Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Be My Guest

Bear With me, Ladies and Jelly-spoons. Give this a once over and lemme know what you think.

Be My guest
The People of the Hilton Garden Inn at Fishkill
By Jessica Manna
June 30, 2010

Potted plants, richly colored furnishings, high ceilings and lots of sunlight catch the eye first. It is pleasantly cool, and the lobby is almost as bright as the smiling face behind the front desk, greeting guests with a warm, “Hello! How can I help you?”

Behind the smile is full time student, nineteen year old Mary Walker. She wears the professional black and white, and not a hair is out of place. I discover that she is a Visual Arts major at Dutchess Community College and she is presently undecided in what she wants to do with her life.

“So the hotel is sort of a waypoint between where you are now, and what you want to do?” I ask, curious.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that. I needed a job, so I applied to all of the hotels in the area, and the Hilton hired me!” She responds, smiling still. “It’s kind of laid back, and I like sometime, when people are nice to you, knowing that you helped someone out. That you made a difference. Know what I mean?”

Mary helps a guest, directing them confidently up to the Wal-Mart, which is literally two parking-lots and a side street away. The Hilton Garden Inn receives a great deal of out-of-towners, brought into the area by an assortment of occasions. They have already had 9 wedding parties in the house since May began, and on a separate occasion, they hosted an entire tour-bus of Virginian Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“What do you find most challenging, then?” I ask her next.

Without hesitation, Mary answers, “trying to answer the phone that’s ringing before 3 times, having someone on hold AND checking a million people in at once.” She laughs, and as if on queue, the phone rings, and her signature answer: “Thanks for calling the Hilton Garden Inn, this is Mary how may I help you?”

As laid back as Mary tells me it is, there must also be stress involved. Upon further prying, I catch the Manager of Sales, Krista Borerro. She too, is continuing with her education, aiming for her Bachelor’s Degree in English and Literature. And despite her title and the eight years she has spent in the hotel business, she is only a springy 25 years old.

“I started out at the Hampton Inn doing front desk.” Krista begins to tell me. “I worked with a core group for about six or seven years until I came here and we just really had a great time. We would follow each other from place to place.” She smiles brightly.

“Sounds fun, so what’s the challenge in your department?” I ask.

“The stress of dealing with difficult people sometimes.” Krista nods decisively. “[They] basically want something for nothing…you have to constantly make sure that they’re satisfied.” Sighing, she thinks a moment and then adds, “And sometimes the mothers’ of the Brides we get. And Bridezillas.” We both laugh.

“Do you take anything away from this job? Anything that benefits your everyday life, maybe?” I continue my questions.

“[The job] helps me deal with every day situations in dealing with the public, adapting to situations and keeping my cool. It helps me to think ahead. Helps me to be personable and responsible.” Her smile widens before she finishes, “but I also worry a lot too, hoping that everything is going smoothly around me.”

After I ask her what the Hilton Garden Inn’s most prominent traveler is, she responds with a thoughtful expression. “I know that Hilton has a lot of resort hotels, but … I think more of corporate traveler, than let’s say, your leisure or weekends in the area. They want to check in, go upstairs, eat, sleep, maybe have a drink, and then check out at the crack of dawn. But we do get very busy in the summer with weddings in the area, which can be stressful.”

I am reminded of her ‘bridezilla’ comment and I smile, thanking her for her time. And before I depart, I catch the ear of the Executive Housekeeper, Shiela Volli. She’s spent 15 years in this business, starting her career in the Hampton Inn in Newburgh.

She graces me with some time during her cigarette break, and answers between inhales and exhales. Through conversation, I pick out a number of her duties as Executive Housekeeper, and the work load is impressive. Ms. Volli must stock each cart (one per housekeeper, a total of 8 on high volume days) to make sure they have enough shampoos, soaps, and linens. After that she checks each room that was not occupied the previous night to be certain it is clean before the Front desk assigns them to near arrivals. After that is done, hopefully the housekeepers have finished cleaning a few of the rooms from this morning’s checkouts. If so, she checks each of those thoroughly as well. If anything is amiss, she explains it to the housekeeper in question and then continues.

Aside from those day to day duties, Ms. Volli is also responsible for arranging the weekly schedule, doing monthly inventory, politely reminding guests that check out is at noon. She also has rank over the houseman, a fun-kind-of-wacky man who mops and cleans the Lobby area and the halls of each floor.

“It’s stressful. It really is.” She confides in me. “Sometimes I bring it home with me, which just stresses me out at my house.” She takes another drag.

“Do you find yourself checking your own room when you go off on vacation?” I ask, genuinely wondering how influenced she is by the job.

“Oh yeah. There was one place in Vermont that was really bad. Hair on the bathroom floors, garbage behind the dressers.” Ms. Volli nods as she looks at me intently.

“Did you say anything?” I wonder.

“No. No I never say anything. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. That’s not me.” She shakes her head enthusiastically, though smiling as she takes yet another drag.

“What do you like about this job?” I ask, hoping to lift her spirits.

“The staff. We have an excellent staff. Housekeepers, maintenance, front desk, and breakfast, all of us are really great people.” She lists them on her fingers. “We all get along. Everyone gets along.”

This short interlude with the employees at the Hilton Garden Inn at Fishkill reminds me of a book I read once. I had stayed in this exact hotel sometime last year, and had asked if I could pluck it from its usual place beside the bible. It is called “Be My Guest” and was written by Conrad Hilton himself. A quote that seems to infuse this modest 111 roomed hotel is, “live with enthusiasm.”

Mary Walker, Krista Borerro and Shiela Volli all live with a verdant love of life that reflects in their acts towards each guest that walks through the door. Each one of these ladies, though without direct intent, voices the Hilton motto, “Think big…act big…dream big.” In no other place can there be found a brighter, more pleasant group of people.

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