Thursday, July 3, 2008

I tried to think of a good title for this post but I couldn't

I once worked a brief stint as Guest Services Manager at a hotel, which was just a fancy term for "Bell Captain". One of my fellow bellmen/valet drivers was not very comfortable driving a stick. Usually, he would ask a guest, "Is your car a stick?" If it was, he'd give the ticket to another valet. This guy was a friend of mine, and we were perpetually short-staffed, so I didn't have the luxury or desire to fire him for that particular shortcoming.

That is, until this one day... We'll call the valet Mark. Mark had spent the night before with his cousin in a parking lot mastering the art of stick driving. By the end, he decided he was no longer afraid. The next day, Mark seized the chance to prove his newfound skills when a guest showed up with his claim ticket and Mark ran off to fetch the guy's 9-month old Porsche.

A note about the hotel. It was used often for business conferences. This guest had just come from one - a luncheon for his company that was taking place on the front lawn near the valet station.

In the lot, Mark was now behind the wheel of the Porsche - a nice car, light yellow. He put it into gear and started to pull it around.

A note about Mark. He is a big guy - 6'4, probably 200 to 210 pounds. Boat feet. The kind of guy you'd easily picture all but busting out of his uniform. Portions of this story are retold from Mark's point of view as he had described it to me later.

Back behind the wheel of the Porsche, Mark is in 2nd gear and loving it. He's confident, flying high. He steers the car into the circular driveway toward the valet station.

Had I known Mark was the one pulling this car around - eager to prove his worth - I might have stopped him before he got in. As it was, I could only watch.

It is at this point, as Mark is rounding the circular driveway that his confidence wanes. He gets suddenly confused, his hard-earned stick training suddenly escaping him in a rush. His giant boat feet get jumbled, caught in the tightly grouped racing petals in the floorboard of the Porsche...

Unaware of any problem, the guest steps out onto the driveway to meet his car as it nears...

All of this takes place in mere seconds. Back in the car, Mark is in a panic. Still traveling at a good clip, his feet completely caught in the petals, he is running out of room.

The car closes, heading straight for the guest, and then there is a moment...

It is one of those moments that come along rarely - a moment when one human being truly connects with another. In this moment, Mark looks though the windshield and directly into the eyes of the guest - the owner of the car - standing right in front of him. Their eyes lock, and confusion meets terror, rich meets poor, valet driver meets guest. In that moment, eons of understanding transfers between them.

And suddenly, hanging tightly to the tail end of that moment, Mark finds a shred of hope. At this the last possible minute, Mark figures it out. All the fear and confusion rush away and his feet become untangled. He finds the brake. And he slams on it.

Only it’s not the brake. It’s the gas.

The car lurches forward, closing the last of the gap in a splintered second, and revving somewhere in 2nd gear Mark hits the guy with his own car.

In full view of his co-workers having lunch not 100 feet away, the guy flattens into the hood of his own Porsche, his outstretched arms crumple as he slides toward the windshield, his feet flail up into the air for a moment in a very comical way.

He rolls off the side just as the car smashes into the pillar framing the stairway of the entrance of the hotel, and stops dead.

And that's it. The hotel lost an ash urn and needed some resurfacing work done, the car suffered minimal damage, the guest's biggest bruise was his ego. And Mark would never be paid to drive anything ever again.

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