“He has seen it all yet if he could, he would live it over again from the beginning.” Love lost, love found, lives changed forever…all part of the experience when working on the night shift…
By Ellis Shuman
Sheldon has been on the night shift in the hotel for over thirty five years. It is after midnight when he passes through the deserted lobby and nears the front desk. Rose is the clerk on duty; she frequently works the 11pm to 7am shift. Whenever she isn’t busy greeting guests arriving for a late check in, Rose stares at her computer screen. She types frantically on her keyboard, as if she’s working to meet a deadline, and doesn’t look up as he continues on his rounds.
Sheldon started in the hotel when he was in college and looking for a way to make ends meet. It was a part-time job, standing at the main entrance to greet guests upon their arrival. The pay wasn’t good, but there were tips. Not enough to pay for tuition — he had a student loan for that — but certainly enough to allow him the occasional poker game with classmates. He would join them at the popular bars near campus, where he quickly discovered he couldn’t hold his alcohol. He enjoyed wearing a doorman’s uniform and didn’t mind the long hours or the weekend shifts. When offered a permanent position after graduation, Sheldon accepted.
At the entrance doors where Sheldon had been stationed decades before, Steve, the recently hired doorman, is smoking a cigarette. Before Sheldon gets close, Steve stamps his cigarette out in the white sand atop a trash can. A trash can that would need to be emptied and cleaned by Housekeeping later in the night. Steve shouldn’t be smoking while on duty — the doorman knows this is an offense which could cost him his job —but at this late hour, with no real duties to perform, he assumes no one is paying attention. Sheldon remembers well the boredom of the after-midnight shift. He approaches Steve, but a noise on the far side of the lobby leads him to the bank of elevators instead.
Starting as the hotel’s doorman had enabled Sheldon to get his foot through the door, so to speak. The hotel recognized his positive work attitude and promoted him to Bell Captain, a position in which he was, for the first time, a manager of other employees. He prepared the work schedule for his team of bellhops and porters and ensured that each of them delivered luggage to the guests’ rooms with a smile on their face.
From the start, Sheldon enjoyed interacting with the guests. He was eager to talk to them, to share their excitement at arriving for a stay in the luxury hotel. Some of them were on business trips, traveling on their company’s behalf to conduct important negotiations. Others were academics attending seminars taking place in the conference rooms. There were guests celebrating family events — the hotel was well known for the lavish weddings staged in the main ballroom. Others enjoyed its central location; the city’s main attractions were all within walking distance. ‘The perfect place for your vacation’ was the hotel’s slogan.
A man wearing a heavy tool belt around his waist emerges from an elevator. It is Carlos from Maintenance. Carlos, a hotel veteran, cares more about the bottle of Scotch he keeps hidden in the furnace room than about the tools he uses to repair broken door locks, unclog toilets, and fix switches on bedside lamps. Sheldon wonders what late night emergency sent Carlos up to the guest rooms. The Maintenance man shakes his head, ignoring Sheldon as he walks by the luggage carts parked at the Concierge’s station.
Sheldon continues toward the hotel’s bar. Drinks and More — that’s the bar’s name. Even at this late hour, several guests are sitting at the shadowed tables, drinking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. Three guests are wobbling on the stools at the counter while Max, the bartender, wipes wine glasses and beer mugs. Max is no doubt eager for the guests to leave so that he can end his shift. Sometimes late-night drinkers linger until well after 2, but the hotel’s policy is to keep the bar open until the last of them leave. Now Max pulls down a bottle of Johnnie Walker from the mirror-backed shelf and announces, “Last round.” The drinkers at the counter raise their glasses for refills.
It was in this very bar that Sheldon proposed to his girlfriend. At the time, he was working at the hotel’s front desk. Welcoming the guests upon their arrival, handing them their keycards, and directing them to their rooms. He greeted the guests with a genuine smile, and his smile was just as warm when they came to pay their bills upon departure. The guests appreciated these gestures and Management recognized that Sheldon was an employee worth keeping.
Back then, Sarah worked in Reservations. She frequently came to the front desk to provide detailed information about expected arrivals, meetings, and events scheduled for the day. Casual conversation led to their taking breaks together, and sitting side-by-side for meals in the employees’ dining room. When Sheldon invited her for after-work drinks, Sarah accepted. Usually, they went down the street to a nearby bar, but after months of dating, Sheldon escorted Sarah into Drinks and More for a nightcap, even though the facility was supposed to be off limits to employees. It was at the bar’s counter that he pulled out a small box with an engagement ring and popped the question. He couldn’t have been a happier man when she said “yes.” They were married two months later.
A cart with squeaking wheels crisscrosses the lobby. Becca from Housekeeping sways back and forth in tune to the music playing in her Airpods, music only she can hear. When she is not cleaning the lobby, Becca collects dirty beddings and towels from the guestrooms. She also delivers fluffy pillows and extra blankets to the guests, when requested. Now she hums as she picks up stained wine goblets and discarded cigarette packs.
Someone else is moving across the lobby with a trolley. It is Rudy from Room Service, delivering a late-night order to one of the rooms. Rudy should take the service elevator, but at this late hour, he doesn’t hesitate to take a detour so that he can flirt with Rose at the front desk. After a few whispers between them, Rudy pulls his trolley away. Rose returns her eyes to the computer screen, but there is a wide grin on her face.
