I’ve worked in a hotel in Banff for two years. One of my colleagues was Archibald, an Englishman of 26 years old. He was a tall guy, spoke articulately and politely, sounding professional and correct, and had arguments to support his sometimes strong views. He could be very convincing indeed and frequently, when making a point, raised one eyebrow, slightly tilted his head and showed a rather cheeky smile to emphasize his snarky demeanor. He questioned things and was opinionated. There were many things we agreed on and many things we disagreed on. Our discussions were friendly yet sharp. Therefore, it was a pity that this was the last evening shift with Archibald this week for I would then move on to night shifts, which I worked alone.
And so, this afternoon, we were standing behind the desk. It was just past 3pm, and we were already, once again, engaged in such a conversation.
‘One thing I have noticed here in Banff, Jesser,’ Archibald said, who called me that instead of Jerry (which came in turn as a replacement for my Dutch name, Jeroen), ‘is that you can tell by the clientele what the rates are. In summer, all hotels in town sell out, charge insane amounts of money and, accordingly, you get all these people that are well off – they behave, they have manners, they got money to spend, less to worry about. But now that the rates have dropped, so has the standard of the people we receive here in the winter.’
As if to prove his point, an older lady, holding something hairy in her arms, just then entered the hotel with her husband. The hairy thing attracted my attention. Archibald followed my gaze.
The husband asked to his wife, ‘What room is she staying in, again?’
‘In 261, I think it was,’ the lady answered.
She held a small spaniel in her arms, inconspicuously to her mind, trying not to be seen by the front desk agents of this “pet-unfriendly” hotel.
‘Excuse me,’ I said.
The couple turned to us.
Seeing the animal, Archibald instantly strode toward them and said firmly, ‘We do not allow animals in our building.’
The husband gave his wife, who seemed desperate for a second, a look as if to say, “I’ll handle this one, darling,” and he nodded. ‘Oh, okay. Sure. I’ll bring her to my daughter.’
The woman gave her little mutt to the man and proceeded to the second floor in the elevator. The husband left the building and Archibald returned with a satisfied face. But there was something off here, and it was not too cryptic for a simple mind to decode what he was up to: they were middle-aged, there was a female upstairs in room 261, and he was going to bring the dog to his daughter. I thought for a second, checked the CCTV system, and saw how the husband was just walking down the ramp in our underground parking.
‘Remarkable,’ Archibald said.
I said, ‘I’ll send him back up, or out through the lobby. Could you meet him at the top and ensure he leaves the hotel?’
Archibald smiled. ‘With pleasure, mate.’
I went down the stairs into the underground parking and it was right near the elevator that I met the husband. ‘We still do not allow dogs in this hotel, Sir.’
‘You don’t allow them in the garage, either?’ he asked with a look as if he saw water burn.
He angrily walked back up the ramp – inconspicuously followed by me – and was met at the exit of the parkade by Archibald.
‘Sir, a second reminder…’
‘Yes!’ the husband bawled. ‘The other guy told me already!’
Archibald grinned at the fool, saw me approaching, and gave me a nod in anticipation. ‘Sir, a third reminder…’
The husband and the mutt left the hotel, cursing and bitching, while we walked back into the lobby with a smile.
Archibald shook his head. ‘What a repulsive human being.’
Moments later, an Indian man presented himself to check in. ‘Unfortunately your room is not ready yet,’ I explained. ‘Your room will be ready at 4PM.’
He looked thoughtful. ‘Can I get an early check-in?’
That is that moment where you look someone in the face speechlessly, wondering what went wrong in terms of communication just then, before repeating yourself extra carefully and articulately. He nodded, understanding that no rooms were ready until 4PM, including his, because of course we would not make him wait otherwise. It’s also to the advantage of a front desk agent to get each check-in out of the way as soon as possible.
And then an Asian guy presented himself with a pile of restaurant leaflets and directed himself at Archibald.
‘Hi,’ he said, ‘I work for an Asian restaurant, and I was wondering if we could put some pamphlets on your front desk?’
‘Do we get a commission for each guest we forward to your establishment, Sir?’
He looked pitifully. ‘I’m afraid not.’
‘Then the answer is no.’
‘But every hotel allows us to do this.’
‘Well,’ Archibald said, ‘perhaps they are operating on another level than I am. Why would I look after your leaflets, sacrifice desk space, and recommend your restaurant if you offer nothing in return?’
‘No restaurant offers commission.’
‘That’s why you see no restaurant leaflets in our hotel beside the Banff Dining Guide, which is a general piece of info as a service to our guests.’
Sighing, the guy said, ‘Okay, thank you for your time.’
Archibald shook his head while the guy exited the building. ‘Unbelievable, mate. Unbelievable! We are working hard to sell tours that earn us a modest commission, and that guy…’
Another man presented himself at the front desk. ‘My room smells of wood fire.’
‘The smell’s a part of our theme, Sir,’ Archibald said with a face of steel. ‘Rustic.’
I went into the back office to hide my laughter.
‘Could that come from your fireplace, like through your ventilation shafts?’
‘Most likely, Sir.’
I came back out with a newly received fax, pretending to read it.
The guest asked, ‘Can you somehow make that smell go away?’
‘Certainly, Sir,’ said Archibald, and anyone would believe him.
The man left the hotel, upon which Archibald went over to the fireplace. He added three new logs to the fire. ‘Well, I think I’m going to have my break now.’
During Archibald’s break, a bearded man placed a pair of ski boots in front of me on the counter. His sluggish looking friend positioned himself next to him.
