, the majority of the trains are elevated. Meaning: it was bloody cold. Thankfully, Chicago is smart and has placed heaters in many of the awnings. I joined a group of fellow Purple Liners under one of these awnings and updated my friend even further on The Adventures of Unstable.

I was listening to my iPod at this point and it took me a few moments to realize someone, somewhere was yelling. I looked around and saw a large man in a Letterman jacket yelling in my direction. I turned down the volume on my iPod in time to hear him yell, “Ah shoot, man! Y’all stuck up bitches not gonna tell me what train is coming? I’m just askin’ what train is COMIN’!” I immediately deduced that he had asked a general ‘which train is this’ to the crowd I happened to be standing in and no one had answered him. Letterman slowly made his way closer to the crowd, ranting and raving the whole way. Even without smelling his breath, it was very apparent that he was wasted.

“What time it is?” Letterman demanded, stumbling down the platform. “Why ain’t no one tell me what TIME. IT. IS.” He walked right in front of me.

“The time?” I said, hoping to quiet him. My question stopped him suddenly.

“Yeah. What time it is?”


“Thank you. Thank you, Miss. That’s really nice.”

“Oh you’re welcome,” I said, starting to put my earphone back in my ear.

“What’s your name?” Letterman asked.

“Elizabeth,” I fibbed.

“Elizabeth?” he shook my hand and took a step closer. “That’s a real pretty name, Elizabeth.”

“Thank you.”

“You traveling alone tonight, Elizabeth?”

“Yep. Looks like it.”

“You gotta boyfriend?”

“Yep. He’s meeting me at the next stop.” I looked down at my phone and wondered which of my friends would answer a mayday text the fastest.

Letterman pressed himself, obscuring my phone’s screen with his stomach. “Well he shouldn’t let a pretty little thing like you travel alone.”

“Haha no he shouldn’t,” I responded, shaking my fist in the air. I looked around. My crowd of Purple Liners was noticeably inching away from Letterman and myself. Bastards, I thought.

“I gotta girlfriend,” Letterman announced.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” He looked across the platform. “BABY GIRL!” he yelled, “BABY GIRL! Commere. Commere!”

Baby Girl came over. Baby Girl did not look happy. She slammed a ring of keys into Letterman’s hand. “Take these,” she said harshly and stomped off. Letterman’s confusion over Baby Girl’s attitude gave me enough time to send my “CALL ME NOW THIS IS NOT A JOKE!” text. He then turned back to me and began talking about the Bears. Apparently they had lost that night. Or maybe they won. I honestly wasn’t paying attention.

Like a godsend, my phone suddenly blared a song from ‘Across the Universe’. “Opps,” I said, “I’ve got to get this.” I answered and immediately began telling my friend (who lives in Boston) about how I was just waiting for the train and that I would meet her at the next stop. Letterman continued to talk to me about the Bears and was absolutely oblivious to the phone at my ear. Luckily, a young man walked by reading Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress (one of his earlier ones that came out before The Da Vinci Code made him famous). Letterman snatched the book from the bewildered man’s hands. “I read this book,” he said. “This the sequel? Damn what was that book called? Damn that was a good book, whatn’it?” This momentary distraction gave me enough room to slip between Letterman and the wall he had me trapped against. I thanked my friend for the phone call and waited for the Purple Line to finally bloody arrive.

“Excuse me? Miss?”

I turned around. A woman very similar in appearance and dress to Professor Trelawney from ‘Harry Potter’ (wild curly gray hair, giant round glasses and patch-worked clothing) beamed at me. “What?” I said, having had enough Creatures of the El experiences for one night.

“Is that a dress you’re wearing or a skirt?”

I looked down. Beneath my yellow pea coat was the bottom of my purple and black zigzagged sweater dress. “It’s a dress,” I said, still wondering why on earth this woman needed to know.

“It’s very lovely,” she said. “Very unique. People should wear more stuff that is pretty and unique.” And with that, Professor Trelawney turned and walked away.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Twilight Zone

Skokie Theater's upcoming show is a dark comedy Christmas play set in England. Rehearsals have been going for two weeks and for about three weeks my supervisor has talked about getting the cast "traditional English treats" as a surprise. When I informed her that I make a damn good scone, she was ecstatic. She warned me that in the near future she would be asking me to bake scones for around forty people. (There are only nine people in the cast plus the director, stage manager and assistant stage manager. I am not sure where these other twenty-eight people came from.)

Sadly, my scone baking extravaganza never happened. Instead, I arrived at the theatre last week and found Nikki on the phone with a "traditional English bakery" she had discovered. She placed an order for two banana cream pies, one mincemeat pie, and a steak and ale pie (the Brits do love their pies). As she recited the theater's Visa Card number into the phone she said, "And I'll be sending my assistant down to pick all that up. Thank you!" She then turned to me, the assistant. She handed me a Post-It note with the bakery's address.

"This is in Skokie?" I asked, already dreading the gas I was going to use for my unpaid position.

"It's in Bridgeport," Nikki answered.

"Where's that?"

"Right near Andersonville."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I still had to drive without being paid, but at least Andersonville (where my Uptown writing group is located) was only six miles below Skokie. I went back to my cubicle, plugged the address into Google Maps and came up with a location on the south side of Chicago. I zoomed in -- the address was located in a neighborhood called Bridgeport.

"Um, Nikki," I said, walking to her desk, "are you sure this is the right place?" I showed her where the address was located. Bridgeport was a little over twenty miles south of Skokie.

"Do you not feel safe going there?" Nikki asked. The south side of Chicago is notorious for crime. "I don't want to send you anywhere that you won't feel comfortable."

('I will feel comfortable if someone gives me gas money,' I wanted to say.)

"No, I'm fine. I just wanted to check," I said hesitantly.

"Great! You should head there around noon. I told them you would pick up the food at one o'clock and the actors will go on break at two."

I left the theatre right at noon. I merged onto I-94 and within three miles encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic. As downtown Chicago inched its way past my car Nikki texted me: "Georgia, I think you already left? Let's talk gas mileage when you get back!" So happy was I that I was actually going to get gas money out of the forty mile trip that it took a moment before I realized it was nearly 12:30 and Nikki had just realized I was gone.

Almost exactly an hour after I left Skokie Theatre and with the city of Chicago filling my rear-view mirror, I finally pulled off the interstate. The distance-tracker on my GPS displayed there was still another mile and a half to go. Strangely, I noticed that further I drove from the interstate, the more dilapidated the buildings became. By the time the congratulatory 'You Made It!' checkered flag appeared on my GPS screen, I was beginning to think a joke had been played on Nikki. Run down homes lined the street, thick steel bars covered windows and doors, a strange man with coke-bottle glasses, a severe limp and metallic wig shuffled along the sidewalk and clusters of boys about my age with saggy pants and dark bandanas stared as I drove by. The most well maintained building was what looked like a Hindu temple. It sat directly across the street from what my GPS told me was Pleasant Bakery: the traditional English bakery. Unfortunately, Pleasant Bakery looked more like Piss-Poor Bakery with its cracked and falling down faded yellow letters and holes in its facade.

I parked in the projects behind the bakery and walked the half block to the front of the building. Like the surrounding tenements, Pleasant Bakery, too, had thick steel bars lining its windows and doors and a padlock chain for extra security. The windows were so clouded that I couldn't discern any sign of life inside. I stood outside the front door for a moment and looked around. I wondered seriously whether I would even find the door unlocked or not.

There is only one word to describe the inside of Pleasant Bakery: "charming." Upon entering the building, I did a double take. Where was the shack I had entered? Where was the dirt and the grime and the crumbling inside to match the rundown-warehouse-full-of-scatters exterior? Pleasant Bakery was nothing shy of a pleasant diner.

Let's start with the smell -- that place smelled AMAZING. The moment I walked through the door I was hit with a wave of savory meats, roasting vegetables, and all other fumes associated with a meat pie or beef stew. A group of college students sat in a corner, each marveling over what the other had ordered. I assume they were writing some sort of review on the bakery because they had each selected a very different entree from one another and were setting up mock studio shots for each dish.

The room itself was simple and classic. The walls were made of dark wood paneling and the floor a beige tile. All the seating was made of half-booth-half-chair and the whole interior had a very homey feel. A counter cordoned off a third of the room. Two women in business suits stood in front of the counter, intently discussing with the cashier what they should order. Behind the cashier was a flurry of activity: men unloaded sheets of pies from large furnace-like ovens; they sprinkled powder over baked goods; some beat dough, sliced meat and chopped vegetables; others carefully squeezed swirls of cream onto desserts.

After fifteen minutes of debate, the two business women finally decided on something to eat. I stepped up to the counter, gave the theater's name and was handed three medium-sized boxes. A cook in the back asked me where the theatre was located (it's not actually called Skokie Theatre). When I replied Skokie, three of the men hooted and exclaimed that that was a long way to drive. "You have no idea," I replied.

Exiting the bakery twilight zone, I looked around the street once more. I was not mistaken -- it was a rundown ghetto. Perhaps the owners of the bakery purposefully destroyed the outside of their building as a means to prevent theft (their food wasn't cheap after all so I'm sure there is some money in there). I envisioned the cashier and some of the cooks taking hammers to the exterior of the bakery. As I rounded the corner with my boxes I stopped short. Two guys in the baggy jeans and bandanas were circling my car, staring into my back and front seats. As I neared, one of them seemed to study my license plate. The sound of the car unlocking itself, however, jolted them both out of their trance. They looked at me, almost as if surprised the car actually belonged to someone. "Um...hi," I said. Opening the door and jumping inside.

