Me: “Practically speaking my next job was trading one form of misery for another. You see the service industry may offer a temporary way to pay the bills …”
My kid: “But what did you do? What kind of people did you work with? When was this anyway?”
Ok, a time frame in a history story is helpful. Soon after I bolted from the Curtis Hotel across the way to the Leamington Hotel I voted in my first election for Jimmy Carter. Thus began a presidential election-losing streak for me that didn’t end until Bill Clinton emerged out of Arkansas. Reagan and the 80s. Ooof. But that’s stuff for another blog.
The Leamington was an even bigger institution than the Curtis. More rooms, bigger restaurants, bigger banquet rooms it was a brick behemoth dominating the south end of downtown. At the Leamington the flashy HR lady who hired me drove a red Corvette convertible. The Hall of States could host a banquet for thousands of guests. Giant accordion walls divided the grand hall into smaller spaces for mere hundreds. I was a banquet set up worker: an all purpose stacks of chairs mover, wall divider manipulator, folding tables on wheels chauffeur, two meter wide broom pusher and sporting a hairnet, a food worker slapping metal covers on plated meals served assembly line style from the giant kitchen. In other words a hotel banquet gopher go to guy.
The first day I was given a grey shirt embroidered with Leamington Hotel in gold thread. Someone told me to look for Wahid the head banquet set up man. The place was huge and I straightaway got lost in the back service halls in the basement. Music saved me. I heard a piano being banged on madly, followed the sound and found a pianist with a shirt like mine.
“Check it out.” he said and proceeded to expertly play on the storage piano the DEVO new wave song “Mongoloid” belting out the lyrics.
“I’m from North Dakota. Cool song right? You don’t care do you?”
It was an unforgettable performance but I must not have shown how impressed I was. No matter. The guy directed me to Wahid and I never saw him again.
My new boss lurked in a windowless lair with clipboards stuffed with work orders for upcoming banquets hanging on a pegboard organizer. An old style metal desk fan stirred the air, the kind with gaps in its cage you could fit a couple of fingers through. Wahid, the name means first son I think, was a friendly sort with sad eyes. An Afghan who came to Minnesota as a student, got married and had a couple of kids with a woman who “She got so fat bro’ when we met she was nice. Now so fat. So fat.” I’m pretty sure he got the Leamington gig when he was a student at the U in the early 70’s and was still there.
“Yes bro’ you’re a good guy but you won’t stay. A few months then bye bye. Ok bro? Lets work,” he’d say before we got busy filling carafes of ice water and un-stacking and setting up chairs. Metal chairs with foam padded plastic covered seats that made a soft farting sound when someone sat down. Wahid snuck food for us from the banquets and was mostly very competent as head banquet set up man. He’d send me to the hotel liquor store to get him pints of cheap scotch and tell stories about shooting off machine guns back in Afghanistan. Once he got really drunk and I had to cover for him. As Wahid was passed out in his basement office I directed setting up the tables, table-clothes and speaker’s dais for the banquet. All banquets at the Leamington had a set schema and it wasn’t that hard to figure out.
I got friendly with a night cleaner my age, Kevin, from around Broadway Avenue. He boasted about sneaking girlfriends into the hotel. I thought him a braggart until I caught him, caught is the wrong word because I never said anything, coming out of a room with a girl. Lets just say he was more proud of this fact than a gentleman should be. Later a Minneapolis Police Detective came around asking around about Kevin and he got fired.
Bob Short a notorious businessman, failed politician and former owner of the Minneapolis Lakers owned the Leamington. One night the word was that Mr. Short was wandering around inspecting his place and Wahid seemed worried. I never laid eyes on the man. Bob Short built the Leamington into a place of Mid-western opulence with affordable rooms for the middle class and luxurious penthouse suites for bankers from Rapid City. I know this because Kevin had a master key and we snuck into a beautiful penthouse with a terrace view of the IDS tower and a fully stocked bar. Yes we did, I’ll admit, me only one bump.
I liked the Leamington. Nice lady banquet waitresses from Northeast Minneapolis with names like Norma, Darlene and Gladys worked there. They took pity on me and stuffed me full of plates of tepid baked chicken with soggy vegetables and prime rib with that lovely layer of fat with a side baked potato with sour cream and chives. I was a grateful growing boy and the Northeast ladies enjoyed watching me eat. Norma cornered the Korean uniform lady and insisted she issue me a new Leamington Hotel shirt to replace my threadbare one.
That fall and winter at the hotel was a kind of slacker bohemian adventure. Easy work, free food, encounters with colorful Minneapolis characters and a steady paycheck. I went on a date with a girl from Wisconsin who worked in the gift shop. She lived in a downtown boarding house where I had to go the door and ask the house matron for her to be sent down. We went to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 at the Uptown Theater. Afterwards at the Rainbow Bar over a beer I attempted a conversation with her about the meaning of the monolith in the movie with little success.
Then came the slow winter convention season and I was cut to ten hours a week. I needed a new job. My work reputation was better at the Leamington because the HR lady was getting a new job too and suggested I give her a call. I did and soon literally moved way up in the world of slacker guy service jobs.