Monday, July 4, 2011

Call me a Beverage Enhancement Technician

I had to stop in at the hotel to use the phone when I was downtown a couple weeks ago and I noticed something when I walked in. Since I normally come in through the back entrance, I seldom take note of anything in the front lobby. Up until recently, the big wooden desk to the right of the bell stand, the purview of the front desk staff, had a little name card on it saying “Manager on Duty.” Now, the plaque is less specific. It says “Hotel Information/Journey Ambassador.”
I am not making that up. It actually says “Journey Ambassador.”
That’s a bogus title. You’re not a Journey Ambassador. You’re a Concierge. And that’s cool. Say I’m staying at a hotel on business. I don’t need a “Journey Ambassador.” I’m just not that important. All I need is someone who can tell me where the nearest Walgreen’s is because my shaving foam, unwelcome in my carry on, depressurized and exploded. That is not a Journey Ambassador. Again, that’s a Concierge. I work for an international hotel chain. I won’t say which one, just in case our HR people stumble across this blog, but we have the same loyalty program every chain has. If you stay with us a lot, we’ll give you upgrades. If you stay with us a ton, we’ll learn your name and how you take your coffee. If you really drop some change our way, we’ll go out of our way to make sure you never feel want while you’re in our building. Hence the Journey Ambassador.
Here’s the thing: people want us to think right now that we’re special. You. And me. And all those people over there. Every one of us is deserving of an elaborate title, because every one of us is providing a unique service to society. We each, in turn, deserve to have an equally elaborately titled footman to acquiesce to whatever whim we may have. It’s like a short story by Gogol. Everybody has an important sounding sobriquet and a feeling of entitlement, but no one is actually providing a service anyone would miss if the position were gone. You’re not special. Neither am I, nor are any of those people over there. We are not doing anything so important that we need everything we want the moment we want it.
I’ve noticed a trend in T.V. ads lately. Both Starbuck’s and McDonald’s, two of the most faceless corporations on the planet, have started new campaigns that are really heavy on the individuality. Coffee is not only brewed, but also grown, roasted, and ground specifically for you. Every Big Mac is assembled with you, and your personal culinary preferences, in mind. This is incongruous with the very premise of Starbuck’s or McDonald’s. The whole point was that it was fast. It was pre-made and served up the minute you drove through because everybody wants a Big Mac the way a Big Mac is made. Now everybody wants a Big Mac to order?! That’s not part of the freaking deal. You either go to a chain and get what you expect, or you go to a neighborhood joint and get what they give you. You don’t get to walk into a Target and say, “well I think the pharmacy should be over there.” It’s laid out on a template.
So the government of my state officially shut down on July 1st. And this isn’t some sissy, Only The Poor People Feel It shutdown. This work stoppage means business. 22,000 state employees have been laid off. Everyone was turned out of state park campgrounds for the July 4th weekend. Highway rest stops are closed. You can renew your license plate tabs, but if you just turned 16 you can’t take your exam. If you want to get married, you can get a license for that through the county registrar, but if you want to catch and eat a Walleye, that license if you don’t already have it is unobtainable. Yes, I realize all this is goddamned absurd.
On Thursday I went to the DMV because no one knew yet what would remain open if the government shut down on Friday. I had to renew my auto registration, and figured it would be a while, so with earbuds in, I grabbed a number and sat down in the front windows while U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” blared forth from my ipod. If you’ve never listened to “Where the Streets Have No Name” at the DMV, I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the situation that this song was designed for. Of course, I recognize the song was written about 1980’s Belfast, but through its ambiguous lyrics and first-track placement on the Joshua Tree album it has become an ultimate anthem to freedom and endless horizons; while hearing it from tiny cauliflowers in your ears that no one else can share while sitting in a fluorescently-lit hanging-ceiling cavern may be interpreted by some as depressing, for me it was nothing short of inspiring. And if you ever need assurance that you’re not that special, this experience will sear it onto your mind. Because hearing this song, all I wanted to do was get on the highway and drive. Fast. But before I could, I had to wait for the woman with the elaborate title to call my number and take my money. The DMV does not do Made To Order, nor should it.
So we really have the two extremes meeting in the middle. There is the Orwellian bureaucratic dystopia where you are a subject to the titled people, or there is the free-market, unregulated utopia where you have the title and everyone in your world is subject to you. Of course, in both worlds you still answer to someone. Both worlds have titled people, but some titles are more regal than others. Is one version inherently better or worse than the other? I mean, for anyone other than those with titles? I personally prefer a world where there is familiarity I can make for myself, where I have a home where everything is to my specifications, but anything outside of that sphere is up for grabs. Maybe I have to educate myself on what the norms and mores are for a different place. Maybe it seems weird, or even unpleasant to me. Maybe I grin and bear it. Maybe I become a better person for it before returning to my comfort-sphere. Maybe that’s the real world we all live in.
Really the only situation where I could justify a Journey Ambassador is in a world where nothing is ever the same. That is the world where I need a Journey Ambassador. When every day I wake up with a different set of rules, I need someone there to show me how to navigate the place. But when every hotel I stay in has the same offerings, amenities, and menu items in the on-site restaurant, I don’t need a Journey Ambassador. I need a more exciting life.

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