Service Regardless of the Situation

 

Picture this:

You work at a hotel. A man checks in to the hotel with arms in plaster casts sticking straight out from his body. Later in the day the man calls down to your desk and explains that he’s not certain how to get himself dressed for the day.

What do you do?

Concierge Roc tells the story of how he teamed up with Annie, the Pfister’s Head of Housekeeping, to satisfy the needs of a guest in a whimsically compromising situation. No matter the job at hand, they’re always glad to serve.

Click Play below or Download to listen to this brief chuckle of a story.

 

Travel By Association ~ or ~ Travel Lite

 

Travelers. Travelers everywhere. Transient folks of every stripe walking, running, sitting, working, swimming, eating. Carrying luggage. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Adding sugar to their tea. En route toward somewhere. Arriving from someplace else.

Ah, airports. All of humanity distilled to a small area becoming a sudden, immediate culture. Unique and specific to that individual moment. The energy of not knowing what awaits on the other side of the tarmac touchdown chirp. I haven’t seen an airport in awhile but all the travelers inside this hotel make me feel as though I’m spending my time in a very relaxed version of one.

The experience of travel. Not just the carrot dangle destination, but getting there as well. I have these conventions, habits which only happen when traveling. I always try to arrive at the airport early to immerse in the vibe of transience, and chuckle about the seriousness of the TSA folks. After checking my luggage I order a Cinnabon roll slathered with frosting (reserved for airports alone). Then I might have a beer, even if the sun is out. I don’t have anywhere else to be and I’m not driving. Then I buy a new magazine, which I generally don’t read until reaching my destination. The reading material is only for the rare event that my neighbors prefer not conversing as much as I enjoy it.

There’s a curiosity and a titillation which exists inside places of travel or temporary residence. The immediacy that your only time to get to know all these people exists between now and your destination or connecting flight. A chance to learn from someone who may not look like you. They might only speak your language in words that provide the most * POP * to get their point across. They might not speak your language at all. They probably won’t share your political views, and will have completely different political issues in their city, or state, or continent.

I like having the time constraint of only the flight duration to try and understand another person.

There is also no accountability. You have no emotional attachment to another traveler, their past, or their future. Conversely, they hold none toward you. People are free to confide in one another regarding experiences or feelings they may not otherwise discuss openly with family, friends, or even their spouse. A person can tell a stranger all the details of their life they don’t care to be reminded of when they wake up the next day, fully rested to experience their new surroundings.

These things are all great, but what about when you can’t travel? When you’re busy.When a vacation is not in the budget. Times when work is too busy or you’re immersed in your studies. When family requirements may not allow for time outside the immediate zip code.

Despair not fellow hearts diagnosed with an incurable case wanderlust!

I invite you to indulge in something I refer to as Travel Lite. The Lite Beer of travels. This is travel by association. Chances are you’ve never met Doug from Virginia and heard his recommendations on California wine. Or Rick’s afternoon spent downhill skiing while in Dubai. Sandra’s experience working as a city planner in New York City. The bird dogs Ole has raised over the years. That time when the locals told Erica and Steve they weren’t crazy, that probably was a pointing dorsal fin, and that South America does indeed have freshwater sharks (as they dried with towels on the beach).

That is the lovely thing I’ve learned over the past few months. Any time you have a spare hour you’re able to stop in at your friendly neighborhood upscale hotel for a dose of travel lite. It’s as if all the best about travel has been brought to you. Except the food and drink is better and cab fare is cheaper than airfare.

 

Generations Dance

 

The Pfister specializes in weddings. They seem to happen here every weekend, sometimes a few concurrently. Here’s a poem about something we’ve all seen at weddings: The Generations Dance. You know, the one where all the married couples get up and gradually leave as the number of years they’ve been married are ticked away by the announcer.

 

* If you’d like to hear a spoken recording of this poem, please scroll to the bottom to listen or download *

 

Without further ado…

 

After the bride and groom

danced

their first as

man and wife

the disc jockey invited

all married couples

to the dance floor

 

Ok couples,

please exit the floor

if you’ve been married for…

 

Just One Day!

 

The crowd chuckled and applauded

as the newlyweds retreated

to greet family

and acquaintance alike

 

One year!

 

The groom’s sister

left with her husband

 

Two years!

 

A few young couples walked off

and joined at the bar

for a round of tequila shots

 

Five years!

 

Brought a sea of

first-time parents

and experienced

uncles, aunts, and coworkers

working on their second,

third, or fourth

pair of rings.

