A beautiful day in New York City isn’t just a day when the sun shines and Central Park is sky blue meeting lawn green, shining out in all its glory. It is also a day when New York hotel staff are happy to see you, and do their best to accommodate your needs, like checking in early or securely storing your baggage if you can’t.
When AmeriCorps Project CHANGE arrived last Friday, we were treated to an abundance of the first blessing, a magnificent day in Central Park, flowers blooming, happy people walking, biking, running. On the second score, we got the opposite- a bravura performance from the Hotel staff who could not do enough to frustrate, delay and confuse. If one wanted to experience New York City in all its extremes, the good, the bad, the ugly, we got it in the first New York hour. It is not what we signed on for, but it is what one can expect anytime in NYC and one has to be ready.
The manager- she could not cope with 11 rooms being booked through Expedia. “Why didn’t you book directly with us?” There was $200+ per room reason to use Expedia, but we didn’t tell her that. Working from a crammed space that looked like an annex to an Amazon storage facility, with parcels stacked everywhere, she asked us to give her the 11 separate 14 number booking references, which she laboriously wrote down on her notebook, and I mean lab-or-ious-ly.
She breathed out a sigh for each one, a sigh that got deeper and deeper until I thought by 7753, the 11th registration, she might have sighed herself out and needed CPR.
We had sent these same registrations to the manager two weeks before, after we had stayed at the hotel in person to ensure that there were going to be no problems. Two weeks back, the head manager gave us all assurances that they had all they needed. Show up two weeks later and it was as if our earlier planning trip was a total waste of time. It was. The Hotel was there to frustrate, diss and deceive and in that, they could not do enough.
Six rooms were ready, not 11, so rather than split the team, we decided to come back later when all rooms were prepared. When we did return, a different staff person-(only one person on duty) was on the phone taking a complaint from another unhappy customer who was demanding her money back. This staff person was writing a verbatim report of all that went wrong for someone else. “You kept us waiting” I thought she was writing down!
Despite 15 people suddenly showing up at her desk, she did her best to ignore us. When finally we managed to get some attention, she told us that all our rooms were cancelled because someone had come in and booked 10 rooms earlier in the day, and that we had to go back to the end of the line as far as having rooms ready. When we told her that we booked them in November 2021, she didn’t care. She was going to make us wait till after 5pm, and that was that. Check-In time was 3pm and seemed to be fine for any other guests who arrived while we were there. But it was not called La Quinta ( after 5 in Spanish) for nothing.
The luggage storage facility was the crawl space beside the front door, and any space out from that, all in public view and not secure at all. Some of our team were not happy to leave their bags so exposed, so another member, Dawn, stepped up to say she would stay because she had work to do and she would mind the bags for us. No Central Park sun for her.
So began our weekend in NYC. Central Park was perfect. The Imagine circle off 72nd street as always, was full of singers and artists keeping alive the legacy of John Lennon. “Imagine there’s no heaven,” Imagine NYC as the kindest place in the world. Imagine Early Check-ins. I’ll say you are a dreamer.
The team dinner at Harvest Kitchen was another highlight, where the food was amazing and the welcome and efficiency of the staff such a total contrast to the Hotel. The manager, Igor, was a chef himself and a long time New Yorker who made you want to come back. The team explored the night away in Times Square and good ice cream and good banter, ready for the next day of walking across Brooklyn Bridge and seeing Lion King. What was not to like?
New York is a great and fun place to visit and while it can bring out the best, it can often bring out the worst. If someone goes with a hunger to enjoy, and a curiosity to explore, and not let New York entitlement or cynicism or incompetence get you down, then it is always going to be fun.
But if you are sighing all the way instead of singing all the way, it’s best to stay home. New York doesn’t need more disgruntled, unhappy people. They work hotel desks. It doesn’t have to be that way, but enjoyment in the Big Apple, especially with a team of 20 people is going to take some generosity of spirit and stoic patience to ensure that no one misses out, that people are not left waiting, and that everyone’s interests are fairly accommodated. “Everyone out for themselves,” the stereotypical New York frame of mind of “Me Me Me’ will not work. To enjoy New York, the message is don’t be a New Yorker.
That is not what AmeriCorps is about and that is not why we visit NYC. Next time we visit, we will be closely checking vaccination forms ( some forgot) and also asking members for their license to enjoy, to make sure it is renewed and up to date before they come.
There is a song “If you go to San Francisco, wear a flower in your hair.” Perhaps New York needs a song too. Not “New York New York” and its cringeworthy “Top of the List, King of the Hill” arrogance , but try this, “if you are going to New York City, remember- come singing, not sighing.” Sinatra could sing that as a tribute to the poor manager who we clearly overburdened with our welcome. But she need not worry. We will not be back at that place anytime soon.
Many Thanks to Mary and Carl and Mary and Deborah, and Igor and Harvest Kitchen and Simba and John Roebling and Elton John and Amtrak. No thanks to the La Quinta Inn & Estates by Wyndham Central Park and their unmanagement team.