The two guys watched as I pulled away. On my mile and a half journey back to the interstate I passed Shuffling Metallic Man, another eccentric looking man-woman with a teacup sized Chihuahua, and two Asian girls who may have been dressed up as Anime characters for Halloween or that was just how they looked. In Bridgeport it's hard to tell.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Much Ado About Writing

In my search to fill ghastly amounts of free time, I joined two writing groups in Chicagoland within my first week of residency: one just north of the city, right on the edge of Boystown (exactly what it sounds like), and the other in downtown Evanston. I joined the Boystown group (Writers Anonymous) through, but panicked when they couldn't seem to get their act together enough to schedule a meeting for that week. I swiftly RSVP'd to the last space open in the Evanston group (Scribes) only to learn the next morning that Writers Anonymous had finally settled on an official date. Scrambling for a social life, I decided to try out both groups.

Before I went to either group I knew I had an interesting case study on my hands. Writers Anon was meeting in an area of Chicago known for being eclectic, accepting, young, and hip. Evanston, on the other hand, could go one of two ways: rich retirees or Northwestern students. As my sister put it: one group will have a member who's working on a sci-fi screenplay, while writers from the other group probably publish nothing but academic articles and anthologies.

Writers Anon met in a fairly large coffee shop that was most likely once a studio apartment. The walls were made of cracked beige brick and the wooden floor had small holes like driftwood. A post on the Meetup page had said someone would try to secure tables in the back room. I ordered a chai tea and made my way to the bricked archway where I could see people sitting at a random assortment of tables and arm chairs. A petite woman with black hair and cat-like glasses turned in her chair as I cautiously made my way down the three steps. "Are you here for the Meetup group?" she asked. I answered 'yes' and the other three people at her table cleared a space for me to sit.

For the next hour and a half we simply sat there and wrote. There was some chatting every now and then and about ten more writers showed up. Ages ranged from early 20s all the way to late 50s. There were recent college graduates, a professor from Columbia (the country -- I made the mistake and asked about the Chicago college), and just regular people who were working random jobs just so they could support themselves and their writing. A guy next to me, Rick*, told me about a three day trip he and two of his friends were about to take to Charleston, SC. They were going to leave the next day and drive through the night, stay three days and then head back to Chicago. After learning where I was from Rick asked if I would recommend taking a side trip to Savannah during their excursion. Never have I had someone be so enthralled while I recommended things to do and see in Savannah's historic district.

At the end of the hour and a half we all went around and introduced ourselves and what we were writing/like to write. As I had suspected, the majority of the writers there were screenwriters. There were a handful of poets and one woman had just had a piece published in a collection of short stories. Her story was under the genre "steam punk romance", but was apparently lacking in "porny sex." Another guy was writing a screenplay about Apple computers going rogue and taking over the world. Needless to say, I liked this group.

The following night I ventured a lot closer to my home: the Barnes and Noble in downtown Evanston. The Scribes weren't as easy to find as Writers Anonymous. I stalked the coffee shop, eavesdropping on any laptop-bearing groups made of three or more people. Finally I pulled out my own laptop and looked at the profile pictures of the Scribes members. Having found a few distinguishable faces I set off to scour the store. Luckily I didn't have to search long before one of the faces came down the escalator. I asked if he was part of Scribes and he sent me to a corner upstairs where a sign had been posted, reserving three tables for the writing group. There were about fifteen people already situated around the table and right away I could tell that this would be very different from Writers Anonymous. The crowd was definitely a few generations ahead of mine and the men and women were very "put together" and I was even able to spot a few recognizable Talbots pieces. My "wealthy retiree" stereotype of Evanston was proving true, but there was an unexpected sprinkling of nerds who carried the aura of World of Warcraft about them.

I spied an empty corner seat near the window. The chair was flanked by two older women with short gray bobs. The woman on the left wore a light purple sweater set and I couldn't help thinking 'public school librarian' as I looked at her. The lady to my right had a muted neon green (oxymoron, I know, but it's the only way to describe the colour)shirt tucked into high waisted jeans and eyeglass holders strewn with colourful beads: the Artist.

As I unpacked my laptop The Librarian looked at me quizzically. I smiled back and she asked, "Are you at the right group?" The question kind of took me aback, but I finally responded, "This is the writing group, right? Scribes?"


"Yep. This is the right group." I sat down.

Librarian was still staring at me strangely. "So," she said, "did you just decide to take up writing? For fun or for a hobby?"

"Nope. It was my college major." I realized I was clearly the youngest person in the group, but I was confused as to why my presence seemed to be so offending to this woman.

"What do you like to write?" The Artist asked, much more warmly.

I told her I preferred plays and creative nonfiction. I began to ask what she liked to write, but then the face from the escalator called the meeting into session.

Scribes was simultaneously very much what I had expected and not at all what I had expected. Unlike Writers Anonymous, the members of Scribes read submissions from three group members each week and the group meetings were focused on feedback of the pieces. Having been in mourning for all my college writing workshops for nearly two years now, I was very excited at the prospect at having other writers read and critique my pieces once again. Scribes critiquing, however, was much more militaristic than what I had experience at my liberal arts college. Everyone had to format their piece a particular way (prose and poetry) with line numbers and specific margins. Although everyone had read each piece and written comments, only four people could speak about each work and they were restricted to only a few minutes before the iPod timer would blare an embarrassingly loud siren (embarrassing because there were still regular Barnes and Noble patrons around us trying to get work done and the tone sounded like a fire alarm).

One of the pieces being critiqued did take me by surprise. It was a fantasy-horror piece by one of the World of Warcraft-esque men entitled "The Toad Who Killed Frogs". There was a bit of confusion as he had posted Part I as a prelude to the Part II everyone was supposed to be critiquing, but that confused half of the group so some people had only read Part I and others only Part II. Obviously I did not read this piece, but some of the lines I caught were:

"Sauerkraut balls"
"Poked the woodle"
"Probing an orifice, one of his captive frogs..."

I was stunned that everyone kept a straight face. I began scribbling notes in my journal, hoping to somehow capture the absurdity of all these retired professionals having to critique a piece about what I assume is a sadistic serial killing toad.

The meeting ended with a critique on a poem that was submitted by The Librarian. I was amazed because no one seemed to know how to critique poetry. I don't mean this in a "you're not using the right technical term" sort of way. The group members were absolutely daunted by the poem and the notion that they now had to discuss it. One man even said, " was good? I mean, I didn't see anything to talk about because...well it's POETRY." I wanted to snatch the sheet of paper from someone's hand and say, "Give me a minute. I'LL critique it!" Really, Scribes? You can talk until the alarm sounds about frog orifices, but a simple poem is treated like a disease? Perhaps I should continue to join the group just so the few non-horror-fantasy have a chance of someone taking their craft seriously.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chicago Revue

Today marks my tenth day in Chicago/Evanston. Not gonna lie -- it has been an emotional roller-coaster. My apartment is huge, but consistently empty and in my first full week at Skokie Theatre I worked a whopping nine hours (and I mean "worked" in the loosest of terms). As someone who finds downtime to be a personal version of Hell I kept myself as busy as humanly possible: I got a temporary library card, passed out thirteen resumes, filled out seven applications, had one job interview, saw a play, volunteered at the Chicago Cultural Center, inquired about ushering at several downtown theaters, ventured into the city five times, went to a drag bingo charity event, joined three meet-up groups, and attempted to audit a class at Northwestern University. Despite how full that list seems to be, when I find myself alone in my apartment all I can worry over is, "Now what?"

Over the past week I struggled to find a purpose in my internship. I wasn't given any assignments and my most productive tasks were making one-hundred copies of a photo and Windex-ing a plastic box. I sat in on the production meeting of a show I'm supposed to be working on (premiering in mid-January), which coincidentally involves Gullah culture in its storyline. For those who don't know, the Barrier Islands of Georgia and South Carolina are STEEPED in Gullah-Geechee history. Islands very near my home still keep the traditions, culture, and language alive. Needless to say, I was ecstatic at the notion of researching such a field of interest and familiarity for me. For Skokie Theatre, however, Gullah culture could not be more foreign.

I first learned about this aspect of the upcoming show, "Black Pearl Sings", when my supervisor began listing things she would like me to research in the near future. "You can look at what it was like to be a woman in the 1930s, a woman in prison in the 1930s, and maybe gender differences of the time." I wrote all of this down. "I'll be looking up more on the songs of the era, Texas in the 1930s, and information on the Ghoul-la culture." I had never heard this word before so I leaned over to see how it was spelled.

"Oh! Gullah?" I asked excitedly.

"Gullah?" Nikki repeated. "Is that how you pronounce it?"

"Are you talking about the slave culture from the South?"

"Yes." She sounded completely baffled that I would know such a random piece of knowledge.

"Yeah. That's all over the islands where I'm from. The Gullah-Geechee culture? There's an island near mine where they even still speak the language."

"You've heard about this?"

"Of course. Gone to festivals, been to the island. It's a big thing down there."

Nikki was dumbfounded. "Wow. So do you think you could do some research on this, too??"

"Definitely," I said, already scribbling down the titles of some books I knew would be helpful. "Maybe I could even call some people who I --"

"Yeah, that's great, Georgia." Nikki was already turning towards her computer, tuning me out. "We can discuss that later."

The next few days at the theatre followed this pattern and I was typically dismissed after only three hours of "work." I began to worry that my decision to leave a paying job on Mackinac had been a mistake. However, I looked forward to the weekend when I would see one of the opening performances of Skokie Theater's new show and was to hear a talk-back after the show as well.