 

at

Ten years!

 

There was a mass migration

and children started to applaud

as their parents returned

to the round table.

 

After

Fifteen years!

 

A woman shouted

“Oh no fella-

you’re not going anywhere yet!”

 

By

Twenty years!

 

Their kids were off paying

nervous attention to their dates,

trying to disregard

that their parents were

“Oh My Gosh I can’t believe

my mom and dad are out

on the dance floor doing that.”

 

The folks at thirty years

left the dance floor

with more deliberation,

searching to place their feet

beyond the exact place

the parquet floor ended

and the carpet began

 

at thirty five years

the couples walked off

pressing their weight

against one another’s

clasped hands.

 

By the time

 

Forty years!

 

Rolled around

four couples remained

and they weren’t paying attention

to anything except

the sway of the song

and the partner in their hands

 

When

 

Fifty years,

ladies and gentlemen!

 

arrived

two couples remained

and they shared

sidelong chuckling glances at

their competition

 

Finally after

 

51 years

 

52 years

 

53 years

 

54 years

 

ladies and gentlemen

only one couple remained on the floor

and the husband then took hold of his wife

in the most deliberate

and delicately graceful

dance lead

I’ve ever seen,

 

his grasp so absolute

her response

near telepathic

I wondered

if anyone

could know anything

as well as they knew

one another

Part 2: The Talking Piano of Dr. Jeffrey Hollander

 

As mentioned in an earlier post I’ve put considerable thought toward how to chronicle Jeff, his playing, and more specifically his playing at the Pfister Hotel. There are several occasions when I’ve left the hotel and driven home in silence because after hearing him at the piano anything on the radio sounded like a frivolous muck.

Different ways to “capture” Jeff battled with one another in my head. Photographs, photographs of his hands, photographs of his facial expressions while playing. Brief videos of the way his hands dance across the keys. Recording the audio of him playing and with no dialogue whatsoever. A poem about his playing, about piano as a whole, about piano history, about jazz and American folk musics being high art. A conceptual piece called The Silent Man, about the piano player in the corner who wields the loudest voice in the room without speaking at all. But in the end I decided to interview Jeff and partner our interview with his playing layered throughout. What better way to document him than to record exactly what he does?

During our conversation Jeff discusses how he started playing piano at the age of 4, his college level education beginning at age 7, who he considers his timeless contemporaries, and the years of inspiration the Grand Hotel of the West has provided him.

Below is former Pfister Resident Artist Katie Musolff’s rendering of Dr. Hollander, in the hotel’s hallway for all to see. To listen simply click play on the good doctor’s piano below, or click download to listen later.

 

A Wild Conversation On Wisconsin Avenue

 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I was able to see Wild Institute founder Chris Heeter speak during UW-Milwaukee’s Women Leaders Conference. Chris’ speech struck a chord with me on many levels and I knew I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to document a few of her philosophies for the blog.

Assuming her canine companion would like some grass respite I suggested we walk four blocks to the Lake Michigan lakefront. While walking I did the best I could to record our conversation, not trip on Tuu Weh’s leash (Chris explains her name), and not bonk Chris in the nose with the mic.

In the audio track below Chris begins by explaining her organization, Wild Institute. After that we discuss similarities between canine/human communication, and how it can be an effective analogy for group dynamics in the workplace. To listen to Chris’ fascinating observations and her excitement for the natural world simply click >Play below or download to listen on your mp3 player/intelligent phone/iPod, etc.

 

Listening to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander- Part 1

 

This is the one I’ve avoided writing. The elephant in my room. The profile I’ve put off for five months while I watched and listened quietly in the background, leaning against a column with my arms crossed wondering how it happens and how to write about it.

Every time I’ve listened to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander play the piano I’ve had a clear desire to write about him, to chronicle the man and his work. I’m a music fan but I’ve never been a musician. I can converse in a limited manner regarding jazz and even less when it comes to classical composition. But we all know when we’ve been able to observe an art which resonates within us. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve listened to Jeff play and I feel like he’s reached inside of me and turned my ribs into piano keys. Then, there I am in a hotel lobby and suddenly sniffing and clearing my throat amongst a roomful of travelers.