‘Checking in,’ he said and looked at me expectantly.
I suppressed the idea that putting ski boots on a hotel counter was something abnormal, and asked, ‘What’s the name, Sir?’
‘Thank you, Mr. Dudikov. I require a credit card and a photo ID, please.’
‘Now I gotta toss all my shit on the floor!’ And that’s what he did to liberate his hands from multiple bags before he had them free to grab his wallet. ‘Credit card, huh?’
‘Yes, Sir. I will take a pre-auth to cover the room, taxes, and a two-hundred dollar damage deposit.’
He laughed in a superior yet dumb manner. ‘You better, ‘cause I will fuck that room up!’
His friend, the beta-male of the two, grinned foolishly.
I gave him a stare while I placed the sign-in sheet on the counter. ‘We’ll have you sign off on a couple of things.’ I placed the pen on the first line. ‘No noise. We will give noise makers one warning and then evict them with the help of the police.’ An anxious look appeared on his face upon hearing that last word. Second line: ‘And no smoking anywhere in the building.’
‘Oh, I don’t smoke,’ he said with relief.
‘Do you have skis or snowboards, Sir?’
‘We don’t allow snowboards in the rooms, so I will give you the key to a complimentary board locker. The locker room is through the door here, and then it’s on your left.’
The bearded man in front of me pointed at the door. ‘So through there?’
‘Yes. I’ll get you a key for your locker.’ I went into the back office and grabbed a padlock key for a snowboard locker. I gave it to the bearded man.
He pointed at the door again. ‘So through there, right?’
‘Yes. Through that door, and then you’ll find the locker room door on your left. It opens with the key card in your key envelope.’
He and his goofy friend left but returned within a minute. ‘The key won’t open the door,’ he said, holding up the padlock key.
‘That’s the key to your padlock, Sir,’ I explained, asking myself whether I had been unclear about it. I might have been. Or maybe it was his primeval understanding of this modern world. ‘You will need your key card to open up the door to the locker room, and the key card is in the little envelope I gave you.’
‘Show me. It didn’t work when I tried. The key didn’t fit.’
It’s people like this that make democracy such a scary way to run a country.
I walked with him and his friend to the door to the locker room. ‘May I have your key card?’
He held up his key packet. ‘In here?’
‘Yes, your key cards are in the key envelope.’
He aggressively ripped it open and had some trouble to get one key card out. He then made a shoving gesture with the key card toward the door to indicate that I had to put that key in the card lock. I opened the door with the key card and indicated the locker that corresponded with the number on his padlock key.
‘Key number three will work on lock number three. Are you going to be all right now?’
They said nothing, and I left the ski locker room.
Archibald returned from his break and was stopped on his way to the front desk by a guy in his thirties. ‘Sir?’
‘I was trying to call a room with that phone in the lobby, but I can’t get connected.’
‘Did you dial the correct room number, Sir?’
‘I certainly hope so. It’s my own room.’
‘Did you press “5” before the room number, Sir?’
‘Yes, Sir. As is indicated on the phone rather big, one must first dial 5 and then the room number.’
‘So dial 5 and then the room number, right?’
‘Yes, Sir. Dial 5. That’s after 4.’ Back at the desk, Archibald sighed. ‘The rates have real gone down, mate.’
A middle-aged man, dressed in an enormous, white cowboy hat and a purple shirt filled with emblems of Formula 1 sponsors, exited the elevator. His belt was decorated with an enormous metal buckle that was almost the size of a dinner plate. We knew it was his birthday and now he was going to celebrate – by himself, but with a funnel for other people to pour drinks into his mouth. His enormous mustache transformed into a smile. ‘Breakfast tomorrow morning will be too early for me, boys.’ And our cowboy walked out the door to go make friends with strangers who surely would appreciate the drinks he was going to buy for them.
Archibald shook his head pitifully. ‘Some people are something else.’
Another guest presented himself at the front desk. ‘Last time I checked in here, there were two beautiful girls working the desk.’
Archibald said, ‘We’ve had a sex change, Sir.’
And then an older, English gentleman presented himself at the desk at 22:45. He was the old-school type of gentleman, who calls his wife “dear” and has that impressively dignified and slow articulation, formed throughout many years, with the wisdom to show for it – the real deal. While his middle-aged daughter and wife went on to their room, he placed his arms on the desk, gave us a stare, laughed, shook his head, and said, ‘I’ve just had the most extraordinary experience.’
‘I took my wife and daughter out for dinner at the Rose. Is that what it’s called: the Rose?’
‘Yes. The “Rose and Crown.” Great bar,’ Archibald said.
‘“Rose and Crown,” quite right. We had the most extraordinary experience there. We sat down at a table to eat dinner, and the waitress warned us that at ten the band would start playing. But we’d been there for ten minutes, and the girls had their glass of wine, and I had my pint, so we decided to stay.’ He laughed and slammed his open hand on the desk. ‘And wouldn’t you believe it?! The pub starts filling up with these guys, you know, who hold temporary jobs, work on the slopes and pick fruit. They’ve got those beards and tattoos and dreadlocks that – I kid you not – reach halfway down their backs! Anyway, so all these guys with temporary jobs are all around us, and they drink one beer after the other, becoming louder and louder. They were all shouting at each other. And then the band started playing, as well. In the middle of all that, we were trying to have dinner!’
Archibald nodded pitifully. ‘Yes, sir. Believe me, we know exactly how you must have felt.’