When I arrived at the theatre Sunday afternoon, I did my usual fifteen minute game of "Where's my supervisor?" Upon finding her, Nikki asked if I could record the talk-back after the show. Of course I could. It was the first meaningful task I had been given all week! A man named Stephen approached and began asking Nikki the logistics of the talk-back.(And just to bring everyone up to speed -- the show Skokie Theatre is producing at the moment is a brand new musical comedy revue of songs by Stephen Schwartz. For those of you who do not know Stephen Schwartz, he is the composer and lyricist of the musicals 'Wicked', 'Pippin', and 'Godspell' (among a plethora of others), the movie 'Enchanted', and has even contributed a few songs to 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and 'The Prince of Egypt'. Basically, a musical god who is on par with Stephen Sondheim ('West Side Story', 'Sweeney Todd', etc.))

I stood next to Nikki awkwardly as she continued to talk with this man. The more they talked about how long the talk-back would last the more I wondered absurdly, "Is this Stephen Schwartz?" I laughed because Number One: I would assume Nikki would introduce me to someone as influential to musical theatre as Stephen Schwartz; and Number Two: wouldn't I feel the tingling of some sort of holy presence if I were one foot away from such a musical god? I certainly felt something around him, but I chalked it up to the awkwardness of not being introduced to somebody when they come up to talk to your friend/acquaintance.

While in my seat waiting for the overture to begin I flipped through the program. My heart dropped as I found the "About the Writer" page. There was Stephen Schwartz. There was the man who was less than two feet away from me a mere five minutes ago. I quickly scanned the auditorium. My musical theatre-senses had been correct: I was in the same room as a walking legend.

My irritation at the missed introduction with Stephen Schwartz dissipated momentarily as the musical began. The songs were catchy and heartfelt and I found myself suppressing tears quite often (this could have also been because the musical was about leaving your friends and family behind...fuck you, Schwartz.).

Right before the last song, Nikki came to where I was sitting and asked if I could go into the lobby and make sure I knew how to work her tape recorder. The song was nearly over when I returned to the back of the house. I surveyed the faces of the audience to see if anyone had become as emotional as I felt during the performance. Thankfully there were a few tear-streaked faces. I jumped when my scanning suddenly landed on the man standing just to the side of Nikki. Stephen Schwartz. In the triangle the three of us formed I was now just inches from the man whose song I had been listening to on my way to the theatre that afternoon. I weighed the pros and cons of "losing my balance" just to nudge his arm; just to say, "I touched Stephen Schwartz!" Luckily, the show ended during this debate and Stephen and Nikki quickly moved forward as the audience began to stand in ovation.

The Musical Mastermind gave a short talk about the beginnings and transformation of the show, which had apparently been twenty-two years in the making (with a fifteen year gap, mind you). A few audience members asked questions and then Nikki announced that Stephen had spoken to the Chicago Dramatist Guild the previous night.

The Chicago Dramatist Guild is a group of playwrights (amateur and professional) currently based in Chicago. This was the event Nikki had originally invited me to and then inexplicably UNinvited me to. Me -- someone who Nikki is very aware is interested in playwriting. I drove five hours north to Atlanta one week just to sit in on a session the Atlanta Dramatist Guild meeting was having with the playwright Gary Garrison. At the end of the talk-back Nikki told me to transcribe everything I had recorded and come back to the theatre on Tuesday. She then walked off, chatting excitedly with a theatre student who had been emailing her recently. I think I'm going to see if the Goodman is looking for volunteers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another Suitcase in Another Hall

Well here we go again, folks. 'Lost in the Woods' has once again changed its theme and will now just focus on what is apparently a constantly changing life in my twenties. This seems to be a theme with everyone around my age now. Friends are moving to Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, going to grad school, working for bakeries, trying to find any entry-level job possible -- all transient and all just trying to figure out what to do post-undergrad. The general consensus over the past year has just been a resounding, "Where do we land?"

I moved to Chicago four days ago. I came here for a theatre internship that will hopefully be my "foot in the door" for whatever it is I want to do with my life. I found a nice duplex apartment in Evanston about three miles from the theatre where I will be working and am living with two other post-grad twentysomething girls. I'll admit that I am very much the type of person who takes transitions very rough, but after having adjusted to Mackinac so easily, I was ill prepared for the onslaught of emotions that took over the moment I boarded my last mainland bound ferry and have really yet to stop.

Already sad and nervous about having picked up my entire life again to move to a new place alone, I sought solace in my internship. It was going to be great. I was going to meet the other interns (hopefully people similar to myself in age and demeanor), learn about all the exciting stuff I was going to do, and hopefully make some friends. I arrived at Skokie Theatre* just before noon. The monotone secretary buzzed me inside and I entered an enormous, grand lobby. My spirits lifted a little as I thought, "This is a REAL theatre." I don't know what I was expecting, but I was already feeling pleasantly surprised.

The theatre office left a little to be desired for when compared to the lobby. Everyone was inside unstable looking cubicles and there wasn't the normal chatter I've been accustomed to in office rooms. The woman who was to be my supervisor, Nikki*, took me around the office, introducing me to everyone. After fifteen minutes of this she took me into the lobby and loosely went over the season line-up of shows before handing me two plays.

"You can take these home and read them if you'd like. Or a coffee shop maybe?"

I looked at her a moment, confused as to what exactly she was saying. "And come back?" I asked.

"You can just bring them back Wednesday." (It was only Monday and my first day off was already Tuesday.)

"Can I read them here?" I felt a slight anger rise in me. Here I was: sad, scared, and lonely. I had once again uprooted everything to move to a place where I knew almost no one and all for a half hour of introduction?

"Sure! If you'd like. We can discuss the plays when you're done. Come find me when you finish this one and we'll discuss it."

I read the play until about 2:15 p.m. I went and found Nikki. She took the script from me, asked if I liked it and then said I could go home...Let's hope my second day is more encouraging.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Angry August

At the beginning of the season I was told that August was the worst month for tourists on the island. Apparently they are angrier than tourists visiting within any of the other summer months. August being my birthday month I refused to believe this as true.

Well, folks, I am here to say that that statement was completely factual. I do not know what it is, but August tourists are angry, entitled, snippy, and just plain rude at times. I have reached the point where the bad guests have set me on such edge that even the nice ones who are just a teaspoon of annoying make me grind my teeth.

One example of the "August Tourist" would be Mr. 101. Mr. and Mrs. 101 stayed at The Orchid for about three nights. They were both very pleasant and amicable and Mr. 101 said he was sad to leave our hotel. I checked him out, made up a baggage tag for his luggage and handed him the claim stub telling him that our porter, John*, would meet them at the dock ten minutes prior to their ferry's departure. Mr. 101 thanked me and he and his wife left the hotel shortly thereafter.

John was our only porter that day, which was fine since we didn't have an exorbitant amount of check-ins and check-outs. Unfortunately for John, five of our check-outs had decided to take 11 a.m. boats, all from different boat lines and one party had ten pieces of luggage. John already had the majority of the luggage at each boatline by the time we were told about the ten-pieces room (from the third floor). John made the ten-piece his top priority and raced them down to the boatline, leaving another room's luggage strapped to his bike basket out front. I was standing at the front desk when Mr. 101 stormed in. He was no longer smiling.

"I would appreciate it if I didn't have to wait until the last SECOND for my bags to get on the boat."

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I believe John is on his way down with your bags right now."

"No he's not. They are right THERE," he snapped, jabbing his finger in the direction of John's bike. How was I supposed to know which luggage was his?

"Okay, I'm very sorry, sir. I'll let John know to meet you down there now."

"I want him there NOW. I do not appreciate waiting until the last minute."

I radioed John and, not knowing where Mr. 101 was in relation to John's radio, tried to warn him as professionally as possible that he was about to have a very livid visitor. John later described his interaction with Mr. 101:

Mr. 101 stormed at John the moment he arrived on the dock with the bags. "Next time I would appreciate not waiting until the last minute for my bags to arrive."

"I'm very sorry, sir. We always tell people to expect us about ten minutes before the boat departs."

"Well I wasn't told that and next time we'll just have to request that our bags be brought here TWENTY minutes before the boat departs."

"Sir, your bags are here within the ten minute time frame and, as you can see, your boat hasn't even arrived yet."

"Next time we'll just ask that our bags be brought down here twenty minutes before the boat departs."

"Okay, sir. Whatever you might want to work out the next time with the front desk."

The next irate guest came a mere week after Mr. 101. John radioed that the Dinga party had just arrived at the Star Line dock. I went to the front desk and pulled out the Dingas' registration card and waited for them to arrive. (Our manager likes for us to greet guests by saying, "Hi! ?" because it shows we're "on top of things.") A middle-aged couple walked in holding a few small bags. "Hi," I said, "how are you two?" They made no verbal reply, but the husband nodded his head. "Dinga?" I asked. No reply. The woman bent down to get something out of her bag. "Dinga?" I said again. The woman bolted upright and gave me a look as though I had just uttered a racial slur. "Are you the Dingas?" I asked more hesitantly.

"I didn't say anything to you," the woman snapped. "I didn't say a single word toyou since we walked through that door."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, a bit taken aback at how angry the woman with the fake blond hair sounded. "Are you not the Dingas?"

"No. We're not. We're the Kolariks." (That's right, no asterisk with time. This is their REAL name. Karma, Pat and Greg Kolarik of Denmark, Wisconsin. Karma.)

