by Ingrid Hart
I see a room service ad on Craig’s List at a five-star hotel a few miles from my home. I’m searching for a position that offers a social connection. I’m weary of the isolation and sterility of working from home in front of a computer. I want physical movement, activity so I can get out of my head and into my body. Can I recreate the magic I felt as a young waitress when at the tender age of 21, the world was so full of possibility? With a “you can’t win unless you play” sensibility I give it a try. Two days later I land the “in-room dining server” position.
Take it easy
Free lodging for five nights after one year of service at any hotel in the world piqued my interest. I’m already laying in a hammock overlooking the ocean in Bora Bora, drinking a Pina Colada, reflecting on how clever I am having landed such a luxurious gig. I mean, come on, how hard can it be to serve food and drink to a high-end clientele holed up in their hotel room? I was about to find out.
Breaks are optional
“I really don’t take my ten-minute breaks,” said my trainer. A gentle and patient man in his early 30s. “We get so busy. I just keep working.” I put this little nugget of information in my back pocket, not truly grasping how hard it will be to reconcile later in my hospitality career.
It’s no wonder that hotel industry workers are in their 20s and 30s mostly without children. I can see why. The hours are long and non-traditional—weeknights and weekends. The physical demands of the work require a different sort of work ethic. It’s not the cerebral constitution of sitting in front of a computer. It’s the physical commitment to walk six to eight miles per day, pushing, pulling, bending, and in general remain in motion. I am impressed by how easily my co-workers maintain their composure throughout their shift.
Beast of burden
My trainer shadows me as I push the 50-pound service cart quickly to the elevator heading to the top floor. The wheels of the cart have a mind all their own and I struggle to keep it moving straight. I navigate the carpet, which in some ways feel like dragging a dead body through sand, past bumps that will often tip over a glass of champagne or Ranch dressing if I am not careful.
I check my pedometer. I’ve walked six miles and there are two more hours to go before my eight-hour shift ends. The inside of my forearms ache. My hamstrings are tight making my legs burn with every step I take. I pop two tension headache pills with caffeine. These will lift my spirits and mask my pain. Earlier in my shift I take an aspirin and later a Tylenol.
The long run
When I arrive home at 11 p.m., I dip into a 20-minute Epsom salt bath to soothe sore muscles. I pop two ibuprofens, and eventually fall into slumber at 1 a.m. For almost five weeks I’ve been pushing myself to the limit. I am at the breaking point.
Over my next two days off, I allow the seed of doubt to grow. Is it wise for my 58-year-old body to continue this abuse? Now, the seed is a weed and I must pluck it. On the third day, I send a letter of resignation. The truth is this position taxes me beyond my physical ability. I’ve always considered myself to be vital, energetic, and athletic. And still this job defeats me every night. The endurance required to fulfill an eight-hour shift where I must walk six to eight miles a day, lift, push, pull, kneel, and in general remain in motion is too much of a challenge for me. I’m simply not up to the task. It’s beyond my endurance level.
The right stuff
I complete an exit interview with Human Resources and pick up my final check. As I make my way downstairs to the employee parking lot one last time, I feel an equal measure of remorse for not having the right stuff to be an in-room dining server at this five-star hotel and a strong sense of pride for having the guts to try a new experience. I inhale a deep breath of crystalline morning air and exhale a breath of relief. In this moment a sense of completion fills my entire body and I relax into the gentle knowing that all is well in my world.
The “what’s next” question will come knocking at my door soon enough. For at least today, that visitor would have to wait. I am, until further notice, at rest.