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Home sweet hotel
Earlier this year, I was approached about relocating to Montreal to live on property as a consultant to the management team of Opus Montreal. With visions of a grandiose lifestyle, I signed a three-month contract. But just prior to my departure things took an unexpected turn when the general manager resigned. Suddenly, I would no longer be working bankers' hours as an overpaid consultant. I'd be on the front lines as the hotel's acting resident manager.
Upon arrival I was installed in chic and modern room with red walls. It was only 325 square feet, and had no kitchen, balcony or vibrating bed, but we human beings are natural nesters, and soon it felt like home. The advantages of hotel living became immediately obvious: I would never have to run a vacuum; I had an army of staff on standby to cater to my every whim; and my commute was a short elevator ride to the lobby. I could order room service every night, watch pay movies, and raid the mini-bar-all for free. Each night my bed was turned down for me, chocolates placed on my pillow, and toilet paper rolls tucked into a perfect fold. I had little bottles of shampoo, blackberry jam and vodka, all just for me.
The work was all-consuming, but I loved being back in the thick of things. Then one day it occurred to me I hadn't left the property in three days. I had earned respect for the hours I worked, but it was only because I had no friends and had nothing better to do. I was getting lazy, spoiled and out of shape. The hotel's food was amazing, but sometimes I just wanted a peanut butter sandwich. Serious changes were in order. I filled my mini-bar with healthy foods, purchased a microwave and toaster, reduced housekeeping visits to once per week, and started going to a local gym.
Remember Eloise, that precocious six-year-old in children's storybooks who lived in the penthouse suite at New York's Plaza Hotel? She always found time for mischief. The difference between Eloise and me is I'm running the joint, which takes all the fun out of hotel living. I'm acutely aware that employees are observing me. Not that I'm paranoid, I'm just a bit neurotic. I don't want the maid to think I'm a slob, so I make the bed and wipe down the sink before she cleans my room. I'm convinced that restaurant staff hate me because, in accordance with industry practice, I tip only 10% on meals. And while I love how my clothes come back from dry-cleaning all pressed and fresh-smelling, the thought of colleagues sorting through my dirty laundry is a bit unsettling.
One of the allures of hotels is anonymity. Guests can check in, make a mess, be obnoxious, and check out with impunity. I don't have that luxury here. I can't be grumpy or difficult, and I can't stumble in drunk with two hookers on my arms. Not that I ever would, but the fact that I can't feels oppressive. There's a nightclub here, Suco, and I've considered hanging out there and trying to meet some cool, beautiful Montreal types, but I fear they'll think I'm a sad, desperate predator, the resident lounge lizard. Fortunately, it's not really an issue because I can't stay awake past 10:00. Well, not usually. On a recent Saturday I went out to "faire la fête" with friends from Vancouver and got back at 5:00 AM. Not wanting staff to see me, I skulked through the back entrance, only to run smack into a couple of bar staff getting off shift. "Fun night, Mr. Craig?" one of them asked with a snicker.
When I spend too much time in my room I start to worry I'm becoming Howard Hughes, with those crazed eyes and long yellow toenails. I try to get out more, but unlike at home I don't have the freedom to wander around in my bathrobe. Even during my time off I feel uncomfortable in jeans because hotel employees aren't supposed to wear street clothes in public areas. I think the rule has something to do with guests not wanting to know that the staff they're abusing are real people. Returning from the gym one night, I had to deal with a situation in the lobby in a sweaty muscle shirt and shorts. Another time I was crossing the lobby in my weekend casuals when a gaggle of irate meeting planners accosted me. Six hours later they released me from their clutches.
When I'm in my street clothes I'm never sure how to behave around guests. Do I act like one of them and avoid eye contact? Or do I act like an employee and smile, engaging them in friendly conversation? I've found that the latter approach can lead to frantic elevator-button pressing, particularly from Torontonians. Around employees I feel obligated to speak French, or at least to mumble a few badly-pronounced words to show my deep respect for the culture. But, like other Canadian students, after four years of university French I discovered I couldn't speak a word. I'm taking lessons now, but I'm pretty sure my instructor thinks I have a severe learning disability. Sometimes it's just easier to stay in my room.
When I travel I like to bring a magazine down to the hotel restaurant and read over dinner. Here I often find myself in the restaurant holding impromptu meetings with staff and guests, signing purchase orders, and sometimes even bussing tables while my food goes cold and my magazine sits unread. I don't mind, though. Meetings are so much more enjoyable with a glass of wine in my hand.
In September a citywide convention coincided with a strike at several Montreal hotels, leaving a number of hotels overbooked. One night I got mired in a nasty relocate situation with a group of travel-weary Germans. They returned to Opus the next day, and every time I ran into them-far too often since we were cohabitating-they stared daggers at me. To avoid relocating more guests I packed my bags to free up my room and moved into an office. That night, as I stared up at the ceiling from my little cot and thought about all the happy people out there in apartments, I realized I had never been surrounded by so many people yet felt so alone.
Recently, my contract was extended. These days, I make my own bed, eat out most of the time, and even have a few friends. Yet the longer I live in the hotel the more it consumes me. Resistance is futile. I've considered renting an apartment, but the truth is I'd miss it. There's no better way to manage a hotel than to eat, sleep and breathe it. But would I ever move into a condo-hotel complex? Not likely. I don't mind opening my own doors.
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