"Oh, okay." I scrambled to pull their registration card out, hoping to defuse the situation. A man came around the corner and asked when the restaurant opened for dinner. I told him 5pm. He asked if I could make him a dinner reservation for five people at 6pm. I said 'yes' thinking he would then wait for me to finish with the Kolariks, but instead he started to walk out the door. I called for him to stop and poked my head into the office to ask Sandy to help him. I then focused all of my attention back on the Kolariks.

Pat seemed very offended by everything I asked, which consisted of, "We have you staying for two nights, is that correct? And there are two of you in the room? Can you just verify this contact information and sign here, please?" As they looked over their contact info another party arrived wanting to check in (the real Dingas!). I asked the Kolariks for a credit card to open a house account and as I went into the office to swipe the card I asked Mickey to check in the real Dingas.

Now, I will admit, this was very hectic. Sandy was at the right side of the front desk still talking to the party of five about dinner; Mickey was in the middle checking in the Dingas; I was at the left giving the rest of the spiel to the Kolariks. It was controlled choas. We were each completely focused on the specific people we were talking to, making direct eye-contact and everything so that the guests were sure to understand everything we were saying.

I started to tell Pat and Greg about the complimentary breakfast we had available in the morning when Pat, in the middle of my sentence, snipped to her husband, "It would be nice if they took people just one at a time." Despite the fact that Pat the Pissed looked so angry that tears seemed to be welling in her eyes (or maybe that was a side effect from all the bleach she must use to create her neon coloured hair), I was pretty fed up with her blatantly rude attitude. It was childish, but I rushed through the rest of my spiel at a rate I knew they couldn't understand. I then asked if our porters had met them at the dock.

"No one met us," Mrs. Kolarik nearly shouted, her hair remaining rigid as her head snapped back like an angry chicken.

"Did you not check any luggage?" I asked. The bags they were carrying were equivalent to the size of plastic grocery bags.

"We. WANTED. To. Carry. OUR. OWN. BAGS." Pat the Pissed was very close to hysterics now.

"Okay," I said, swiftly losing my patience. "This is going to be fun." I grabbed their key from under the desk. "Let me show to you your room!" (Had my manager heard my overtly sarcastic tone she probably would have given the wretchedly bleached woman a free room.) As I led the Kolariks up the stairs I asked where they were visiting from. No answer. As we reached the second floor I toyed with the idea of "accidentally" leading them to the thirdfloor (we don't have an elevator and they were not exactly at the peak of physical fitness) if they continued with the silent treatment. The husband finally responded, "Greenbay, Wisconsin." No other words were spoken between us because my professional filter system had completely disappeared and I'm sure Pat the Pissed would have had a conniption had I asked her the only other question I could think of: "Did you let someone to that to your hair or did you do it yourself?" I opened their room, gave the husband the key, and left. As I raced away from the tension filled room I secretly wished a sudden heat wave would hit the island. The Kolariks' room did not have air conditioning.

Thankfully, Pat the Pissed and I never crossed such intimate paths during the rest of her stay. My office manager and I hypothesized what might have set her in such a foul mood the moment she arrived on the island. The top five reasons were:

1. She just found out her husband is cheating on her.
2. Mr. Kolarik had forgotten they had come to Mackinac Island for their anniversary.
3. She just learned that Mr. Kolarik fathered an illegitimate child.
4. Her scalp burned from the bleach.
5. She was jealous that my blond hair is 100% natural.

I was off the day Pat and Greg checked out. My coworkers recounted the wonderful process of saying goodbye to the Kolariks:

At The Orchid, we require all of our rooms to be prepaid. However, if someone wants to change their method of payment (for example, put it on a different card or pay with cash) then we simply refund to the original card during checkout and use whatever they want instead. Pat wanted to use a $500 American Express giftcard. She explained this to Gretel and stated, "I want to speak to the person who will be running this card. I do not want them to run this card BEFORE I speak to them." Jenny, our manager, was standing behind the glass pane separating the front desk from the back office, waiting to swipe this card. Gretel took a step back to repeat these instructions to Jenny.

"Do not charge that card!" Pat yelped. "Do you hear me, young lady? Are you LISTENING to me? I want to talk to her before you swipe that card!"

Gretel stood there for a moment, shell shocked by the abrasiveness of this woman who she had never even met until now. "Yes, ma'am. I understood you." She took another step back to talk to Jenny.

"Do NOT swipe that CARD. Are. You. LISTENING. To. Me?"

Jenny poked her head around the corner. "Ma'am, I heard you. I am not going to swipe your card. If you will just give me one moment, please."

John was standing next to the front desk. "Is there something the matter, ma'am?" he asked.

"It's nothing to do with you," Pat replied, "it's THEM." She made a grand gesture with her hands, indicating the front desk. "THEY just don't listen. They are like robots. Robots! YOU have been great. It's all of THEM I have a problem with." (Let me remind you that the only interaction she had had with the front desk during her entire two-night stay was at check-in with me and now check-out with Gretel. I also later learned that she had already inquired from our other porter, "Who can I speak to about the front desk?" to which he replied, "Uhh...the front desk?")

Jenny emerged from the office and asked the badly-bleached woman what she needed. Pat said that she would like to talk to Jenny about some "complaints." Jenny took her into the owner's office where Pat ranted and raved about us "robots." I am not sure why she had a personal vandetta against us from the moment I said, "Dinga?" but apparently the straw that broke the flourescent coloured camel's back was when Pat witnessed Summer standing on the steps of The Orchid, looking for a taxi. As Summer stood there, completely immersed in her taxi-searching world, an older woman was coming up the stairs. Summer did not register the woman and remained fixed in her place, forcing the older woman to move around her. I am sure that had Summer seen the woman she would have moved, but this instance (as well as whatever else was eating at Pat the Pissed) is what finally sent Mrs. Kolarik over the edge.

Amazingly, Pat did not demand a free room or any type of compensation. She simply wanted to let Jenny know how horrible we all had been. I am also surprised she has yet to write about this experience on Trip Advisor. Since her departure I sporadically look at our page of reviews and scan for the word "robots."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"911, What's Your Location?"

Yesterday my office manager received a call from a frantic guest saying that her nephew had been hurt in a biking accident. She asked to be connected to her mother's room and for Jenny to contact the medical center. My office manager immediately jumped into action, calling the center and getting the name and number of the doctor on-call. Of course, this being Mackinac Island, she had to leave a voicemail. Soon afterwards the grandmother of the boy came rushing up to the front desk, also asking where the medical center was located. We explained that there wasn't actually a doctor at the medical center and asked that she wait until we heard back. By this point, the aunt and nephew were on their way back to the hotel. We had a wheel chair waiting and had already alerted our night manager, who is also the assistant fire chief on the island.

The emergency? A deep cut on the knee. Not exactly a cause to be all up in arms and radioing 911, but I think emergency officials see so little action here that a hangnail could bring the entire police force. There was indeed a lot of blood, however, and the poor kid was crying like his leg would never be the same. The owner of the hotel, Mrs. Kate*, grabbed some washcloths from the maid closet and pressed it to the sobbing boy's knee. As the aunt and grandmother wiped away the blood, Mrs. Kate came into the office and grabbed a roll of scotch-tape. My coworker, Gretel*, and I questioned whether it was her plan to tape the hand towels to the boy's leg. Low and behold it was.

As far as emergencies go, this wasn't exactly one where time was of the essence. I think the best parts were watching Mrs. Kate scotch-tape the cloths to the boy's leg and later hearing that some of the servers had told my roommate, the infamous Summer, that the boy had lost his pinky. And better yet -- she believed them.

This incident brings me to another emergency that befell The Orchid nearly a month and a half ago. Summer and I were working the night shift together when we received a phone call from the dining room. Not wanting Summer to strain herself, I answered the phone for perhaps the twentieth time that night. It was the hostess, Krissy*, telling me to call 911 because a woman had fallen outside of the restaurant.

"911?" I repeated, a bit shocked at the request.
"That's what her daughter said."
"Did she break something?"
"I don't know. Her daughter said she just fell outside the door and told us to call 911."
"Um okay."

Summer looked at me as I hung-up. "What's up?" she asked.

"Krissy said someone fell outside the dining room and her daughter wants us to call 911."
"She fell?"
"I guess so. Do I really call 911 for that? That feels a bit extreme if she just tripped."
"If that's what the daughter wants, though."

I stared at the phone for a moment. I had never called 911 before and still had the childhood notion that 911 was only for life and death situations and calling for anything else was akiillegal. Someone tripping didn't feel like an actual emergency.

"911, what's your location?"
"Oh, I'm at The Orchid Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan and apparently someone fell outside our restaurant?"
"Yes, ma'am. We have already been altered to the situation and have an emergency vehicle on the way."
"Oh." I should have known that our night manager would have radioed the incident in already.
"Do you know what happened, ma'am?"
"I just know that she fell."
"Do you know how old the woman is?"
"I actually can't see her. The dining room called me and just said that a woman fell and that I needed to call 911. I can't see where any of this is happening. The woman has a daughter so I'm guessing she's middle aged maybe? 30 to 60?"
"Okay, ma'am, thank you. The ambulance should be there shortly."

The phone barely touched the receiver before Krissy came tearing down the hallway. She threw herself onto the front desk. "She's not breathing!" she exclaimed.

"She's not breathing!"
"I thought she just fell!"
"She collapsed outside the door and now she's not breathing. Tom's performing CPR."
"Holy shit. The ambulance is on its way. Tom had already radioed it in."
"How old is the woman?"
"I don't know. Forties maybe?"
Krissy ran back down the hall. I called 911 again.