When Jeff’s playing within the setting of the Pfister Hotel it’s almost as though you’re attending a private concert. Sometimes he’s behind the piano for lunchtime, sometimes evening, other nights he plays late. Often, in the late morning sun there are only a few other people who happen to be on their computers or reading while he plays, looking around the room to catch eyes and smile to anyone whose ears have perked. I still haven’t wrapped my brain around the fact that some people come to work and get paid while listening to Jeff play multiple times a week.

So what’s my deal? Why haven’t I just gotten over it and written about the guy already?

My conundrum is this: How do I presume to be able to ask questions of someone regarding an activity, a vocation, a way of life they’ve lived for 70 years?

The irony is that Jeff is a surprisingly engaging musician. Beyond being an approachable musician, he’s a nice guy. Throw out your image of the stormy, brooding genius and replace it with a guy who will tell you about the composer of the piece he’s playing, why they are important, and will ask if there is anything you would like to hear.

In most musical performances there is a barrier between the performer and the audience. Sometimes it’s literal, for instance a stage (Or those weird cages that only exist in tough guy bars in movies like Road House.), but even if there is no obvious stage there is a perceived separation between performer and listener. This makes sense, as playing music is difficult. It requires concentration. For most people an instrument, or painting, or basketball requires most of the individual’s brain power. I know I’m not a very interesting person to sit with when I’m typing. Jeff, however, likes talking when he’s playing. He invites the audience to engage him. His entire face lights up when someone sits at the table closest the piano and begins speaking with him.

There are no shortage of stories about Jeff’s playing. He’s performed all over the world and has played at the Pfister for well over 20 years. Many hotel staff members have their own song, a song he knows they enjoy and he begins playing when they walk through the lobby, or arrive for their shift. Concierge Peter Mortensen’s is “Kiss Me Again” by Victor Herbert. One time a little girl asked if he’d ever heard of a song she liked called “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which made Jeff grin. She sang, lighting up the entire lobby, while the doctor backed her as the smiling rhythm section.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people, clearly in thought and on their way to an appointment, stop in stride upon realizing the music that they’re hearing. They then look back and forth toward the sliding doors and longingly toward the man behind the piano. Realizing the happenstance musical moment they’ve stumbled into they’re earnestly considering how much time before they absolutely need to leave to arrive on-time.

This has happened to me dozens of times over the past five months, which is probably to blame for the timid sense of awe I’ve acquired toward Jeff. I want to capture him accurately and I don’t want to screw it up.

So, now that I’m getting over my stage fright in approaching this easygoing guy, Part 2 will be about Jeff and his piano. Tonight, as he always does on the first Thursday of every month, Dr. Hollander will be performing in Blu. The series is called Rhapsodies in Blu, and entry to the 23rd floor is free. I encourage you to listen to him dance across the keys before reading Part 2 about the man and his music in the very near future.

Cup of Joe with Joe

“French doors.”

That was the first thing out of his mouth when I mentioned I’d been shopping for a house.

“French doors can brighten up any space. If there is no doorway, build a doorway. Anything can be done. Of course, it’s easier if a house is exactly how you want it when you first walk through but that’s not realistic. Floor plans can be changed, walls can be built or removed, it all depends what you’d like to do. But the first most important thing is whether you like the house and whether you like the location. Beyond that, everything can be changed. Don’t be afraid to change things.”

Shortly after I became a fixture at the Pfister I realized there were a lot of return customers. Faces I saw over and over again. Not the travelers who return when they visit the city (although there are many) but Milwaukee residents who come to the hotel as their regular place to hold court, discuss diverse topics with a diverse crowd, and maybe enjoy a tasty lunch.

There are regulars who come in just for a cup of coffee. One such gentleman is Joe. Joe drinks his coffee with plenty of cream and warmed often. He’s never mentioned that but from the frequency at which lounge bartenders fill his cup and the smile he responds with tells me he likes a hot cup.

Joe is probably the snappiest dresser of all the regulars. I gather that he doesn’t leave the house without a suit coat, and probably grew up in a time when businessmen would never consider doing such a thing. The coat is often threaded with pinstripes matching his wool slacks. Cuff links to match or accent the tie. The tie arranged in a crisp Windsor knot. Hair in place and always a clean shave.

After Joe made his suggestion of French doors he went on to tell me that he’d spent most of his working life in architecture and real estate. He explained that he’s been involved in his share of remodels and that patience is very important.

“Remember to have fun! You get to make this house however you want it to be. You’re getting to build your castle. Don’t forget that the process can be as fun and as interesting as the result. Have fun and don’t rush it. If you’re in a position to take your time, take your time and get it done the way you want. I’ve found some of my favorite interior pieces in the strangest places. Rummage sales, secondhand stores, antique stores. When the right piece presents itself you’ll know.”

