Thursday, June 9, 2016

(Don't) Be Our Guest

Every once in a while, I miss my "career"...but then I remember how much I hated 95% of it and come to my senses.

Eleven years ago this week, I moved to Austin, TX, a freshly made college graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Restaurant, Hotel, and Institutional Management from Texas Tech. I was petrified.

My last semester of college was stressful. I took something like 21 hours to get everything in, I had a falling out with one of my best friends and house mates over the Christmas break, my grandmother died in Illinois right before Fall Finals (literally right before: I came home from the funeral and had a final at like 7 am the next day or something) and I couldn't decide whether or not to go to the funeral and ended up going last minute, I had a part-time job, and I went on job interview after job interview and NO ONE wanted to hire me. So when White Lodging called me up and offered me a job, I jumped on it. I was asked where I wanted to go and I said Austin, because I had family there. My friends were going every which way, though the majority of them were in Lubbock for a couple more years. I tried to get a job in Lubbock because I knew me going to Austin would be the death knell for that relationship and I wasn't ready to give it up. (I didn't until October, when he finally said things were done.)

I took my best friend on a fabulous trip to Hawaii then had about a week to pack up everything in Abilene and Lubbock and drive it down to Austin so I could have a week before my first day, June 14.

I worked at the SpringHill Suites Austin North on Parmer Lane, just a couple miles south of Pflugerville. I lived about 15 minutes south of that, on 183 where it's called East Anderson Lane. I had a Super Walmart two minutes from my apartment and an actual grocery store about 5. My brother and his family were about 6. I was in a small nook of a big and scary city and I really didn't leave it much.

Three months after I moved there, my brother and his family moved back to Abilene and left me alone.

I spent two years in Austin and didn't make any friends outside of work, and we all know how deep and lasting work friendships can be. We still keep up with each other on Facebook, but I haven't spoken to any of them in person or heard their voices on the phone in over 8 years.

Leaving Austin wasn't that hard to do. Austin the boy applied to UT for the PHD program and was rejected, so he was going to Dallas to work for TI. I told my boss I was going to Dallas, with or without White Lodging, and he reluctantly let me go. WLS liked me enough that they created a position for me at their lone DFW property, Courtyard Mesquite. I kind of sort of pushed another person out of her job (sorry Julie) but it worked out because by the end of the summer, she left to be with the man she's now married to.

Dallas was a little better, because we had some college friends in the area, plus Austin was there....eventually. I made another group of work friends and some of the guests and I got close. Probably closer than is ok, but I'd done that in Austin, too. Austin guests were long term stay and repeat travelers, men and women who were doing a job in Austin but didn't want to stay over the weekends. They'd check in on Sunday or Monday night and leave Friday mornings every week for six months. One guest cried on his last stay when he said goodbye to us. I sent him a wedding invitation.

Mesquite was different. It was a hot, wet summer, my internet wasn't working well so I couldn't really talk to Austin, it was stressful because the hotel had a LOT of problems that the previous management had tried to sweep under the rug, and again, I was essentially alone in a big, scary city. I hated it.

After we got engaged, the wedding planning started (as it does) and that's when things at the hotel got worse. I'm not a great manager. I'm not good with people. And I kept hiring the WRONG people. I had people calling off thirty minutes before shift, quitting two hours into a shift, hating that I was the new manager and just no call no showing, I had to cancel plans multiple times for trips to Abilene to plan the wedding or to visit my future in-laws in Arlington (about an hour away). I tried to take it all in stride because at least I had evenings off, something I hadn't had in my two years in Austin, but it was wearing me down. WHen I had my performance review and my boss told me I'd done nothing to deserve a raise, I was done.

I didn't deal with the people well, I'll admit that. I wasn't given an adequate picture of what my job WAS or who I was in charge of until my performance review. But I did manage to get over $10,000 worth of unpaid billing paid and paid another several thousand dollars in unpaid bills, convincing our vendors not to cut us off and make us a cash only account. I spent months on that. I felt like that was worthy of note, but my boss did not. He wouldn't even answer his phone if he wasn't "on the clock", so when the alarms went off at 4 am an the fire department wanted to speak to the General Manager, I was the one they dealt with instead. I got reprimanded for being at work in jeans and a t-shirt once when he got there at 6:30am and I'd been there since 3am dealing with a fire alarm that wouldn't go off because it had been broken when some idiot pulled it.

Yeah, leaving that job was not hard either. It's really true when they say people don't leave companies, they leave people. I loved WLS and wish they'd had more properties in the metroplex.

I loved not working in hotels for that summer. I loved not having to deal with the everyday headaches and annoyances of hotels and guests. But with time, they all get a bit of a fuzziness to them and it doesn't seem like it could have been THAT bad.

I follow White Lodging on facebook and last night they posted pictures of the updated and renovated Courtyard Mesquite and it looks fantastic. It made me nostalgic for the good parts of hotels, the fun stuff. And almost immediately I remembered the bad parts and everything that I hated.