"911, what's your location?"
"Hi, it's The Orchid again on Mackinac Island."
"Yes, ma'am."
"The woman's not breathing."
"Okay, ma'am, the emergency vehicle is on the way." The medical center is less than a mile away from The Orchid. I wanted to ask how it could possibly be taking this long even at a normal driving speed.
"And apparently the woman looks about in her forties."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"I didn't know if you still needed that."
"I will let the respondents know, thank you."
"Okay. Um...bye."

Summer and I sat in stunned silence. "I thought she just tripped," I said, feeling slightly guilty for not having taken the situation more seriously to begin with. "They didn't make it sound that bad," Summer confirmed. We went into the lobby that looked onto the pathway to the dining room. From the panoramic windows we could see Tom furiously performing chest pumps, calling out instructions to Krissy. We couldn't see the woman. To the side of the porch I noticed a girl about my age standing off to the side, sobbing hysterically into a cellphone. It took me a few moments, but I finally recognized her as the daughter of a mother-daughter couple I had given a hotel tour to the previous afternoon. She and her mother were taking a girls-only vacation.

Summer and I watched the scene unfold until the ambulance arrived. Tom met the paramedics and rushed the gurney down the pathway. One of the responders took the daughter up the road that led to the medical center. The office phone rang and I dashed to answer it. It was a man inquiring about room rates. I felt oddly disrespectful talking so casually about our accomodations after having watched such a tragic scene.

A half hour later our dining room manager, who is also Tom's mother, walked into the office. She asked if we had heard about all the excitement. Summer and I said that we had and asked if she knew the status of the woman. She replied, "I don't know, but the fact that Tom went over in the boat to St. Ignace with them tells us she's probably going to be okay."

"Why?" I asked.
"Because as morbid as it sounds, Tom wouldn't ride over to St. Ignace with a dead body."

Three hours later, Tom returned to the office. "She's not deadsies anymore," he said. "She was deader-than-dead for a while, but not anymore. It's good when they're not deadsies." Good to know we're in such sympathetic hands.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Baby, It's Hot in Here

Sticking with the theme of the heatwave striking the upper Midwest this week, let's talk about air conditioning. Many places in the north do not have air conditioning, which is understandable given they only really need it two weeks out of the year. The Orchid finally installed AC this summer, but only in certain rooms that need it most (i.e. hit with direct sunlight, don't receive much of a lake breeze, etc). Unfortunately, this does come as a bit of a shocker to many of our guests (for example, the woman yesterday who suddenly snipped, "That's unacceptable!" when she learned her room did not have AC). And now, for the tale of the women who needed ice buckets dumped over their heads (only as a comfort to them, of course).

Last week, Mickey, our one and only male desk clerk, was working the midnight shift, while I did the 10pm shift. The midnight person always gets a half hour break and Mickey (who is a wonderful person for volunteering to take ALL of the midnight shifts) typically takes this sometime between 9 and 10pm because things have supposedly slowed down by then. At 9:30 Mickey went on his break and I started working on the guest list for the next day. The door shut behind Mickey and the phone rang. It was the guest in room 320.

“Georgia,” she said, “I am not one to complain, but I...well I just gotta say that I am disgusted. DI-sgusted with our room.”

“Oh?” This is something I certainly never expected to hear from a guest given the insane attention to cleanliness the owner and housekeeping puts into the hotel.

“Yes. Our bathroom is filthy. FILTHY. It smells musty, it’s hot and muggy, there is mold in the tiles. I mean, I don’t mean to complain, but we are just disgusted. DI-sgusted. I mean, I was a travel agent and I would never recommend someone to come here. We are just disgusted!”

“I am so sorry, ma’am.”

“I mean, I have stayed in some of the best hotels and this one...well this is just not good. It’s filthy! We’re just...we’re disgusted, Georgia.”

At this point I want to just say, “Yeah, I get it. DI-sgusted.”

“We were wondering,” Never Complains began (I already knew what was coming by the tone of her voice), “if you might have any suites available for a complimentary upgrade because we just feel that we cannot stay in this room any longer. I mean, we have children! This is unsanitary.”

I pulled up the room list on the computer. Never Complains was traveling with the guests in 319. They would need a room that could accommodate all four people. Unfortunately for them, they were staying for two more nights, which greatly limited what might be available.

“Well, ma’am,” I said, “it looks like the only suite we have available for the next two nights is our Sunset Suite, but it only has a king bed so it could not accommodate all four of you.”

“What’s that suite like?”

“It has a king bed, a sitting area and a fourteen-window panoramic view overlooking the lake.”

“It just has the one bed?”


“Well that wouldn’t fit all four of us,” she snapped.

“Yes, ma’am. I know.”

“Well, Georgia, we are just disgusted by our room. I mean, we’re paying nearly $500 a night and it's hot. You're using plastic shower liners which is a breeding ground for germs and the rubber bathmats are - we just can't use them. They are a complete health code violation. We are just disgusted. DI –”

“Ma’am, I’m going to give my manager a call and see what we can do about this and then I’ll call you back. Okay?”

“Oh. Okay. Thank you.”

I hung up and called our night manger, Paul. Paul told me what I already knew – all we can do is move the guests to other rooms with two queen beds. Basically, rooms exactly like their current ones. I called 320 and explained the situation. “I could show you some of the rooms we have available if you would like,” I offered. I heard Never Complains whisper to who I presumed was the mother in 319 (the two rooms were mother and daughter pairs), “They don’t have any suites.” I waited while they continued to talk in hushed tones. Finally I repeated myself, “I could show you some of the rooms we have available.”

“Are they nice rooms?” Never Complains asked. “Are the bathrooms better than this one? I mean, this one is just filthy and disgusting! We cannot stay in here.”

“How about I come up and show you some of the rooms?”

“I don’t know if it would be worth it,” Never Complains said to 319. “Where are they?” she said back into the phone.

“Well, two of them are right next to you.”

“I just don’t know. There’s no suite you can upgrade us to?”

“No, ma’am, I’m sorry. There’s just that Sunset Suite that cannot accommodate all of you.”

“Oh...well I guess we’ll look at some of the rooms then.”

I called Paul so he could watch the desk while I went up to deal with the Problem Sisters. Upon entering Room 320 I was immediately shown the bathroom. “I’m a nurse,” 319 immediately began (she was less boisterous than the woman who had called the front desk so I knew she wasn’t Never Complains), “and this whole place is really a health hazard.”

“Can’t you smell the must?” Never Complains asked. I sniffed and looked around blankly. “Well we opened the windows so that aired it out,” she explained.

“The plastic shower liner is really awful,” The Nurse said, bringing my attention back to the bio-hazard zone. “And rubber bath mats? That’s what traps in the smell and dirt and germs. I’m here with my daughter and I don’t find this safe for children.”

“I’m really sorry, ma’am.”

“Do you see the mold?”

I did not, but I suppose that wasn’t actually the point as The Nurse then directed my attention back to the bathmat instead. I looked around the room as Never Complains and The Nurse continued to talk about the plethora of health code violations within the bathroom. A curious thing stood out – both women were traveling with their young daughters (10 and 14), yet there was nothing to signify a teenager was sleeping in the room. Only items obviously belonging to the two women were strewn about the place. At The Orchid (and pretty much all hotels) there is a policy that anyone under 18 must be in a room with at least one adult. Before I had gone up to show the women the rooms, I had taken a look at their registration cards so I would know their names. Each registration card showed one daughter and one mother per room (and this was written at check-in in each mother’s handwriting). I decided not to address the discrepancy.

“I mean, do you even clean in here?” Never Complains demanded. I turned back to her and the toxic bathroom. “It’s just filthy! That bathmat is disgusting. I can hardly breathe because of the musty smell! I feel like I might get sick.”

“Or our daughters,” The Nurse added.

“You should really keep this place cleaner,” Never Complains continued. “I have stayed in some of the best hotels in the world: the Ritz Carlton, Sheraton, The GRAND – this was supposed to be on of the best, too, and I hate to say it, but I would give this hotel a 6. Maybe.”

“I am very sorry.”

“I don’t mean to complain, but we were really expecting something different here. Something MUCH nicer. This place is FILTHY. You are breaking so many health code violations in here. And the price is outRAGEOUS for how dirty it is. I mean, you have really done an awful job in here.”

By this point I was a bit tired of the “you” accusations. “Ma’am, I am really sorry that you two are so unhappy, but I am not housekeeping. I work the front desk. I have nothing to do with how the rooms are cleaned.”

“I know, I know. I’m not blaming you. It’s just, we were expecting something SO much better.”

“And the air conditioning,” The Nurse suddenly chimed.

“Yeah, we were not told that this room did not have air conditioning.” There was new vehemence to Never Complains’s voice.

“No?” I said, knowing full well we do not tell people which rooms have AC and which do not unless they ask. We’re not trying to hide anything, but there’s only so much you can describe to people while trying to sell a room and you don’t want to overload them.

“Yeah,” Never Complains continued, “if we had known there wouldn’t be air conditioning then we wouldn’t have come.”

“I’m really sorry. Normally we tell people if they ask.” Small white lie...

“Who would’ve thought you WOULDN’T have air conditioning?!”

“It is upper Michigan. We don’t need it much, especially at night.”

“Well you should make it more clear when you book a room. The heat is really unbearable. The person who booked our reservation told us nothing about there not being AC.”

“Do you want me to show you those rooms now?”

“Do they have AC?”

