Absolute Zero

“Cold does not exist, cold does not exist.” I repeated this mantra again and again during the eight hours I stood outside the hotel this past Saturday night, manning my post while attempting to be warm and welcoming to the guests.

Warm. What a joke. It was eight degrees outside; windchill put the temp at zero — I paced up and down the parking ramp muttering curses under my breath as the wind ripped through my jacket like it was made from tissue paper. Whatever warmth I had left was neatly stashed away inside my ribcage to keep my body from ending up like Jack Nicholson in the third act of “The Shining”. Anyone approaching me reveived nothing more than an icy glance.

Scientifically speaking, there actually is no such thing as cold. Heat is a measurable energy, and what we know as “cold” is only a verbal expression of the absence of heat. On the coldest night of the winter, there are still minimal amounts of heat present — absolute zero, meaning no heat present whatsoever, is the only scientific term for “cold,” and absolute zero does not exist in the natural world. Somehow, this Bill Nye  blurb did not help me as I froze to death.

I am a valet for one of these new four-star hotels in Portland. Rain, sleet, hail, snow, heat, cold, dehydration and heatstroke, frostbite and hypothermia: I am out there in my Captain Crunch uniform trying to hold a smile as I schlep their bags and drive their cars. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s; torrential downpours, seven feet of snow; a parade could be blocking traffic as they go march down the street and I am expected to somehow retrieve a guest’s car. When they pull up, somehow the parade is my fault.

And if it sounds like I am complaining, that’s because I am. But it’s not the hotel or the work that I do. Like my father used to say: “A job is a job. You will enjoy none of them.” Happy words from a happy man.

Look, I know this is a lowly serving position; this is not something I am particularly passionate about or care for. I don’t mind that, or the small amount of money I make. It’s the guests of the hotel, the people I serve. The wealthy people, the wretched misery and incomprehensible insanity that pours out of them: this is what makes the my job a torturous experience.

Allow me explain why I was outside for all that time: early in my shift it was quite busy; a man pulled up in his car and had to wait a few extra minutes before I was able to open the door for him. He was angered by my “poor” performance in single-digit weather, so he complained to the front desk. A hotel manager then asked me to make sure I got his door for him when he returned. I stood outside the rest of the night waiting for this man to come back to the hotel so that I could get his door in a timely fashion. Because when you have money, the last thing you should have to do is open your own door.

Later in the evening there was the army of Gucci-clad women that went into attack formation and surrounded me, hurling drunken requests for the hotel shuttle at me: “We want to go to blahblahblah. Get the shuttle. It’s cold, we are waiting in the lobby. Get us when it comes.”

Five minutes pass: “Are you getting the shuttle for us or not? Hey! What is your name. This is taking forever. We are going to be late. What kind of service is this?! It’s not like your job is hard or anything.”

Well, that is interesting. My job becomes difficult when I have to whip out my magic Gandalf staff and levitate the shuttle above all the traffic in town, then have it land safely in front of the hotel so that these wonderful people can go enjoy their evening. I’m not so good at that yet. I briskly told her to be patient. They don’t like hearing that very much. I didn’t care.

It was so cold that night I felt like I was burning. My feet had been injected with Novocaine. The wind would pass through me, carrying any thought I had with it. I couldn’t even complete a sentence. I didn’t make any money, either,  because when people are cold, they don’t tip. Nobody says: “Hey, this kid is out here in the tundra, persevering through the elements, trying his best to be helpful to us, why don’t we tip him for his service.” It’s too much for them to spend an extra second out there pulling their wallet out.

But I am learning something here. Finish school. Get another job that I won’t enjoy. Get out of the weather and into an office. Make a few more dollars. And when this is all said and done, I guess this job made me tougher. Or maybe it just made me more cynical.

By Max Lorber

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