Creature Comforts

You know, it’s the little things that mean the most. Someone looking up when you come in. Mints on the pillows. If you sweat the small stuff, people will be less inclined to worry about the big stuff.

It’s hard, living in a seasonal town. Or a tourist trap. It’s like living in a place where the well runs dry for half the year. You have to learn to plan ahead, to plan for other people as well as yourself.

Heard a story once about a town somewhere in Europe that got visited by this big bird every once in a while. Every time the bird roosted in the mountains above, the town would be flooded with food and wealth falling from the bird’s feathers. The townspeople thought they got smart one year and cut off the bird’s wings, so it couldn’t fly away. They didn’t get that the journey the bird made was what put all the crap into its feathers. So the bird died and the people died and it’s kinda sad.

People are suspicious when things are too new. So it pays to pre-scuff some things. People want to sit in a rocking chair that squeaks. They want sheets that look like they’ve been slept in, and they want a room to smell like people, not cleaner. Free tip: if you stuff a small sachet of pipe tobacco in the drape runners, they’ll get a little hit of grandfatherly odor whenever they look at the view.

Smell is important. Smell is the sense with the strongest link to memory. You have to play it both ways. You have to appeal to their memories, and you have to make new ones. They don’t want to step out the sliding glass door and get hit by a wave of garbage smell. So you arrange the landscape a little. You make sure the first thing they see is the view, not the quikstop. You air out the linens even though they haven’t been actual linen since 1957. Even if it isn’t exactly a Kodak moment, you have to make the experience a pleasant one.

Word of advice: people remember. They go “oh, that little place?” and they smile or frown. That action is the difference between life and death. They won’t come back to a place that annoys them. Or falls short. And they talk. They talk to their friends planning outings and they talk to business associates aching to make the jump. The tides of travelers will ebb and flow, with the seasons and with the mood. You can feel a good summer coming around the bend, smell the goodwill on the air. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

…mostly.

Sometimes towns go under, and it’s no one’s fault. The economy takes a downturn, everyone’s eating TV dinners all the sudden. Little guys treading water find their lips at the surface, people who maybe-sorta-could-be fine can’t weather the change. The American landscape is dotted with them, little could-be’s, tryhard skeletons of commerce. The quaint little village is now a quaint little ruin, quaint little ghosts just waiting for a thrown match. You can make sacrifices, but no amount of scrimping will make money appear.

But can you change it?

No. you change the sheets and you oil the hinges and you light joss sticks against the coming economic storm. You can no more change the winds of finance than roll the sun thirty degrees south.

But you can’t seem desperate.

They will smell it on you as you guide them to their rooms. A hand lingering too long on a shoulder blade. To many solicitations after their health. The restaurants around here can’t all be good, can they?

No. They can never know how desperate you are to stay in business. They can never know how every little jibe pricks at you like a knife. The sun too hot. The water too cold. The towels are too crisp because they were air-dried, even though last summer everyone told you they wanted to smell the lake on their towels. Are you to roll the sun out of the sky?

The one comfort is that, for all their complaints, they settle in to the room at once. They only want to be made comfortable. Succor them, and they will follow you anywhere.

Oh sure, they might call it odd that there aren’t many people out and about this time of year, but perhaps they started out too early. They don’t know what true financial hardship looks like, the poor innocent babes that they are.

Their regular cabin isn’t available, and their consolations jab you like dentist drills in the head. It’s fine, fine. Just…they come to you because you are never full, because that room is always open. The rooms are functionally identical, but you must humor them and nod like a duck decoy bobbing on a pond.

Of course, nothing can be completely up to snuff after that.

The TV doesn’t pick up many channels anymore, and the ones it does are strange. Nothing is like it used to be.

The husband roots for gratuities, and bemoans the lack of soap and tiny shampoos. There is no mini-liqueur to soften the blow either. All you can do is promise, as they tear the carefully-made room apart, promise that next time, next time will be better.

They notice the dinge of the sheets, the crack in the porcelain(and was that a spider?) so distracted by their dismay they don’t try and open the curtains. And, as you close the door with a hush, that the knob is only on one side. They are uneasy, like pigs on a killing floor, but not alarmed. They were put at ease on the way over, and did not think it odd that you had one more cabin than last year. Or that the number plate was bare and scratched over.

No, they totter about on voluptuous ankles, unpacking tennis gear and fishing lures and stashing underwear in drawers that smell like something beneath a porch.

You cannot help these people have a good vacation. If it was in your power, you would leave everyone so blissfully overloaded with memories they might never leave. But some things just aren’t in your power.

You walk faster. There must be something you have to get at the main building. Towels, maybe. Yes, your job is never done. You must be flexible, must adapt to every situation.

A scream. You start running.

Towels, yes. Or soap. Or a phone—not for the police, dear god, no. maybe to a travel agent, to ask when Mr.&Mrs So-and-so are due, they’re usually here by now. You have to be solicitous in the hospitality industry. Perhaps they parked by the cabin(what cabin?) and their car will not be there in the morning. Perhaps they got turned around, perhaps they went somewhere else in spite of all you have sweated and bled for them. These things happen more and more these days.

To keep this livelihood, you do all that’s humanly possible. And maybe some things that aren’t, should it come to that. Because you are in the hospitality business, and you would do anything, anything to stay in business.

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