“Only one of them does. It’s one on the first floor and has two queen beds.”

Never Complains and The Nurse looked at each other. “It wouldn’t hurt to look,” The Nurse suggested.

I took them down to the first floor. Never Complains continued to talk of the stifling heat and mentioned that this was even more of a discomfort to her because she was currently going through menopause. It took every bit of self-restraint I had not to turn around and say, “Shocker.” I showed the ladies Room 109, which has two queen beds like Rooms 320 and 319, but also the added perks of AC and a balcony. The moment the women walked into the room they began oo-ing and awing over how much nicer the room was compared to their own.

“Look at this bathroom!” The Nurse exclaimed. “It’s so much cleaner than the one in our room.”

“It’s so much bigger, too!” Never Complains said. She turned to me. “And this room has AC?” I pointed to the AC unit near the ceiling. “Is it on?”

“No. We leave them off when the room’s unoccupied to conserve energy.”

“How do you turn it on?”

I pushed the button of the wall-mounted remote next to her head. Instantly, the unit started up. “Ugh, feel that air,” Never Complains moaned, opening her arms.

“This room is a lot cleaner than ours,” The Nurse stated.

“How much is it?” Never Complains asked.

“$490 per night.”

“What?! That’s so much more expensive than our room!”

“I believe you’re paying $435.”

“Why is it so much more?” The Nurse asked.

“The balcony,” I said, pointing across the room.

“And I bet that doesn’t include tax, right?” Never Complains asked, taking another jaunt into the enormous immaculate bathroom.

“It’s an extra 16% taxes and fees.”

“Oh my god! That is ridiculous! You Mackinac people charge exorbitant prices! Other people can’t afford that kind of stuff. How can you people charge so much?!”

It was now 9:55pm. I was tired, ready to go home, and ready for Never Complains to stop using “you” all the time. “I’m not from Mackinac,” I said, “I’m from Georgia. This is just a summer thing.”

“I know, sweetie, I know. I’m not blaming you. It’s just ridiculous. We come here for a nice girls weekend and it’s just become such a mess.”

“This room is a lot nicer than ours,” The Nurse repeated. “Do you have two of these available?”

“This is our only one.”

“So we’d ALL have to sleep in here?” Never Complains said, terror in her voice.

“We can bring a rollaway in here so that way it’s three beds. This room can accomodate up to five people.”

“Well then we better get something for this.” I looked at Never Complains quizically. “You’re not expecting us to move from our two rooms into this one and not be compensated for it, are you?”

“Unfortunately that’s not something I can authorize,” I replied. I could see where she was coming from, but there was absolutely nothing I could do except move them and make them happy right then and there. “I can talk it over with my manager and see what she says, but I can’t predict what she might say. I can tell you that they really want to keep guests happy.” (That was my professional way of saying, “You’ll probably get something out of this, but I can't fathom what.”)

“So you want us to move from our two rooms to this one, which is more expensive, without any sort of guarantee that we won’t have to pay the difference?”

“I really wish I could, but I just don’t have the authority to do that. All I can do is move you and talk about it with my manager. Like I said, though, they like to keep their guests happy.”

“But you can’t guarantee what they’ll do for us.”

“No because I would hate to tell you one thing and then have the manager say something totally different. I can move you now if you’d like or you can wait until the morning when the owner gets in and talk to her about it.”

The Nurse and Never Complains looked at each other. “Let’s go upstairs and talk it over with the girls,” The Nurse suggested. They left, saying they would call the front desk when they had made their decision.

I came back to the front desk just as Mickey returned from his break. I updated him on what was going on, which seemed to take an age as the phones continued to ring off the hook and guests kept coming to the desk with random requests/questions. As I finished telling Mickey about the possible room move for 319 and 320, the caller ID displayed that 320 was calling.

“Hi, Georgia.” It was the exasperated voice of Never Complains. “We’re still very torn about the situation. We just feel that this room is very unsafe and I feel as though if I stay in here any longer I may have to use my EpiPen on myself. (To this I wanted to scoff, “Of course you have an EpiPen! How could I not see that coming?”) Are you sure there are no other rooms available?”

“There is another deluxe waterfront room with a single king bed I could show you," I said. I hadn't shown it before because it only had the one bed. "It has air conditioning,” I added, knowing what was really important to these ladies. They discussed the extra room and then asked that I show it to them. Before I hung-up, they asked for four bed sheets to cover the chairs in their room because they were deemed too moldy and “unhealthy.”

Personally, the room we had open, Room 217, is my least favourite room in the hotel. I find it to be the only room with dull colours and it has a slightly obstructed view overlooking the lake. However, the moment Never Complains and The Nurse saw the AC unit they began oo-ing and awing over the cleanliness of the room and the enormity of the bathroom.

“Two of you could move into this room and two into the one on the first floor,” I explained. “They’re not next to each other like your rooms now, but they’re the only two we have left with air conditioning and this way you wouldn’t all have to go into one room.”

“Being next to each other was kind of the point,” The Nurse said, looking at Never Complains. “This was supposed to be a girls weekend and it’s nice to be right next to each other.”

“I don’t want to be so separated,” Never Complains added. “And you don’t have any suites?”

“No. Just that Sunset one.” I could tell that the true concern was being separated by an entire floor from their daughters. “It is a very safe hotel," I assured them. "We have nighttime security and since it’s a small hotel we recognize who is a guest and who is not.”

Never Complains raised her eyebrows at me. “I question the security of a hotel that lets a 10 year old and a 14 year old stay in the same room together. That’s not even legal.”

“That’s not what your registration cards say, which you filled out at check-in.” I replied, a little fed up with Never Complains's attitude. “I wasn’t going to mention that to my manager given the circumstance.”

Never Complains made no reply. She turned to The Nurse. “What do you want to do?” she asked.

“I really hate for us to be separated.”

“True. I just don’t know if I can stay in that room.”

“Maybe we should talk it over with the girls.”

“Is there a bellman to help us with our luggage?” Never Complains asked.

“Our porter has already gone home,” I replied, “but Mickey and I can certainly help you move your luggage. You would just need to make the decision while we’re both still here because we cannot leave the desk unattended.”

“Oh,” The Nurse said, “what time are you here until?”


She looked at her watch. “It’s 10:15.”


“We’ll go upstairs and let you know in 10 minutes,” Never Complains said, walking out the door.

Back at the front desk, Mickey and I continued to deal with difficult guests, namely people who would order room service and then suddenly disappear. Finally, Never Complains and The Nurse graced us with a phone call. Surprise, surprise – they decided to go for the two air conditioned rooms. Mickey ran up to help the Problem Sisters with their luggage, while I dealt with the overly complicated paperwork that comes with room moves at The Orchid. Poor Mickey looked almost comically small under the massive bags of Never Complains (who was obviously moving to the room with the balcony and two queen beds). I finally clocked out at 10:47 p.m...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A lot of couples stay at The Orchid for their honeymoons, weddings, and anniversaries. Last week, a family was traveling around as some sort of big roadtrip for the parents' anniversary. The kids were grown and in their 40s and had apparently been going all out to make this trip as spectacular as possible for their parents. The mother told me how, at every rest stop, anytime she and her husband would both leave the car, when they returned there would be presents on their seats. What nice kids!

Upon hearing this, I was not surprised when the son came to the front desk one night and asked if I could leave a special present in his parents' room after turn-down service. Of course I agreed and the man lifted up a sack of gifts. Inside was a photo album, decorative plates for the album, sparkling grape juice, champagne flutes, napkins, and a tube of red cloth. He laid all the items out and asked if I could spread the gifts over two nights -- photo album stuff one night and sparkling grape juice and flutes the next night. Then he opened the tube of what was not red cloth, but rose petals. I was to sprinkle these on the bed each night, too.

Now, I will agree that this is a very sweet idea. Roses always bring a nice romantic touch to any occasion whether it's the whole flower or just the petals. However, the thought of sprinkling rose petals on my parents' bed would THOROUGHLY creep me out and having to sprinkle them on someone else's parents' bed...well that could just get a bit awkward.

However, I was more than happy to oblige this man. That night I went up to the room and neatly laid out the photo album and decorative inserts. I was a bit nervous because I kept thinking, "What if the parents come in and I'm just standing in their room?? I'm going to look like such a creeper!" Then, to raise my blood pressure even more, it was time to sprinkle the petals. I grabbed a handful and threw them onto the bed. Just my luck, the stupid things landed in a clump so I had to, instead, place each one individually. And then someone knocked on the door.

Without moving I said, "Come in?" I could have not looked more awkward being bent far over the bed, hand in mid-petal placement. Thankfully, Susie, a housekeeper, opened the door. She stared at me. "I know this looks super creepy," I said, "but I swear I was asked to do this." Susie gave me one of those, "You're driving me to drink" faces. She continued to look from me to the petals on the bed until I finally said, "Their son asked me to!" Susie pursed her lips, raised, an eyebrow and said, "Mmhm," before closing the door. The next night I placed the grape juice bottle and glasses on the bed, scattered the clump of petals across the bed and ran.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

76 Days Left of Summer

Dahlia has been gone for over a month now and there are those of us who are still unsure whether her replacement is better or worse. I am personally still on the fence about this as well, both from a roommate and coworker standpoint.

Whereas Dahlia was 24 going on 80, my new roommate, Summer, is 20 going on 12. The girl goes to one of the top five private liberal arts colleges in the nation and yet I feel as though I am taking care of a child. Nevermind that in the apartment she is under the philosophy that "what is theirs is mine" (and this does not exclude stuff I have in my dresser drawer) and I have never picked up so much after someone in my life, but at work she is just plain loud and self-serving. I have worked with her for three hours tonight and already I am thirsting for some form of alcohol.

