Friday, May 26, 2006

BRIC-A-BRAC: You Can Check Out Anytime You Like

Today is my last day in the hotel industry.

I got into this business by accident. The Cliff Notes version goes like this:

- I moved to Chicago.
- I became a temp, partially because I need the money, partially because I wasn't ready to get tied down, and partially because this is how the new American economy works.
- After stints in the medical and public opinion fields, I found myself in hospitality.
- A few months later, they asked me if I'd stick around.
- I thought long and hard about the prospect of having medical care and a retirement plan.
- I shook the devil's hand.

My language probably tells you all you need to know about my ambivalence over this unexpected turn in my employment history. I was never thrilled to be in the hotel business, and was probably not all too proud to tell people what I did. The fact is, there's nothing inherently wrong with hotels. We've all stayed in them. And I've actually learned quite a lot about the mysterious world of spending the night in a strange place. The thing is, it was never my goal. I always hoped to be somewhere else. Hotels were just...a stop on the way.

That was a very long stop.

To be fair, I've milked this for all it was worth:
- I've spent several nights in four-star hotels for little or no money. The pinnacle of this kind of high living was a week-long stay at one of the finest beach resorts in Puerto Rico, for which my girlfriend and I paid for nothing but food and sundries.
- I've had strange run-ins with quasi-celebrities, including delivering a fax to Christie Hefner, helping Tim Meadows send his Emmy ballot via FedEx, and completely failing to realize that I was on an elevator with Tony Gwynn. I complimented his luggage, which was made of baseball glove leather. I'm still incredibly embarassed.
- I was the liaison when The Tonight Show wanted to film a hilarious comedy segment with Oprah Winfrey. For my trouble, I was captured on camera being manhandled by The Most Powerful Woman in America and wearing a latex Jay Leno chin.
- I had the unique privilege of actually helping people on September 11. Owing to the shutdown of the nation's skies, there were guests who were stuck in Chicago, unable to get home. I had the opportunity to help these people extend their stay at the hotel, or get them directions to other hotels or even to the homes of friends. Part of the misery of that day was the overwhelming sense of helplessness. I'm grateful that I was in a position to actually be useful.

The most important benefit to this job was that it gave me flexibility. Whenever I said I had to go an an audition or do a show out of town, I got the time. Employers are not always so forgiving, but I got pretty lucky. (Especially since I never got called back on these damn auditions. Yes, I'm looking at you, Second City. NOT ONE CALLBACK!) And it was my father who told me of his simple explanation for my odd career path: "Shane has this job he's not thrilled about, but what it does is pay for the stuff that he really likes to do." Nicely put. I know a lot of people who have waited tables or done any manner of grunt work while hoping for a break in the world of theater. I think I not only got to keep my dignity, but the chance to live reasonably well, too.

So the hotel business has been pretty decent to me.

I'm glad to be leaving.

You'll notice that I haven't named my places of employment. (There have been two.) I want to be fair to the people who I respect. But the truth is, there are other who I don't, and I'm continually surprised at the business decisions that are made on a daily basis. I watched this hotel opened for the first time, and it was primed to be great. In recent years, and especially in recent months, people have come on board whose interests do not seem to dovetail with those of a great hotel. Work should not disappoint you. It's time to go.

But there's a more important reason, to me.

If you saw the film Big Fish, you'll remember that Ewan McGregor's character gets sidelined at this fantastic little oasis in the middle of a thicket. He's there for a long time, but he has a goal. There's a girl he's after, and he has to go get her. So even though he's in paradise, it's time to move on.

My life in hotels has been paradise by no means. But I've been away from the road I ought to be on. I want to be a writer. I should be writing. And that's what I'm going to do. A company has hired me to write for them. The new journey starts Tuesday. I don't know how long it will last. But I'm excited, and nervous, and expectant.

I'm back on the road.

I'm checking out.