Whether you’ve been in a relationship for sixty years or twenty minutes, the day means something more than ‘Oh, it’s Tuesday, Hamburger Helper for dinner night’. Even if it is, for most of us, this particular Tuesday falling on February fourteenth, it probably better not be.
One of my favorite real-life stories of romance I played only a tangential role in, but I am willing to bet it is still being remembered or being retold by someone, somewhere, twenty-plus years after the fact.
The locale for this tale was the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis, where I worked as a bellman. The hotel’s location on the edge of downtown made it a prime sport for romance. The fact that hotel offered shuttle bus service and van transportation within a five-mile radius of the hotel was also a nice draw – for guests and for bellmen. Guests could park their cars and party on with us as chauffeurs. The van driving part of the job not only added to the variety, it was also a prime income-generator. Add in the fact that we. as bellmen, were also the hotel’s concierge staff, and we could develop a pretty all-encompassing (and lucrative) relationship with many of our guests.
We had a ring binder with the daily van schedule of scheduled runs (corporate clients, conventions and such) and could schedule other runs at guest request. We had three vehicles at our disposal: a twenty-five passenger bus, and two small vans – an eight passenger and a five passenger. You generally tried to schedule runs to maximize use, and keep dealing with the same guests. If you were the guy who scheduled the run, and it was during your shift, you could add your initials to indicate it was going to be your run. Otherwise, the runs were made by whoever was available when it needed to be done.
I was a bit older than most of my college-aged colleagues and I quickly mastered the art of unobtrusively making myself a constant presence in my guests stay. Meet you at the door, help you with your bags and check- in, inquiring all along why you were here, and what I could do to make your stay easier and more enjoyable came pretty naturally to me. Oftentimes, by the time I had delivered guests and their bags to their room, I also had a dinner reservation made and the van run scheduled to get them there.
I had it going on for my clients.
One Saturday night I had some guests in town from Arizona; a mid-fiftyish couple who had grown up in the neighborhood around the hotel – before redevelopment and glitz. Returning to town for a family gathering, they had come in a few days early to revisit some old haunts and friends, and to celebrate the wife’s birthday. Meeting them on check in, I ingratiated myself (in part with my knowledge of the neighborhood as I also had family ties to the area) and by setting up their dinner reservations, and scheduling their ride to the restaurant. Inquiring about a pickup and return to the hotel afterward, they told me they would be meeting some friends after dinner for an evening of dancing, a favorite pastime of their youth, when the neighborhood featured three or four prominent places for young people to dance.
We commiserated about how those days (at least in the immediate vicinity) were long gone; the college-oriented area now was loaded with plenty of hot spots featuring live music but very little dancing. I asked where they would be headed out to dance and they said they didn’t know for sure, but their friends knew of a place where they could at least get in a few spins around the floor to music ‘they could all relate to’.
Somewhere along the line, as we headed upstairs to get them checked in, the husband mentioned the fact that he was looking forward to dancing with his wife to ‘their’ song: the Irving Berlin standard, ‘Always’. “You mean ‘I’ll be loving you…always’ – that ‘Always’”? I asked. “Yep” the man replied. “We danced to it on our first date at the old Marigold Ballroom, and it was the first dance at our wedding.” His wife added a skeptical “Wherever we go, I hope they have it or know it!” We got them checked in as I promised to see them for the ride to dinner.
But first, I had some memorable-evening-planning to do. I started with our piano player.
Our compact lobby lounge had an upstairs; a balcony area overlooking the lobby. Most of the week it was quiet, many guests even unaware there was an upstairs to the bar area. But on weekend nights, the black baby grand up there was manned by Bill Duna, a music professor, and masterful pianist. Bill was very personable and musically knowledgeable, always game for serenading guests (and staff) with unusual requests: all he needed to set a scene was the song needed and a cue from me and no matter what he was playing, it would suddenly segue into whatever song it was I had requested. (This was usually accomplished with a hand gesture or head nod of some sort, and I often imagined myself as Rick Blaine to Bill’s Sam – but that is a whole other post).
Asking Bill if he knew ‘Always’ was silly; he responded with mock annoyance by simply knocking out the chorus on his ivories – punctuated with an ending flourish and a big smile.
Part one, ready to go.
That evening, when our happy couple stepped off the elevator and into the lobby, I saw them coming, and a quick “Oh, Bill”! turned a jaunty ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ into a much more melancholy and sensual ‘Always’ – causing a few lobby patrons to look around bewildered and stopping the couple dead-in-their-tracks. Puzzled, they looked all around the lobby before realizing where the piano music was coming from – above them, on the balcony. Then they looked up at Bill, smiled and waved, they both looked at me. I told them I thought since it was ‘their song’ we might as well have Bill serenade them out the door. They waved again to Bill, and I got them into the van for their ride to dinner.
Part two about to unfold.
As was our practice, before pulling away from the hotel, I grabbed the microphone of our Motorola two-way radio to informed the operator on duty that I was out of the lobby for a bit, headed downtown to Murray’s restaurant. Only this time my report was less a procedural courtesy, more a cue to Todd, our operator that night. Todd was a college student who nicely supplemented his income as a wedding singer. I had also asked him if he knew ‘Always’ (he of course did) and if he would be willing to sing a verse or two for our guests over the radio as I drove them to dinner (how could he refuse?)
I didn’t know he’d do the entire song.
As we pulled away from the hotel, I radioed my destination, got an o.k. from Todd, said “Ten-four” and hung my mic on the little silver clip on the dash by my right knee. We had no sooner made the turn out of the driveway when the Motorola crackled to life with Todd’s A cappella baritone:
“I’llllll be loving youuuuuu, always
With a lovvvvvee that’s true, always
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand
Thinking Todd was finished, I started to apologize for the sound quality – but Todd was not finished.
“Days may not be fair, always
That’s when I’ll be there, always
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year
The couple was laughing heartily, the husband shaking his head as we drove through downtown traffic as Todd continued to croon away on the Motorola, until I keyed the microphone so his audience of two could have their applause heard back at the hotel (where, I found out upon my return, a small crowd of staff had converged in curiosity over Todd singing to my passengers).
When we arrived at Murray’s, the couple asked his name, and if they could express their thanks to Todd, and I gave them the radio mic to do so while I went around to get the door for them. As they left the van, the man pulled out his wallet, peeled off a couple of twenties and a ten, instructing me to give one twenty to Todd, the ten to Bill, and take myself out to dinner with the other twenty.
“You know” the husband said “Sitting in the back of that van with Todd singing on the radio, was like being back in high school in the back seat of my father’s Ford listening to A.M. radio. Thank you, Mark. And thank Todd, too”.
We shook hands and they headed into Murray’s for dinner, both shaking their heads and laughing at their mini-concert for two.
We were big on teamwork at the Holiday Inn.