To begin with, Summer does not pick up phones until the third ring (basically when another coworker is having a phone sit-down protest) or unless she is told. She does not get up to speak to a guest except when the phone is ringing. She also does not get up to help a guest unless our office manager has just delegated a project. Basically, Summer seems to be "working the system" to really do as little work as possible. For example, a week ago, while training Summer on the night shift, I picked up phone call after phone call while Summer sat there sealing envelopes. Jenny, the office manager, came over at one point and asked if anyone had counted the cash drawer yet. The phone rang and Summer picked it up before the first ring was through, ergo I had to count the drawer.

Tonight, a couple came up to the desk and asked where was the best place to get fish and chips. I told them the place that had always been recommended to me and then - out of nowhere - a very dominant voice chirped up beside me recommending other places...if you wanted to talk to the guest then whyyyyy didn't you get up yourself??

I realize that this is coming off as very "rant-ish", but this is the release of one month and one day of this type of behavior. Last week, both Summer and I were working and we were given a message to give to one of the porters. The porter came in while I happened to be at the desk so I told him something about a guest's baggage and then began to point to the message on the front desk. I opened my mouth to explain the message in further detail and Summer slid herself up under my arm, sidling me out of the way so that she could give him the message.

A guest lost a ring in our dining room recently. When a hostess brought it into the office, Summer was on the phone (I had been out of the office when the phone rang). The hostess pointed to the notepad beside Summer, which had a name and number of the woman who lost the ring. Since Summer was in the middle of taking a reservation I reached for the pad to call the lady. Summer stopped me and whispered, "I'll do it." I noted that she was busy, whereas I was doing nothing and could easily make the phone call, but Summer persisted, "I'll do it." I can only assume she wanted to make sure the hostess who found the ring got ample credit for it.

Summer also has a way of making sure everyone knows about her. As front desk clerks we are often asked, "Where are you from?" and "How did you end up here?" These questions can be answered in simple one to two sentence descriptions. Often, Summer will take guests on a room-tour and she will come back telling them how she chose this job over a higher paying internship in Boston because she had already committed to this job and that would have been a "mean thing to do." She has also told guests that she leaves on September 4th to go back to finish her last year of college, that I leave October 23rd, where all the employees live on the island, what type of meals we eat here, that she sometimes leaves work at 10pm and I leave at midnight and we both walk home alone, that we are roommates, and that she and her boyfriend stayed in room 212 and absolutely loved it. I believe the acronym "TMI" is lost on Summer. 'How does she work these bits of exposition into her conversations with guests?' you ask. Here is an example that occurred an hour ago:

A guest came down to drop their key off at the front desk.
Summer: "How do you like the room?"
Guest: "Oh we LOVE the room. It is just GORgeous!"
Summer: "Isn't it? I love leading guests up to our suites because I love the looks on their faces when they first see it. I do it just for that. I love all of our rooms, but the suites are just magnificent."

Then she began talking about the wallpaper and view from the room. Just take their key, say, "Have a nice evening!" and be done with it! Why all the "I" statements?

I know this post was not entirely hotel related (I'll have one of those in the next day or two), but I hope those few stories redeem me for going on a slight Summer-tirade. As you can hopefully see, it is a lot of "me, me, me." This does not even include the countless times when all the front desk clerks work together to finish some big task (like the mailing of 750 newsletters for the arts council) and Summer makes SURE that the office manager knows that SHE printed out all the labels and that one particular stack was all her doing.

And the one thing that makes this all even worse? Summer is unfortunately and dreadfully and very very nice person. And thus, my luck with roommates-who-are-irksome-but-too-nice-to-be-a-bitch-to continues.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Booty Bride

Yesterday, a blond woman came into the hotel. I came up to the counter and she told me that she was waiting for a couple. We chatted about the drastic change in weather, which had gone from cold, windy and rainy to sunny and mild in the span of thirty minutes (typical Michigan). Just then a photographer came down the stairs, his camera clicking constantly and pointed up the stairs. He then asked his subject to pose on the stairs. My curiosity was piqued since this man was obviously a professional photographer. I leaned over the counter and standing at the bottom of the stairs was a bride!

Being a historic hotel, weddings happen fairly regularly at The Orchid, but a woman in a wedding dress was the last thing I expected to see around the corner. I then learned that the blond lady I was talking to was the officiant for the ceremony. There was movement upstairs and the bride's eyes suddenly went wide. "Shoot! That's the groom!" she exclaimed. "He can't see me!" The bride and photographer rushed into our porch just as the Best Man came down the stairs to check that the coast was clear. The rest of the wedding party soon followed: Maid of Honor and the bride's two sons. While the bride and her sons posed for pictures in the porch, the Maid of Honor and Best Man gathered the wedding preparations: white runner, purple and silver rose petals, and a boombox.

When it was the groom's turn to be photographed he had to go outside so that the bride could come back into the lobby (and the rushed from wall to wall the whole way so that the groom wouldn't accidentally see her through the window). My coworker, Bridget, came to the front desk to congratulate the bride on her wedding. The bride kept thanking Jesus for the change in weather and checking out her ass in our floor length mirror, while cursing herself for eating so much fudge. Finally it was time and the bride, her sons, and the Maid of Honor left to have the ceremony on the lake shore.

I worked until midnight last night and the moment I clocked out I headed straight to a local bar called Horns where a third of The Orchid staff was hanging out. The moment I got there we headed to a bar with better dance music called Mustang Lounge. The bar was as sketchy as the rumours had led me to believe, but the music was great and the entire dance floor was taken over by Orchid employees.

As I was dancing with some of my fellow Front Desk girls, I noticed a table of two couples watching us. The women pointed at me and then leaned in to tell the men something before hopping up and joining everyone on the dance floor. One of the ladies made a bee-line for me (in a booty-shaking way) and pointed at me. I suddenly recognized her as the Maid of Honor! The other woman, the bride, then shouted, "Orchid!" at me and gave me a thumbs up. I smiled and said 'hi.' The bride gave me a high-five and yelled over the base, "You party it up, girl! You shake it down!"

Talk about a small island!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Luggage Dilemma

Over the past two days, Mackinac Island has been besieged by Catholics. The Knights of Columbus group has been holding a convention at the Grand Hotel and consequently nearly every hotel, including The Orchid, is booked almost to capacity with members of the brotherhood. Tomorrow, all of these people leave after a 10am meeting at the Grand. Because of this, and I am sorry if this sounds like I'm generalizing too much, my night has been plagued with very picky and very anal old women.

Since about 10:30pm, the wife of every couple to walk through the front door has inquired as to the check-out process in the morning and what they are supposed to do with their bags. Most of these inquiries have been short and painless, but more than half have been very detailed with the women acting as though they may never see their belongings again.

First of all, The Orchid is so bloody regimented and "machine-like" that there is almost no way that a guest's bag will be misplaced/forgotten. Secondly, our two porters have both worked at The Orchid for several years and therefore have this down to a science and one porter is even related to the owner of the hotel. To all guests of The Orchid: your bags could not be in better hands. However, some people simply thrive on worrying, as with the case of Mrs. 205:

A short wile ago the woman from Room 205 called down to the desk to ask about the proper procedure for their luggage tomorrow. I explained that if they leave the bags packed and ready in their room then the porter will come up to the room, take their bags down to the lobby and then to the ferry dock whenever they are ready to depart the island. Mrs. 205 seemed very taken aback by this for some reason and said that her husband would rather take his own luggage "down" (but the porter could take her suitcases). I asked if she meant down to the ferry dock or the lobby. She said, "Down to the first floor." I told her that her husband was more than welcome to bring his own luggage down and that our porters would store it in the lobby. Mrs. 205 asked brusquely, "Well what's the lobby?" In as unpatronizing a tone as possible I said, "It's the entrance to the hotel where you checked in." This is not the Bellagio, lady. There are not multiple entrances and lobbies. There is only one lobby/guest entrance into the hotel unless you come through the dining room and even then you have to walk through a short hallway of rooms until you arrive at what is very clearly a "lobby" or "lounge."

Mrs. 205 then asked where her husband should place his luggage in the lobby. I explained that our porters would take care of sorting it. Big mistake. I should not have used the word "sort" (I'll add it to the list) because Mrs. 205 then said, "WHAT do you mean by "sort"?!" I explained that we are booked to capacity tomorrow and that we would be storing the luggage of the arrivals as well as the departures and that the porters had a "system" so as not to get any bags confused. Mrs. 205 still seemed put-off by all of this, but she decided to give up the fight for the night.

I sincerely pity the morning clerks who will get to deal with all this mayhem tomorrow.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Of Course I Can Bring That Up To You!

New word that I should not use at work: "wonky."

It's interesting working at a hotel where I am not the sole employee on duty. At the Inn I had to do anything the guests needed. Leaky ceiling? Let me check to make sure the guest in the above room hasn't drowned. Clogged toilet? I will most certainly wade through the bathroom for you. Need your sheets changed because your kids smeared something across them? Of course I'll make your entire bed for you! Why else am I on duty but to serve every random request?

