I can tell this story now, because the statute of limitations has probably expired. Approximately a thousand years ago, when I was in college, I got a temporary job working as a car valet (pronounced: “valet”) at a very fancy oceanside hotel near Pismo Beach, CA. One of the regular guys hurt his foot somehow and was unable to put in the hustle it takes to be a fancy valet, so my roommate got me hired on to fill in for a month.
It was a great job for a college kid, because the wealthy people who wanted their cars parked almost always recognized that you were a pathetic, starving college student and tipped well out of pity.
The valets were almost always the last to leave for the night because the hotel had a nightclub attached, and we stuck around to park and retrieve cars after last call. Two late-night incidents occurred while I worked there that highlighted for me the fact that not everyone is always qualified for their job.
We valets rarely went inside the hotel, but one night when I was the only valet left, the fire alarm went off around one in the morning. I was all alone out on the front driveway, and not sure what to do, so I wandered into the lobby to ask a desk clerk what was going on. That was a mistake. There were no visible desk clerks, bellhops, managers, assistant managers, custodians, concierges, or any other type of hotel employee within a sixteen-block radius of the hotel lobby, except me.
I found myself in the middle of a vast expanse of marble floor, surrounded by an angry, pajama- and bathrobe-wearing mob, demanding answers, of which, I had less than none. I made the mistake of smiling to myself as I truly grasped how ridiculous it was that these people thought I was in charge, which angered a businessman in boxer shorts. I received a pointy-fingered tirade about how none of this was funny at all. I had to agree with him, but somehow, “I’m sorry, I’m just the valet. This is only the second time I’ve even been inside the hotel,” didn’t ease his frustration.
Fortunately, there was no actual fire, and we got out of it without a fancy riot. I dodged a bullet on my other late-night adventure as well, thank God.
Later that month, one of the front desk staff called me in and told me the shuttle bus driver had gone home for the night, but there were four guests up the hill at F. McLintock’s Saloon that just called for a ride back to the hotel. She gave me the keys to the bus and told me to go get them.
I had never driven the shuttle bus before, but how hard could it be? It’s just a big car with lots of seats, right? Off I went up the hill in the dark of night to retrieve my passengers, as a light fog rolled in off the ocean. I had a little wait in the parking lot for all four of them to muster to the bus, since it appeared they had become quite familiar with the offerings from the bar during their dining experience. When my two slightly toasted couples were on board, we set off back down the hill in a much heavier fog than I had experienced on the way up.
Now, college kids aren’t exactly known for their amazing decision-making skills, or conservative risk assessment, or extreme caution behind the wheel, but the one thing they do have is fantastic reflexes. That’s why when the hard ninety-degree left turn snuck up on me in the fog while I was busy driving far too fast for the road and weather conditions, I was able to keep the giant shuttle bus on the road. An unfortunate byproduct of my deft maneuvering however, was throwing one of the ladies across the bus into the opposite row of seats, and flinging the other lady out of her seat and literally rolling her down the aisle of the shuttle bus in her fancy cocktail dress.
One of the guys (presumably the least drunk of the four) had a few constructive comments regarding my driving style, but fortunately the other three were just howling with laughter, including the nice woman that I had just transformed into a well-dressed human pinball.
I drove much, much slower the rest of the way back to the hotel and apologized profusely to the four hotel guests as they exited my shuttle bus carnival ride. Thankfully, no one was injured, presumably from being very loose and relaxed during all the flinging. (A big thank you to the F. McLintock’s bartenders and staff!) And thankfully for my employment status, I never heard another word about it.
So, remember, when you’re out there this holiday shopping season, that young (or old) clerk who has no idea how to give you the discount shown on the tag is not incompetent. They’re just not properly trained. And if they are a college student, remember to have some patience. They have the mental capacity of broccoli.
And in this holiday travel season, if your shuttle bus driver looks to be nineteen or twenty years old, catch the next bus.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen
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