“In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire… hurricanes hardly happen!” – Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady”
Yesterday at work, I found myself wishing I was in one of those places… but instead I was catering to the needs and calming the nerves of displaced hotel guests who were either stranded by a cancelled flight, evacuated from their homes or having their luxury experience interrupted by mother nature’s wrath in the form of Sandy.
It all began innocently enough. Throughout most of the day it was just windy with a little rain. Locals spent the day typing productively away on their laptops, playing board and card games, and indulging in a cocktail or four. As the day progressed, the energy took a very different direction. The jovial, yet cautious vibe soon became more frustrated and frightened.
This is of course when things truly got interesting…
All the disaster movies and TV dramas in the world don’t prepare you for the range of emotions you go through when you’re in a situation where you are completely powerless. When you have to turn away frantic people who need a place for the night because they can’t stay in their own homes because you have no room. When you are expected to remain calm and overall pleasant when a demanding mother makes numerous outrageous requests. When you find yourself sleeping in a room full of strangers, and someone who shared theirs with one they know asks for their room to be cleaned. When you must find a way to keep children entertained and calm and unaware of the destruction and chaos occurring outside. When you find yourself walking through a hallway and staircase that’s pitch black and using the last of your battery life to illuminate your path. When you must endure an increasingly unpleasant odor that you can still detect in spite of blowing your nose until the skin is raw. When you watch someone attempt to plug an iPad into a generator, as a number of people just want to charge their phones enough to make or take a phone call once service resumes… It makes you wonder.
There came a point in the night — amongst the emergency generated light and candles — when an impromptu piano performance by one of the servers made me unexpectedly weepy. (It could have also been the two and a half hours of sleep I’d gotten prior to working twelve hours with almost no break.)
In any event, I began thinking of the reality of the moment more than the severity; I’d once again found myself working in an industry where myself and my colleagues forgo normal existences where we could be passing those stressful hours in the company of loved ones, to essentially babysit the privileged. Hearing one housekeeper use her colleague’s phone to assure her family in Mandarin that she was fine, and another get an early morning call from her relatives updating her on the news she couldn’t access while the power was out (I need their service carriers) — it was all too clear what sacrifices were made for the needs to support their families. That there were people who took that for granted with absurd requests made me march to the bar, request a “Dark and Stormy”, and retire straight to bed.
It is in moments like those you realize just how fleeting life is. How lonely you are. How important it is to have people who appreciate and enrich you instead of use and take advantage of you.
If you’re anything like me (God help you), you find yourself wishing for someone to weather the storm with. A plus one for all occasions. Someone willing to fight for you like they would their own spawn when you can’t stand up for yourself.
…You also find yourself thinking you’re in a scene out of “Titanic”, which may have precipitated your hasty exit more than the drink and disgust fueled by anxiety and exhaustion.
In a matter of hours… trees and buildings fell, homes and possessions were submerged under water, and people sat in darkness literally and figuratively waiting to learn their fates.
As the daylight began to clear the dark skies and thoughts, I found myself aching to make a call I couldn’t. In the midst of attempting to place guests in other hotels that had power and hot water, my desire to go to my own home grew stronger. When the clouds finally provided an opportunity, I made my escape with pained eyelids, an unforgiving sinus headache, and overworked legs to begin a very long walk home to rest, recover — and start over.
Of course, in that moment of clarity, it struck me around mile three of the six required of my journey, that my African/Native/Scottish migrant lineage was too far removed for me to complete that walk with two bags on my shoulders… and immediately hailed a cab. On my way home, I chatted with the driver — who assured me he was going to be home by nightfall, and made sure to tip him extra.
We don’t all have the power to save trees, buildings or lives — nor can we make people behave in such a way that there’s never disparity toward their fellow human being. But we can control what we build or break with our own words and actions. While observing the hotel manager calmly diffuse an irate guest, that gem of a life lesson was my final takeaway after a very introspective experience.
Some people just get cabin fever. I get philosophical and a fever.
Would rather have Nyquil or Mucinex.