Confessions of a Bell Boy

Tim Cigelske
May 29, 2013 · 4 min read
Flickr photo by Christopher Najewicz

I wrote this first-person account for Budget Travel in 2008 as a follow-up to my “Confessions of a baggage handler” article. It was accepted, fact checked and slated for publication. Then after editors I had worked with left the publication, it was ultimately killed. (“It’s been a rough time for all major national publications… please don’t take it too personally,” I was told.) For my Medium debut, it now sees the light of day on the Internet.

What’s the worst part of the job?
Being called a bell boy. We’re already carrying your bags and wearing a monkey suit, so please, don’t further damage our dignity by referring to us as bell boys. It hearkens to the Jerry Lewis title character in his slapstick comedy about a clumsy, incompetent bell boy. “Bellhop” isn’t much better. “Bellman” is just right.

Did you ever break the rules while on the job?
I wasn’t authorized (or insured) to park guest’s cars, but was it my fault if they mistook me for the valet? If they asked me to park the car, I considered the car’s coolness versus how much trouble I’d get in if I was caught, or worse, crashed. I got to drive some sweet rides, but I froze when a Rolls Royce pulled up and the driver asked if I was the valet. I just couldn’t risk something happening to a car that was worth more than my life. I still regret that decision.

Who were the best and worst guests?
One important lesson you learned on the job is that people didn’t fit neatly into preconceived notions. The best-behaved guests? ice hockey fans and attendees for the National Rifle Association convention. Yet I can’t remember guests who were less polite than a church gathering that trashed the hotel, checked-out late and barely tipped.

Were you ever propositioned?
Many bachelorette parties and ladies’ get-togethers apparently forgot all about sexual harassment in the workplace laws. I was occasionally jokingly (I think) propositioned for a bellman striptease, and on humid summer days I almost agreed just to get out of that black polyester-lined long-sleeve monkey suit. Usually the older the group, the bolder the flirtations. I once had a group of suburban moms straight-up talk dirty to me. “At 3 a.m. it’s going to be just you, me and these high heels,” one told me. Other comments can’t be printed here.

What was the stingiest tip you ever got?
I rarely got stiffed, though I was once given an ill-fitting t-shirt. An average tip was $3 and a good tip was $5 or more. My biggest tip ever was from two California women who rewarded me a crisp $50 bill to carry two tiny bags. Bellmen aren’t money-grubbers, but a little tip can go along way to accommodate a speedy special request like a roll-away or extra pillows. I once made a cigarette run for a man who gave me $20 and told me to keep the change.

What was your favorite trick to play on guests?
I worked at a hotel where a serial killer reportedly dispatched some of his victims. The place had long since been gutted from a seedy dive and renovated into a luxury hotel, and management obviously didn’t advertise its unfortunate history. Still, about once a month a guest asked me what room the highly publicized killings took place. Invariably, I would respond with their room number. The look on their face was priceless — before they realized I was joking. And no, I never saw any ghosts.

What’s the biggest no-no for guests?
Never borrow the bellman’s cart when he’s on duty. Not only is it tacky, you’re taking away his tools of the trade. How would you like it if the bellman went to your office and started using your computer?

What’s the worst time to check-in to a hotel?
Try to avoid arriving at peak check-in time, which is when hotel rooms first open up (usually around 3 p.m.). It’s like traffic gridlock. You’ll be waiting in long lines, fighting for the elevator and the bellman may be too busy to help right away. If you do show up during a rush and have a lot of bags, consider waiting until the evening to bring in luggage you don’t need right away. You’ll save yourself a big headache.

What was the worst insult you ever got on the job?
I was in my mid-20s before I retired from my bellman career, and parents and older guests often mistook me for a student working a summer job. They sometimes followed up asking what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” That’s even worse than calling us bell boys.

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity. Get my newsletter: http://bit.ly/timshottakes

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