At The Orchid, it's never just me. We have a waterfront dining room that will be open at nights and housekeeping and a night manager are here until midnight. Thus, when a guest needs something done, it is not up to just me to fulfill their request. This novelty led to a somewhat scatter-brained situation earlier when guests came down to the desk and asked for a spoon and whether or not we provided laundry service. As I started to tell them where a laundrymat was on the island, Susan*, the night maid on duty, whispered from the back that we could do the guests' laundry. She then told me to call my supervisor Jenny to ask about the procedure. Jenny asked how much laundry the guests had and when I told her I would ask when I brought them a spoon Jenny said, "And then the office would be empty."

"Yes?" I replied, not quite sure how I was supposed to remedy this. How were the guests going to get their spoon if I didn't bring it to them?

"You cannot leave the office unattended."

"Yes..." I said again, still unsure how this spoon was supposed to make it up two flights of stairs.

"Is Susan there?"

I turned and looked at Susan. "Yes."

"Then Susan can bring the spoon up to the guests and while she is there she can collect their laundry."

"Yes?" (This is obviously my go-to word when I'm having a brain freeze on the phone.)

Susan, who can hear all of this, nods her head and leaves the room. Jenny explains the rest of the laundry procedure and tells me to call her back once I'm done. When Susan returns, spoon in hand, I tell her what room needs the utensil and she leaves again. As it turns out, the guests did NOT need their laundry done, but simply wanted to know if the service was available. I thanked Susan for delivering the spoon and she looked at me like I had lost my mind. "It's my job," she said. "You stay in here and I run things up to guests." This is really going to be quite the concept for me to wrap my head around.

Wednesday was my first day going off island since arriving on Mackinac. The experience wasn't necessarily anything to comment on, but what was exciting was the ferry ride back to the island. While I was running my eerands, Mackinac Island was hit with a minor thunderstorm. The storm itself didn't reach me, but there was some heavy rain that trapped me inside a Walmart where I hungout in a Subway with a group of older women who apparently use the Subway Walmart as a regular hangout (seriously entertaining). Mackinac Island is situated right on the Straits of Mackinac, which is a strip of water that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as well as separates the Lower Peninsula from the Upper Peninsula. Today it is a major shipping lane, creating strong currents and active waves even on a clear, calm day. This is then greatly heightened during stormy days, like Wednesday.

I rode an afternoon ferry back in the company of nearly fifty retirees who were all enrolled in community college and on a field trip. I know it might sound odd, but tourist really warm my heart and I was having a hard time not staring as everyone kept taking pictures of each other on the ferry. The moment we left the dock the ferry began rocking exaggeratedly from side to side, which only increased when we reached open waters. Our windows were completely covered in the white foam from large waves and there were even a few instances when you could see right into the blue water beneath the wave. Each time the boat came crashing down it was accompanied by a chorus of screams and gasps. I was half expecting everyone to clap once we made it to port.(I later learned that the ferries had actually been shutdown in the early afternoon due to the rough waters so maybe we were one of the first boats to attempt to cross over.)

Tomorrow the wait staff arrives, which, from what I understand, means that's when the craziness begins, too! I will also work all morning/day shifts next week, which will present me with loads more opportunities to mess up. Let's hope I will at the very least get some entertaining stories out of it all!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pass or Fail

Today marks my one week anniversary of my time at The Orchid and so far it is still smooth sailing. There are new additions to the list of "Things I Can't Say" which include:

cheapest (least expensive)
"We can fit four guests in that room." ("That room can accomodate four people.")

I swear, my supervisor must be nervous that the next phrase to escape my mouth will be 'git-r-done!' Thankfully my voice is finally reaching a normal octave when talking to guests so I'm not a completely hopeless case. Thus far there have not been many interesting guest happenings at The Orchid. I suppose it's partially due to the difference in the clientel I received at the Inn? I do miss my DNR Boys. There will be no "I cain't play wit you no more," or "Georgia, where are the cookies?!" at The Orchid.

Mackinac Island, however, is gradually becoming busier and busier. Mother's Day weekend provided a harrowing experience of trying to walk down a Main Street sidewalk in order to get to the Starbucks, and no matter which side of the sidewalk you chose, you were headed against the flow. Sunday was also Free Ferry Ride day and the line to one dock actually stretched over two blocks. While sitting in a coffee shop with another fellow front desk clerk, Rizzo*, we watched as about fifteen horses were led up one of the streets. From what I learned from a local, there are about 200 horses on the island presently, but during the summer season there will be about 950. This is just the beginning!

This once again brings us back to the continuing coverage of my roommate, Dahlia (I promise once the summer season begins I will start talking about hotel business once again rather than personal drama. Right now the most I can say about our guests is that there are a lot of adorable older couples checking in and out and none of the casue any sort of disturbance worth writing about!). Following the trend of our first night working together Dahlia did not let me down the second night when she spent the last three hours of our shift calling all the hotels on the island to see where she and her boyfriend could stay at the end of May. I, on the other hand, was making flashcards for our big Room Exam (which will be more pertinent towards the end of this post). Dahlia would ask me random questions throughout the shift or complain about something, but there was a solid thirty minutes were not a word was spoken between us. The silence was broken, however, when Dahlia suddenly sighed, "I can't believe I love him so much." Having heard enough about her boyfriend for one night I continued to fill out my flashcards. Dahlia then leaned back in her chair and shook her head sadly. "It's painful, you know," she said, "opening your heart like that to someone. I did it once and I promised myself I would never do it again."

Now I knew I had to reply. "That sucks."

"And he's so jealous of me hooking up with someone else while I'm here. So jealous." Her voice had now gone soft and whispery, giving me the impression I had somehow fallen into a scene from 'Twilight'.

"Well that's not good to have so much jealousy," I replied.

Dahlia leaned forward in her chair and stared intensely at the desk. "He was so jealous in the beginning," she said. Surprisingly, that was the end of that conversation.

The next day, Dahlia was off so only Rizzo and I had to take the Room Exam, which we both passed with flying colours. One test down and two more to go! I came home the night to find Dahlia in a mess of papers that had lists of rooms on them. I asked her how the studying was going. This was apparently the wrong question to ask. Before I knew what was happening I was thrown into a tirade of, "I'm the 'special needs child' or the group," and, "you are all fresh out of college and young and outgoing and I'm just not," and my personal favourite, "I study and I study and it just doesn't sink in no matter what I do!"

First of all, the age breakdown of the four front desk clerks is currently 22, 22, 23, and 24 (with the two 22's turning 23 over the next six months). I'm sure everyone can surmise that Dahlia is the 24 year old, which, in her mind, makes her slower and less able to retain information then the rest of us. I tried to explain to her that 24 is no where near "old", but she just wasn't having it. Second of all, the night was the first time I had ever seen Dahlia study. The rest of the time she was either complaining, snoring, talking about her boyfriend, or talking to her boyfriend.

Dahlia continued to freak out for the next twenty minutes on a continuous cycle about how she cannot "memorize things like everyone else", how her sinus infection was preventing her from concentrating, and how she was "different" from everyone else. I told her that I sympathized with her situation after my experience on the Blue Ridge, but those of you who have read this blog from the beginning know how THAT turned out. Needless to say, that was not the best example in the world.

The following afternoon, Monday, Dahlia took the Room Exam. Rizzo and I had been touring the Grand Hotel and walked into the EDR (our employee lounge/cafeteria) just as Jenny was going over Dahlia's score. Dahlia looked like she was going to throw up. Rizzo and I made some sort of excuse that we had to go to the women's dressing room and we heard Jenny say, "You'll have to retake this Wednesday," as we left. We came back to the EDR as Jenny told Dahlia to go back to the office while she (Jenny) would go talk with Tracy*, the Personnel Director.

I came on duty about a half hour after the awkward encounter in the EDR. Dahlia left to meet with Tracy the moment I got there and did not return for nearly fifteen minutes. When she did, she asked Jenny for a map of the island and basically hauled ass out of the building. An hour later I went down to the EDR for dinner, where Rizzo immediately asked me what had happened. I told her I had no idea, but that Dahlia was obviously very upset and went home. Rizzo told me she had asked Sandy*(a veteran Orchid front desk clerk and mine and Dahlia's third flatmate) the same question and she had only replied, "[Dahlia] no longer works here."

Whoa. Apparently Dahlia's test had been the "worst" they had ever seen and when Dahlia went to meet with Tracy once I came on duty, that is when she was fired. Not gonna lie, I did not see that coming so soon. The Orchid really does not fool around!

That night, when I got back to the room, I told Dahlia I was sorry about what had happened. Dahlia immediately replied, "Don't lie, we all saw this coming. No one was surprised by this." She then went into a small rant of knowing the job was not for her from the beginning and having been plagued by nightmares for the past week. Dahlia then began asking me where places were located on the island because she planned to scour what businesses she could to try and find employment before she was kicked out of Orchidhousing (which will happen tomorrow).

Although I do sincerely feel sorry for Dahlia I can't help feeling she is the creator of her own demise. From the beginning of her time her at The Orchid she has had a defeatist attitude that either had to do with her being "too sick" or "too old" to retain any information. While Rizzo and I were studying during most of our free time, Dahlia was stressing out about find a place for her boyfriend to stay at when he comes to visit each month.

As I headed to bed I heard Dahlia on the phone with her boyfriend. She was listing off all the restaurants she was planning to apply to in the morning. Having not explored the island very much, each restaurant name sounded new to her and her voice would trail off until she had located it on the map. I heard her mention The Lilac Room*. The Lilac Room is a very popular restaurant on Mackinac Island and I have been told that it is not only a favourite for tourists, but locals as well. The dining room has a piano bar and offers a gorgeous waterfront view and patio seating. The Lilac Room is also The Orchid Hotel's restaurant.

Dahlia was right. We all saw her termination coming.