I see Joe walking the halls, ambulating as a way to get thoughts in place, or allow a momentary change of perspective to produce observations. Motion as a way to not only stimulate the blood but also the mind. When happening upon conversation Joe stands upright and his hands clasped behind his back, welcoming discourse.

A few weeks ago Joe offered several options for investing. Strategies for how one could pick out ways to make money just by reading the newspaper and placing one’s money in the correct place. Being a poet with my head always somewhere between a book and the clouds I’ve not put a lot of thought in to retirement or investing. He explained different theories of how the economy responds to different inputs and how there is always money to be made if one pays attention. After awhile I almost wondered if I should start day trading.

The most recent time I ran into Joe he was trying to figure out the upcoming presidential election. Rather, he was trying to figure out what the candidates were doing and why. Why they had chosen to focus on certain topics and not focus on other topics. Their reasons for campaigning in certain states and not others. How they will learn to work together once a candidate is selected. The chess of human interaction.

The economy, politics, real estate. It would be easy to miss the point of Joe’s conversation and conclude the guy’s trying to make a buck. But it’s not the money behind these things that makes Joe so curious. The puzzle of how everything fits together is what intrigues him. It’s the strategy, the reasoning behind the action that Joe is always trying to distill. As if he sees the world as a giant Swiss watch and in his mind he’s leaning over a workbench unscrewing every tiny component to hold it closer to the light while squinting and ask the tiny bauble, “Now what have we here…?”

 

Getting to know Chef Brian Frakes

The Pfister has received countless compliments on their Marcus Celebrated Chefs series. Many of the compliments centered around the hotel’s Executive Chef Brian Frakes. People talked about how generous he was with his knowledge and always sent them home with extra food. Guests went home energized with new ideas of how to invigorate their home cooking.

It turned out I’d met Brian briefly when I first came on as narrator. Concierge Peter Mortensen was giving me the introductory tour and we walked downstairs by the kitchen. Brian and I briefly shook hands and exchanged greetings. There were so many people and although good with faces names have never been my strong suit. We were in the kitchen but his manner was so welcoming it didn’t occur to me he could be the hotel’s chef. Most of the chefs I’ve observed in the past exude a territorial bravado (and, to be fair, it’s possible I’ve clicked the television past too many “reality” shows where the chef is always yelling about something), and Brian didn’t carry himself this way. He has a calm confidence and an “ask questions first, then respond with an informed answer,” way about him.

It’s quite possible that is why Brian’s events have translated so well. Yesterday Brian and I sat down and talked about his start in the business, his experiences in the kitchen, and how he ended up in Milwaukee as the Pfister’s Executive Chef. Listen in to give your ears a little taste of his experience and philosophy. Either click play below or download the track to listen later.

 

Getting to know Executive Chef Brian Frakes by Ed Makowski

The Pfister’s British Invasion

In 1964 everybody wanted to meet these guys.

Do you remember 1964, what happened after blues and rock and roll exported across the Atlantic Ocean and came back from a stop in England? The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, Donovan, The Rolling Stones, and of course The Beatles. When those four lads arrived in the States there was pandemonium along every stop. Each airport was crowded with admirers. Imagine a limousine driver trying to wade through a sea of screaming high school girls. These four gentlemen had not a moment to themselves once they hit stateside. Countless young ladies tried anything just for a handshake, a wave, a photograph, or even an up close glimpse of The Beatles.

A couple nights ago I met with a woman named Chris who remembered seeing The Beatles at the Milwaukee Arena, today known as the U.S. Cellular Arena. The year was 1964 and two 5th row seats cost less than $5. Nearly 50 years later she sat down to tell me about seeing the band all those years ago. Chris also told me about the rumor which lead to her own variety of “British Invasion” following the show.  Listen below to her vivid recollection of seeing the Fab Four and where she tried to find them after the concert.

The Pfister’s British Invasion by Ed Makowski

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 15 Florentine Opera Company

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 15 of 16. Today, buy the Florentine Opera Company is the center of Shelby’s fifteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece.  The reason Shelby chose this image for the Florentine Opera Company is because she loved the obvious drama between the two main characters, Venus and Adonis. She says opera is about both drama and music and the combination of the two is what makes it so special.

This is day fifteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day14, MILW ballet by pfisterhotel