Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Welcome to the Biltmore. Are You Checking In?"

That is not my favorite greeting, because it means the valet doesn’t recognize me. My response is always: “I’m the hotel doctor. I’ll be here twenty minutes. They hold my car.”

That’s my mantra to parking attendants, delivered a thousand times and followed by a moment of tension. Will he smile, accept my key, and park my car nearby? Or will he hand over a voucher, jump behind the wheel, and drive off into the bowels of the parking structure?

I have no problem tipping attendants, but I hate paying ten to twenty dollars to park. Accepting the voucher makes that a possibility, so I repeat the mantra, hoping he will reconsider or appeal to his boss who might know me or decide an elderly doctor with his bag deserves VIP status.

Once I accept, my next step, after caring for a guest, is to ask the desk clerk or concierge to validate. Sometimes they comply, but now and then…

“Sorry. The hotel doesn’t handle parking. It’s a separate company.” Hotels often outsource parking, but luxury hotels always accommodate me. Chains are unpredictable, even those where I go regularly. But once I hear this, I pay because I have a rule against arguing with hotel staff. Validation sometimes requires only that the employee scribble “comp – hotel doctor” on the voucher. Once, when refused, I scribbled it myself, and it worked, but I don’t do it. The chance of getting caught is very low, but the consequences are so humiliating that it’s not worth the risk.

After thirty years, I know the nearest street parking for every hotel; if it isn’t hot or raining, I’m willing to walk a few blocks. Downtown is a problem because, even during wee hours, homeless men hurry up, offering to watch my car. In the immense wasteland near the airport and hip entertainment sections of the Sunset Strip and Hollywood, street parking is often impossible. As with so many amenities, Beverly Hills is a pleasant exception.

I loved the temporary handicapped pass I used for six months after breaking my leg in 2003. Its benefits are no secret to the able-bodied; it turns out that eleven percent of Los Angeles drivers have one including not a few running the treadmills at my gym.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Human Nature, Part 2

Cynicism is a cheap substitute for sophistication, but I find it as tempting as most people... The lady just phoned, full of apologies, and we're working on ways to get the money. It hasn't arrived, but I assume it will.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Human Nature

An elderly Mexican psychoanalyst was attending a psychoanalytic convention, but a cold was making her so miserable that she wanted to return home early.

This seemed an excellent call in many ways. It arrived during the evening rush hour, but the Royal Palace was only two miles away. It was my first visit to that hotel, always a delight, and I planned to introduce myself to the management. Finally, the lady’s stuffy ears dominated her concerns, so she probably wouldn’t demand useless antibiotics which Latin American doctors prescribe for colds as often as we do.

Everything proceeded smoothly. I finished my traditional lecture on preventing ear pain when flying (generous use of nasal sprays); she expressed gratitude and laid down an American Express card.

American Express charges a larger service fee than other credit cards, so some companies that handle transactions don’t cover them. That includes mine, but I wasn’t concerned. So far everyone has had cash or another credit card, but on learning that I only accept Visa or Master Card, she expressed dismay. She only used American Express, she explained. Her plane left the next morning, and all she had was cab fare.

While I considered my next move, she snatched the phone, dialed the front desk, and poured out her distress. The doctor they recommended wouldn’t take her credit card; she had no money, and she needed help. I cringed at this terrible P.R. She wasn’t complaining about me, but it’s never good for a hotel to hear a guest having problems with the doctor. Luxury hotels will advance money and add it to the bill, but the Royal Palace, while comfortable, was not in that class. The desk clerk suggested she find an ATM.

Long ago, I drove a guest in search of an ATM, and I’ll never do it again. Begging my forgiveness, she swore that when she returned to Mexico City she would phone with the number of an acceptable credit card. I had no other suggestion, so I brushed off her apologies, and we parted on good terms.

That was several weeks ago; I don’t expect to hear from her.

My practice where almost no one see me a second time and everyone lives far away is a supreme test of integrity, and it’s discouraging how few measure up. Guests have already agreed on the fee before I arrive, so it’s rare that I leave unpaid. When this happens, guests are invariably upset and embarrassed. Once home and aware that there will be no unpleasant consequences if they don’t pay, only about twenty percent come across.