Sarah stopped working at the hotel when she became pregnant with the first of their three boys. A promotion to Front Desk Manager and the corresponding pay raise enabled Sheldon to provide for his family. They maintained a modest lifestyle and never lacked for anything. In his new position, Sheldon worked fewer nights and weekends, allowing him to take an active role in raising the children. By the time they were in grade school, he had been promoted again, this time to another department. Food and Beverage Manager.
Rose picks up the phone, and a worried look appears on her face. She ends the call and immediately places another one, this time to Security. A possible break-in has been reported in room 321. The guests claim to be missing expensive jewelry and Scott, who has been monitoring closed-circuit video screens from his office, hurries to the third floor. It turns out that this is a false alarm. The missing jewelry is in the woman’s handbag and nothing has been stolen after all. She apologises profusely but Scott shrugs it off, saying there is nothing to apologize for.
Sheldon’s position as Food and Beverage Manager exposed him to the inner workings of the dining rooms and kitchen, to their preparations for functions and conferences. He reviewed orders placed by the Purchasing Manager and checked the perishables in the refrigerators and freezers. He observed the waiters as they served the guests, and the working habits of the dishwashers. He negotiated contracts with prospective customers, setting the price for their elaborate affairs. He took pride in the professional capabilities of the hotel which catered to them.
Senior management took note of Sheldon’s achievements and promoted him once again, this time to Deputy Manager. In this role, Sheldon was involved in every aspect of the hotel’s operations, from dealing with the guests to setting the annual budget. With his boys in high school, and with Rose working full time at an accounting firm, Sheldon dedicated himself to his job, knowing the ultimate promotion was just a few years away.
Sheldon completes his rounds and crosses the lobby again. Rose continues to focus on her computer, only looking up when Rudy returns with his empty Room Service trolley. Steve lights another cigarette at the entrance, ignoring the harsh words of Becca as she cleans nearby. The last customers leave Drinks and More, and Max hurries to close up. Scott returns to his security monitors and Carlos is contentedly drinking his Scotch in the furnace room.
This is the hotel’s regular night staff, although occasionally there are others. There is a high turnover because the after-midnight hours are not popular among the employees. Some quit after a very short time, while others transfer to the more comfortable daytime shifts.
Sheldon leaves the lobby and heads down the corridor leading to the offices. He passes the accounting department and the Financial Controller’s room. He passes Reservations, where Sarah worked when they first met. He reaches the Deputy Manager’s office. The room has been remodeled several times since Sheldon last sat behind its wide wooden desk. The office faces out at the hotel’s parking lot, not the best of views, but Sheldon had concentrated on his work and rarely glanced outside. There is one more office further down the corridor. The office of the General Manager.
Notes and reports cover the desk, demanding the manager’s attention. Budgets and blueprints, complaints and audits. Menus and rosters, bills and inventories. Employee of the Month recommendations. All issues will be dealt with, either by the General Manager or his deputy. Sheldon remembers the many tasks delegated to him over the years, some of them frustrating, others challenging but solvable.
His efforts and loyalty to the hotel were recognized, he knew, and that was why he expected to move into this very office and take up his well-deserved position as General Manager. But that was not to be.
Sheldon remembers that night long ago when he went with Sarah to a celebratory dinner marking their 20th wedding anniversary. It had been his surprise, taking her to a classy steak restaurant. Their reservation was for 8, but they arrived early and had to wait until their table became available. An expensive bottle of champagne was served, and then the first course. Sheldon and Sarah vowed not to discuss the hotel or her job in the accounting firm, or to talk about their boys, but in the end, their conversation centered on work and family matters. After the champagne, a waiter brought a bottle of French Chardonnay to their table. “You shouldn’t be drinking so much,” Sarah warned him. “I’m okay,” Sheldon insisted, although his head was spinning.
After an unnecessary but scrumptious pecan pie for dessert, they walked back to their car. “Are you okay to drive?” Sarah asked. “I’m fine,” Sheldon assured her. But he wasn’t.
It was raining when they neared their neighborhood. Sheldon’s phone rang as they approached the intersection. He glanced at the screen and saw it was a call from the hotel. Some sort of emergency, no doubt. “Keep your eyes on the road,” Sarah pleaded. Sheldon looked up to see that he had missed the red stoplight. Their car sped into cross traffic and then all went black.
Sheldon leaves the General Manager’s office, wondering what his life would have been like if it hadn’t been for that accident. He would have been a good General Manager, he knows. Perhaps he would have been transferred to another hotel in the chain. Maybe to one of its resort properties. Relocating overseas with Sarah would have been a fitting end to his career.
He passes through the lobby one last time as the sky begins to lighten. The hotel is still quiet at this hour, but it will liven up soon. The night shift will end and the morning crew will come on duty. Another day of check-outs and check-ins, of breakfast buffets and banquet dinners. He has seen it all yet if he could, he would live it over again from the beginning.
Sheldon has spent his nights in the hotel for over 35 years. He misses interacting with the guests, joking with the staff, handling the various duty assignments, whether as a bellboy or as a manager. While he may no longer walk through the lobby with his corporeal being, his spirit has never failed to show up for the night shift.
Ellis Shuman is an American-born Israeli author, travel writer, and book reviewer. His writing has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Oslo Times, and The Huffington Post. He is the author of The Virtual Kibbutz, Valley of Thracians, and The Burgas Affair. His short fiction has appeared in Isele Magazine, Vagabond, Literary Yard, The Write Launch, Adelaide Literary, and other literary publications. You can find him at https://ellisshuman.blogspot.