Lobby, Saint Paul Hotel, circa 1910. (Photo: Minnesota Historical Society)
It’s 5:15 p.m. in the entryway of the old Saint Paul Hotel. It’s early winter, cold, and snowing. The lights across the street in Rice Park twinkle with the frost and people are rushing in to get warm and have the early evening cocktail at the famous bar where F. Scott Fitzgerald mulled over thoughts of The Great Gatsby. I just talked to the overworked, borderline frantic, new valet-parking operator, and he told me, “It will take a few minutes to get your car, we’re really busy.”
“Of course, no problem,” I say. Linda and Cheri are in the lobby chatting, and I tell them it will be a while. I stand out in the cool entryway to be ready for the car and wait to see how long the “few minutes” will be.
The people stream in. I notice different perfumes, styles, faces red from the cold, smiles; the sound of laughter burbles and voices rise and fall like the tumbling water in a brook. The big brass revolving door is constantly going swiiisssshhhhhhhh as the people stream in. At 5:25 p.m., the valet sees me and says, “It shouldn’t be too much longer; I’ll come and get you.” I say “Fine.” Smile. I am enjoying the people. It is fun to be almost invisible as the people ebb and flow around you. The smiles, the hugs, tearful goodbyes. “I’ll see you next week,” and “It was so good to see you two again.” Heartfelt, sincere, happiness-compressed-in-time feelings. I move over toward the corner for a bit more heat.
“You waitin’ for number 368?”
I’m number 371, but we’re getting close. It’s 5:40 p.m. I turn and wave at Linda and Cheri. Linda smiles her beautiful radiant smile. I know she is sending me a message: “No worry, we’ve got lots of time.” The guy beside me sees his car and runs out the door. “That’s mine!”
Poor valet; he is now getting pretty frantic. Losing the appearance of being a “No problem” guy. Here he is with number 368 blocking the drive and no one is there to pick it up. I can see my breath in the cold entryway, but I am enjoying myself, and the lights are twinkling. I am immersed in a show. A show of life.
“Are you the one for number 371?”
“Yes I am.”
Too bad. I give him a too-big tip. He smiles, relaxes, and leaves to find the owner of number 368. Me, I am sorry the show is over. I turn and wave at Linda and Cheri.
Early evening at the Saint Paul Hotel. One of the best plays in the Twin Cities. I hope when you’re there, they can’t get your car for you right away.
Saint Paul Hotel reflected (Photo: Maggie Osterberg/Flickr Creative Commons)
Chuck Tompkins, a frequent visitor to the Saint Paul Hotel, is an independent insurance agent, author, and pilot. He and his wife, Linda, fly his Citation II into the downtown Saint Paul airport frequently. Tompkins is also the author of The Insurance Wars (2004) — www.theinsurancewars.com — a business novel.