Mr. Diggs is squinting at his computer screen, scrolling down a bottomless page of hotel options, before he discovers an option to sort by price. Slamming his index finger down hard to select that option, he is refreshed back to the top of the page and chooses the first, cheapest option. Mr. Diggs, a credit card, and his family of four are seconds away from making their next vacation a nonrefundable reality.
While they begin to pack and load up the car, I'll start with a few actualities taking place in cyberspace as well as in the physical world, specifically the world of hotels, which I know so very well. Mr. Diggs has managed to prepay for his entire hotel stay, including taxes. That money is gone and, should his dates change at all, it will be very hard to get back. After the charge has gone through, whatever website he used will then book with the specific hotel at a pre-negotiated rate, which is much lower. Mr. Diggs paid x, but the hotel will charge the Internet bookers the rate of x minus $200. Still, he has done well because had he booked directly with the property, he'd be offered a rate of x plus $100.
Mr. Diggs is up $100.
Blip. His selected hotel now has the reservation itself, under the name "Diggs, Karen" (his wife's name and the name on the credit card, since she happens to be the breadwinner and prefers to be in charge of the finances, for the good of the union). Next to the reservation name is a list of personal preferences that Mr. Diggs selected online. Here is that list:
Special requests: [blank]
Third-party Internet travel sites are so far removed from the property that his requests will either have no weight or might not come through at all. It is a stock reservation. A go-kart reservation. No frills.
That's gonna be a problem later (for everyone!).
But right now,pulling into the hotel, Mr. Diggs has only two concerns: stretching his legs after the long drive and passing all his food trash to Danny the doorman, whose only worry is whether or not he's going to get a tip from this new guest, who seems to think he's a garbage man. Mr. Diggs, hands in pockets, takes a moment to look up at the hotel, surveying the property like he built the damn thing, while Mrs. Karen Diggs is supervising the load-out and giving the doorman instructions, though Danny isn't listening at all because he packs bell carts for a living, and after 15 years of standing outside in the sunshine, rain, ice, snow, and fog, he is already certain the family won't need the metal toolbox in the trunk brought into the hotel. The kids are high on candy, chasing each other into the street and around the car, touching the bags, running around the car again, asking Mommy a bunch of questions with glazed eyes but not waiting to listen before running off again. Timmy, the seven-year-old, falls all over the sidewalk while chasing his sister and considers having a cry about it, but decides not to, due to the fact that both his parents seem pretty distracted.
Danny attempts to get the car keys from Mr. Diggs, who seems a little suspicious of this request; though, if he thought about it, well, yeah, the car isn't going to make it anywhere without the keys. These keys are then passed to the valet parker who looks at the family, attempting to judge whether or not they are the kind of people who might offer him a dollar. It takes less than a second to decide that these are not those kind of people, so he slips into the driver's seat, puts the keys in the ignition, and waits for the family to go inside before driving the vehicle off. He takes advantage of this quiet moment inside the vehicle to glance around, cataloging all the Diggs' personal items. He wonders what's in the glove box. He glances back up at the family, who have congealed into a group and are preparing to enter the hotel together, as a solid family unit.
Danny the doorman, whose wife has recently left her job to return to medical school (which cut their income in half), would like to extract his tip now, on the street, away from the bellmen, who are looking out the windows and already assessing the new arrivals: the weight and quality of the luggage piled on the cart, the type of vehicle, Mrs. Diggs' shoes. Danny decides against using a mental trick to draw attention to the service he is providing, such as asking, "We sure we got everything?" while rattling the bell cart a little bit (the use of "we" meant to indicate care, and the shaking of the cart a reminder of the heavy, stacked luggage and the undeniable helpfulness provided by the cart and by Danny himself). But he decides not to.
Because the Diggs are sharing a little kiss. And Dorothy, 11, is grabbing onto her mom's pant leg and staring up at the hotel herself, alive with excitement. Timmy is still way too high on candy to register much, and he won't remember this trip in his adulthood anyway. But Mr. and Mrs. Diggs will remember it, and the little kiss they're sharing is an acknowledgement of this — the beginning of the memory, a kiss that symbolically presses the record button.
Danny leans on the cart and waits, enjoying their happiness for a moment before rounding the group and inching the revolving door forward, aligning a slice of it for the Diggs to squeeze inside and spin into the lobby.
Inside the lobby, they will begin the process of checking in.
And that's when things get really bad.
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Jacob Tomsky is a dedicated veteran of the hospitality business. Well-spoken, uncannily quick on his feet, and no more honest than he needs to be, he has mastered every facet of the business. Born in Oakland, California, Tomsky now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Books mentioned in this post
Jacob Tomsky is the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality