Friday, January 5, 2018

Want to know what it's like to work at a hotel? Read Heads in Beds...

I will also be sharing this book review on my main blog.

It's time for my first new book review of 2018.  If you follow this blog, you probably already know that I am a follower of certain pages on Facebook.  I like to read The Bitchy Waiter (who also has a book that I haven't yet read) and The Angry Bartender.  I read Sanctimommy and STFU Parents, too.  In fact, all of those pages have served as inspiration for some of my blog posts.  It only stands to reason that I like to read books about people who work in the service industry.  When you work in service, you work with people.  People are interesting in so many ways.

I'm not exactly sure how I found Jacob Tomsky's 2012 book Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.  I think I saw the book mentioned in a news article about hotels.  I have to admit I was attracted by the title, too.  I love a good salacious tell all.  I bought Tomsky's book in November, but didn't start reading it until last month, when we were in a hotel in Berlin.  Because I've been busy with holiday stuff, another book, and frankly too much wine at dinner, it's taken me awhile to get through Heads in Beds.  Honestly, I think reading on an iPad also slows me down.  There was a time when I would have zipped right through this, had I only not been distracted by Facebook.

Author Jacob Tomsky, who calls himself "Thomas" in his book, never intended to get into the hotel industry. He grew up a military brat and endured its nomadic lifestyle.  Perhaps the chaos of being a child of a servicemember left him with an attraction to more chaos.  Tomsky got his start in the hospitality business in valet parking, but soon moved onward and upward.  He had a degree in philosophy and a lack of direction... and apparently, lots of people like that end up working for hotels.   Starting at a large establishment in New Orleans, Tomsky learned all of the tricks of the trade.  He's done everything from supervising housekeeping to parking your car.  Along the way, he's picked up a lot of colorful stories about co-workers and customers.

Tomsky's writing has a bit of a smart-assed edge that works well as he describes being berated by hotel guests and "trained" by doormen and bellhops who survive on tips.  From New Orleans, Tomsky worked his way north to New York City, where apparently being called obscene nicknames by a co-worker is a term of endearment.

I have to admit I enjoyed Tomsky's irreverent tone, especially as he passes along tips on how to get more out of a hotel stay.  I can't say I'll be employing many of his tips, mainly because I'm not that shameless or demanding.  But I did find his suggestions interesting.  For instance, I never knew that minibar charges are among the most disputed on a hotel bill.  Apparently, all you have to do is ask and many hotels will remove the charges, even if you did succumb to temptation.  Same thing goes for movie charges.  Just claim you made a mistake or the movie quit halfway through.  According to Tomsky, you'll probably be watching for free.

I was intrigued by Tomsky's housekeeping tips.  I never knew that furniture polish does a great job cleaning mirrors.  I suppose next time I visit a hotel, I'll check to see if there's a lemony fresh essence in the bathroom.  Also, people who bring their own pillows to a hotel, which I have done on more than one occasion, are apparently frowned upon.  Good thing I mostly grew out of that habit.

Tips are everything in the hotel biz.  A well-timed tip can help you get whatever you want.  Need a late checkout?  Fork over some cash.  Ever wonder why the bellman grabs your bags even if you don't need help?  They work for tips.  According to Tomsky, there's even a special cue to summon them.  A lot of people don't carry cash anymore, which is a real bummer for elevator operators, doormen, and bellmen.  Tomsky reminds readers that those guys are supporting families on their tips. Don't have cash for a tip?  Just be really nice.  Being pleasant can pay dividends when you're dealing with hotel workers, although cash is definitely preferable.  Personally, I don't like the tipping system, but that's simply the way things are in America.  Money talks, and when you're dealing with people who are in the service industry, it's often the best way to make a statement.

Tomsky liberally swears in his writing, which is okay with me as long as the swearing doesn't make the writing boring.  Like, if every other word is an "f" bomb, I would consider that bad writing.  In Tomsky's case, the "f" bomb works.  If you've ever spent any time working in the service industry, you know that a lot of those jobs really can drive a person to some bad habits like smoking, drinking, snorting cocaine, and yes, swearing.  I figure a few well-placed "fucks" lend some authenticity to Tomsky's stories.  Let's face it.  A lot of people are assholes.  That's why I no longer work in the service industry and won't unless I have to do it to survive.  And even then, I might consider something drastic before I'd willingly wait tables again.

Now that I've read Tomsky's book, any illusions I had that hotel clerks have an easy job have all but dissipated.  However, Tomsky reveals that there are some nice rewards that come with the job.  For instance, Tomsky got to meet Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.  He was a regular guest at the New York City hotel where Tomsky worked.  Tomsky also ran into his fair share of prostitutes and sleazy businessmen cheating on their wives.  The job gave Tomsky, clearly a natural storyteller, a huge trove of entertaining stories for his book.  Those stories have propelled Tomsky into a vocation for which he is clearly suited.

I really enjoyed Heads in Beds.  Jacob Tomsky is funny and I appreciated how he humanizes the hard working folks in the hotel biz.  Tomsky seems like the kind of person I'd enjoy knowing.  And so, because I like Tomsky and his book, I will recommend it with a solid five out of five star rating.  However, if liberal swearing offends you, I would recommend proceeding with caution.




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