Who Let the Dogs In?

One morning as I enjoyed breakfast with a writer friend in the Café, talking books and playing cribbage, I watched a compact car pull up to the valet; hanging out the back window was the enormous, shaggy, tri-color head that’s signature to the Bernese Mountain Dog. A little later in the afternoon, I was in the lobby when he sauntered in, tongue lolling out and panting from what could only have just been a vigorous walk. Doug, accompanied by his owners Anne and Andrew, looked like a 100+ pound stuffed animal as he was remarkably calm and well-behaved for his two years.

As Doug flopped down on the marble floor, directly in front of one of the large lions that flanked the staircase, a woman stopped to ask, “Can I pet your dog? We have two dogs, but they got left at home.”  Andrew had tweeted the Pfister, asking if they were dog friendly, and explained this to the woman, who replied “Oh! Good to know. That will change our plans for next time – maybe we’ll bring them with us!”

We talked more, while I fluffed Doug’s fur and he panted with contentment.  After posing Doug by one of the lions for a regal photo, I gave Anne and Andrew directions to the nearest dog park and bid them farewell.

During Summerfest there was a small terrier who made random appearances through the lobby, and turned heads every time. His name was Jonah and his face was split with black and white markings that mimicked the Phantom of the Opera’s signature half-mask on one side of his face. He was regularly walked by a burly, inked guy with long hair in a ponytail who easily could have been a techie for any one of a number of bands playing at the Fest that week.  They were quite the pair!

There was also the fluffy white poodle named Gucci skittering alongside her owner’s tennis shoes as they skipped outside and back again on a rainy day. Of course, there was also Gertie, the Basset Hound I met over the Fourth of July weekend, who enjoyed romping down an empty corridor chasing tennis balls and getting attention from all the employees.

Roc, one of the concierges, has much love for the visiting pooches, saying “I love when dogs and children, come to stay. One time a dog that was staying here walked by me, grabbed the pen out of my hand, and just kept walking. It was the darndest thing.”

A recent Saturday featured numerous weddings converging in one place and, amid all the smartly dressed people, a large black and tan dog passed through the lobby, tail wagging a mile a minute. Never one to pass up a chance to get some canine love, I crouch to her level to greet her. At four years old, this Shepherd/Rottie mix is still all puppy. Her limbs flail as her enthusiastic, bounding energy has her practically spinning in circles trying to greet everyone within reach of her half-flopped ears and wet nose.

A bride, her bouquet and dress held together in one hand, pauses to greet Val, petting her briefly, a giant grin spreading across her face, then continues onward. Val’s owner then shows off Val’s only trick. He points two fingers at her, thumb up, like a mime’s gun, and says, “BANG!” as his thumb closes on his fingers and moves toward the ceiling. Val drops heavily to the floor, all 100lbs of her, lies on her back to “play dead,” though her front paws continue to kick the air and her face is happy: loose and goofy. It’s hysterical.

Val’s owner tells me how she was originally a stray from Manhattan and now lives with him in New Orleans. He jokes about this sweet, oaf of a dog, “She’s the love of my life,” while his girlfriend, waiting patiently, smiles as she affirms it, “I’m only #2.”

They make their way through the crowd, heading out for a walk, when they run into another bride. From across the lobby, Roc and I watch with great amusement as the bride greets Val and her owner, hear her shout “BANG!” and to much laughter, we see Val perform her one trick to everyone’s charm and delight, before heading out of the crowd.

Through all of this, Val’s tail never stops wagging; not even for a second.

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*If you’re visiting the Pfister with your dog, drop me an e-mail, I’d love to say hello and maybe snap a photo for the blog!

Passing of the Pen

That’s what we’re calling it. The official sign-off, remedy hand-over and next phase of the Narrator position. I’m not eager to give it up, but when I see Stacie again today, I realize “how can I not?”

Standing in the middle of the hotel lobby, she’s the brightest thing there. She’s been through the PR ringer, having her poster made, providing quotes for a press release, learning the blog system and now, today, taking some photos with me. Her look is bright and excited, mingled with a bit of overwhelmed awe.

I take her to my favorite seat, the plush couch in the lobby bar and before I can even settle in enough to ask the questions I had on my mind—turning the tables one last time and choosing the writer as my subject—Val is there, describing the time capsule in the lobby and reminding us that the Marcus company is very into history and preserving generational linkages. I thought it was appropriate as Stacie and I build the first link in what should be a very long chain of storytelling.

I don’t have to ask her anything, actually. She just starts telling. I worry as I listen if she is a better ambassador than a writer. She’s already describing to me the room we’re sitting in, how she’d depict the feeling of the plush couch that hasn’t been replaced in a long time “Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s good. Good, really. Look,” she says, bouncing on the cushion “it’s what makes it so soft.” Before I can comment, she’s telling about the baseball fans she saw in the lobby the day she took some head shots there and just as I laugh and agree that I’ve seen many a sports-reveler in the hotel, she is on to the next subject.

I’m convinced (not that I wasn’t prior to our ad hoc “all this is now yours” ceremony) that she’s the perfect heir to the throne. (I’m unabashed. It is a throne. It was such an amazing seat of honor, and not just because it was plush and well-worn). It’s not just that I’ve finally met a woman who talks more than I do (friends of mine will laugh at that; I think, after getting to know Stacie, I suspect friends of hers are giggling as well). But her talk is measured. She catches what surrounds us—from the bearded man who made an entrance and enjoyed his solitary glass of water in the lobby and mysteriously reappeared in the café when we walked through, to the staff and guests walking past us wondering about the cameras. She’s so full of things to say and so eager to not just say them, but write them.

That was the best part of talking with Stacie today. I had questions in mind, but all skirted the real subject: Writing. I was nervous to talk about writing. Writers are fickle (at least I am). It’s such a heartfelt, soul-releasing endeavor to mold words on a page and it’s so subject to critique that to discuss it raw and in the open is a delicate enterprise and Stacie has been reading my words. She’s seen my enterprise and now, she sits with me, suddenly there, gathering the words with me. We could both tell this story. Betwen us, it would be a choose-your-own-adventure and oh so different. Is the hand off today the doorway to a critique of what was experience as much as storytelling, craft as much as guest service?

When I interviewed for this position, interested parties asked me what I hoped to gain as a writer by the time I was done. I knew I wanted more stories than I could tell and more flexing of my pen than I could stand. I wanted to fatigue my muscles, douse the page in water because it overheated and beat my best time in a sprint across the sentences.

I reached many of those goals; I have measures of success ticked off in my notebook. But as I pass the pen, like a baton in a relay, I know that the next runner can be faster. Her way with words will reach different ends and move her to places I didn’t achieve during my residency.

Today we photographed me introducing Stacie to some of my favorite hotel staffers, my favorite hotel nooks and crannies and the memories of some of my stories. I tried to retell them but she already knew. It was a final tick in my notebook. Someone read my writing; someone is picking up where I left off.

It’s my turn to read, and I cannot wait to see how this story ends. Best of luck to you, Stacie, you have the pen that preserves the Pfister.