I don't miss the long hours. As a manager, I was expected to work 10 hours a day 6 days a week. No overtime, because I was salaried, and no perks other than the occasional free room and ability to grab something from the breakfast. I was expected to do Breakfast Buzzard and Lounge Lizard twice a week (standing in the lobby greeting guests during peak times, making sure all their needs are met) and that was a nightmare for this introvert. I was expected to take all phone calls from the hotel, no matter the time of day. I was expected to fill in any and all shifts at the desk when an employee called off. My duties included inventories, scheduling, ordering, paying bills, entering payments, making sure the front desk and housekeeping had everything they needed. I don't miss any of that. I don't miss the guests who couldn't be satisfied no matter what or the guests who were unnecessarily rude and dismissive of me because I was a young woman (21 in Austin, 23 in Dallas) or the guests who had a sense of entitlement (the ones who book through Expedia and the like are the WORST). I don't miss the boss who felt like he dumped on me.

I do miss the boss who was reluctant to let me go. I miss the sales managers who were my friends, one of whom sat me down and asked me if this was REALLY what I wanted and the other took me out for my birthday, the only one really celebrated in Austin. I miss the guests who smiled back and were pleasant and easy to appease. I REALLY miss the ones who became our temporary family. The one who cried, the one who wanted to set me up with his brother, the one who ALWAYS brought whoever was working the desk a piece of dessert from wherever he went for dinner, the ones who we went to movies and rodeos and dinner with (yes, I know that's a bit inappropriate. I always paid for myself and nothing romantic REALLY happened...that's another story though). I was really popular with older men. Someone once explained that I was the kind of girl all men over 40 wished they'd married and hoped their sons would marry. I miss my coworkers who were supportive of what I had to do and employees who didn't blame me when I had to go all manager on them.

I left WLS ten weeks shy of my 3rd anniversary and I never really looked back. I laughed to myself that I'd spent all that time and money on a useless degree. At least now I wouldn't have to explain it to my friends and defend it to my family. RHIM is not, in fact, a degree in housekeeping. It's a management degree with a focus on hospitality. Yes, we have classes on beer and wine. Yes, we do have to clean rooms as part of a lab for a class. We also have to learn about every. single. thing. in your food that can kill you....nothing is safe. NOTHING. I lost weight that semester. We take an animal science class and learn about different cuts of meat and watch a pig get slaughtered. We have fun, actually. No, it's not as hard as other majors. We're cool with that. RHIM is pretty easy going and laid back until the Philosophy majors start taking shots and then all bets are off.

It took a few years for it to kick in that hey, that was actually not the worst degree for a stay-at-home-mom to have. I have to manage my household and I use a surprising number of things I learned in college. I learned how to figure the cost of things, so when I price my meals for Tali's Table, I don't really leave anything out, things other people forget like dishwasher detergent, electricity, TIME (omg time), wear and tear on the utensils, etc. I watched a pig get slaughtered and didn't throw up and stuck my hand in icy, brown tub water to release the drain, so nasty poopy diapers are nothing (unless I'm pregnant), though I still have a really hard time with vomit. Yes, I learned how to make a bed so when necessary, I can do that. It's kind of a life skill EVERYONE should have, though. I learned how to properly set a table, and how to dine in public, not just eat. I learned time management skills, so we're rarely late when we go out. I learned that I can actually handle quite a bit of stress and not break. I learned that my family is always going to be there for me, no matter what, and my friends might not be.

I still don't have a lot of friends. I've talked about it before, so I won't go into that. Now, though, I'm in a familiar place where I feel comfortable. Sure, when we visit DFW or Austin area, I get nostalgic for it, even though I hated it when I lived there. I think how great it would be to live near the places we're visiting but have to remind myself I never went anywhere or did anything while I was there because I was tired and anxious and I lived there and who wants to be a tourist in the place they live?

I'm definitely happier using my degree for my family. Taking care of the kids and Austin is a lot more rewarding and fulfilling than working in the hotel ever was. The benefits are better, too. Yes, there are occasional late night calls, but soothing a crying baby is better than explaining to a guest that no, I will not come and climb into the laundry shoot at 3am to look for your missing stuffed tiger (it was three feet long, I have no clue how they forgot it in the first place). There's bill paying, yes, but it's to keep our family warm, lighted, and fed. There's cleaning, but cleaning after my kids and the evidence of their (hopefully) happy childhood.

I think it was a pretty good trade.

Me and one of my front desk employees with a guest at Halloween. The thing she's squeezing would make the blood pulse across his face. It was kind of awesome. 

We found this belt in a guest room. No one ever called to claim it. This was my favorite GM and breakfast lady at SHS. 

Stocking the sundries shop at SHS

Updating the board at SHS...I didn't realize I was supposed to do this until I'd been there for six months. 

The only "fun" picture I have from Courtyard. We didn't have a lot of fun there. 

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