I had an 8:00 am meeting with the CIO at Gillette a few years ago. His office was in the Prudential Tower in Boston. Attached to The Pru is a marvelous Sheraton property that affords interior access to the Tower lobby. You walk through some retail space for about two minutes and you’re there. Very convenient.
The night prior to my meeting, the air traffic system all along the eastern seaboard was hopelessly scrambled, and my flight was delayed, landing at Boston’s Logan Airport well after midnight. I then stood in the taxi line for about twenty minutes. Arriving at the hotel about 1:15 am, I found myself again in a line at the front desk. There were three people ahead of me and a fourth being serviced at the counter by the single night clerk, both of whom were involved in a subdued but clearly serious conversation. The night clerk would periodically disappear for a few minutes into the door behind the counter, reemerging for more intense dialogue. Their business concluded, the next in line advanced to the counter. More intense dialogue, more popping in and out of the mysterious door like a possum, and another 15 minutes until resolution.
I took my cell phone from my jacket and dialed the hotel number displayed on my itinerary, hoping to reach the switchboard. I heard the desk phone ring with my call. The night clerk excused himself from Guest #2 and answered. I asked for the switchboard operator, and he told me that he was it. I asked to be connected to the resident manager. My intention had been to get his corporate ass out of bed and tell him to come down and help this poor kid, obviously challenged by some serious difficulty, take care of his customers. The clerk told me that he was the senior manager on property. I told him never mind, and to hurry up and get to me since I was standing there in line ten feet away. Glancing up, he fixed on my face with a look of grave concern. It was now about 1:40.
Guest #2 and the next two people in line each had their turn at the counter, and their respective discussions and door-ducking concluded, each was led away by a bored looking bellman, bag in hand. I sensed with Guest #2 what awaited me. Our rooms had been sold, and this kid was in crisis-apology mode. As this had happened before, I remained calm. I had the situation under control.
“Melka,” I intoned, slapping my Amex card on the counter.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said softly with a hang-dog expression of genuine sincerity. “We have no vacancies, but we’ll be happy to transport you to one of our other Sheraton properties and accommodate you at no charge.”
“But I have a guaranteed reservation. I guaranteed it with my credit card. You have my money."
“I’m sorry, sir. We'll happily refund your money. Here’s a map of our other properties in the area, all of which have rooms. Do you have a preference?”
I withdrew my itinerary from my pocket, laying it on the counter upside down for him to read. “No, I’m staying here tonight. Look. This is me,” I explained, pointing to my name. “This is your hotel—right here,” I indicated, tapping my index finger on the “Sheraton” emblazoned on my travel itinerary. “Look-here is your phone number. And see, here is the date—Tuesday night. Here is the guarantee number. This is where I’m staying tonight,” I explained, pointing both hands at my feet for added emphasis.
“But sir, you don’t understand. We have no rooms.”
“No, YOU don’t understand. You have lots of rooms, and one of them is mine. Your problem is that you let somebody else into it. Now you have to get them out of it, because I am here and I want my room.”
“Sir, I can’t do that.”
“I understand that you have a problem. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem, and you have to solve it. Now tell me which room is mine and give me my key. It’s late and I’m tired and I want to go to bed.”
The poor guy went into melt-down, a portrait of abject impotence and frustration. It was clear I was not moving, and he had nowhere to go. He said nothing. He just stood there and squirmed, glancing at my itinerary, then at me, then back to the itinerary, then to me.
“Excuse me, sir,” he sighed, withdrawing into the possum hole. I envisioned him on the phone to his newly awakened boss, asking for ideas or advice. He reappeared, having melted a few more inches in stature.
“Sir, we have no rooms. I can see to it that you are comped at another hotel of your choosing, but you cannot stay here to night. I’m sorry.”
He was drowning, and it was time to throw him a line. “Do you have a rollaway bed?” I asked.
“Do you have a meeting room with a bathroom?”
“Yes, sir, we have several.”
“I’ll also need a television, a phone, a clock, and a 6:30 wakeup call.
His color returned and he swung into action. In a matter of minutes I was unpacking my bag on the brightly patterned carpet of a veritable aircraft hangar, with men’s and ladies’ rooms in the corner, a phone strung on a fifty foot cord, a television on an equally long coaxial cable, and an orange electrical extension leading to a clock on the floor next to my tiny rollaway. The price was right, but I wasn’t happy about the long, dark walk back to bed after turning off the lights.
Next morning, I took my Dopp kit to the second floor elevator lobby and waited for anybody dragging a bag. I nailed the first guy who appeared, asked for his key with a brief explanation, and got a quick a shower. The point, which mustn’t be lost in the absurdity of the situation, is not that you can brow beat a desk clerk or night manager into submission. The point is, the situation should never have come to this. Insofar as I never saw a bill, I can only guess whether or not my Amex statement for the month would have showed the room charge if I hadn’t made it to Boston that night.
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