Thursday, May 5, 2011

In 1995, a man wearing only pajama bottoms dashed into the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel as I stood at the concierge desk.

“Don’t pay him!” he screamed.

Without lowering his voice, he denounced my competence, railed at my refusal to relieve his suffering, and asserted that, once the general manager learned of this, I would never again enter the Beverly Hills Hotel.

He had consulted me for a painful anal condition. I didn’t find anything wrong but gave some suppositories from my bag. He showed no interest in suggestions for sitz-baths and stool softeners, finally interrupting to declare that he needed substantial pain relief, preferably by injection. He heard my explanation for declining in sullen silence.

I left the room without the usual pleasantries and made a beeline for the concierge but not to get paid. I never ask for money after a visit turns out badly. If the guest isn’t planning to complain, the sight of my charge on the bill might change his mind. In these situations I try to neutralize damage by warning that I’d seen a guest who might cause difficulties. I had barely begun when the man’s entrance made this superfluous.

I kept quiet, and he eventually ran out of gas and stalked off. To my relief, several amused employees urged me not to worry. This guest was well known to them. They were right. Calls continued for another year before stopping. They often stopped. I’ve gained and lost the Beverly Hills Hotel four times.

I love that hotel. The buildings sit in a residential area of a city with benign parking laws, so I can leave my car on adjacent Crescent Drive. Because it ignores the tiresome obsession with security, even during the wee hours, I walk to the nearest door and never find it locked. I’ve made 135 visits.

I’m not the only doctor who loves the Beverly Hills Hotel. Although the oldest (built in 1912), later arrivals – Bel Air, Peninsula, Sofitel, and L’Hermitage share its reputation for opulence and expensiveness. However, something about the Beverly Hills attracts the fawning attention of doctors, including those who don’t serve hotels.

I’ve never met the general manager although he’s been there since 1997. He has the authority to designate a hotel doctor, but GMs tend to leave that decision to guest service personnel. That works out fine for me – over the long term. Over the short term, aggressive competitors exert their charms.

For an exciting year during the eighties, the Beverly Hills called, and I visited Leonard Bernstein twice (I can mention his name because he’s dead). Then calls ceased. They resumed several years later for several years before stopping again; this was probably the work of the celebrity whose visit I may have mentioned earlier. The hotel closed for renovations in 1994, reopening two years later with concierges who knew me from previous jobs -- always a good sign. Sure enough, calls began arriving. By this time, Doctor Lusman was on the scene (google “Jules Lusman”; you won’t regret it). I once walked into the lobby as he was leaving. A few months later he took over until he lost his license in 2002.

All luxury hotels call me now and then, and a few call regularly, but I lack the key to winning their ongoing loyalty. This might involve something as straightforward as moving in the same social circle as the general manager or as devious as money changing hands.

Decades ago, in a letter to the Beverly Hills general manager, I foolishly wrote that I don’t “provide amenities” to hotel staff in exchange for referrals. He apparently showed the letter to the concierges. One phoned to inform me that I should not expect calls from the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ever!… He was wrong, but several years passed before I realized this.

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