Found but not lost; a hotel days reminiscence

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

It was certainly one of the more memorable lines of greeting from my years as a hotel bellman – also one of the more puzzling. It was a typical weekday morning in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Metrodome; my partner in crime Franklin and I had weathered the 1993whitefordmorning rush of getting all of our business travelers off to their day’s work, our university clientele to their classes, seminars or hospital visits and were enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation. That was when one of the aforementioned business guys, whom we both recognized, pulled up in front of us with a Starsky-and-Hutch like jolt, jumped from the car and got into the lobby before either Franklin or I could get to the door, looks at us and with more than a touch of panic in his voice, uttered his problem succinctly.

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

It was uncommon in our big-city hotel experience for someone to think their vehicle had been stolen (especially on a groggy Saturday or Sunday morning… but that’s another story).

This guy obviously had something different going on. He breathlessly related his tale.

After arriving at the hotel the previous night, he met some clients for dinner, came back to the hotel, parked his rental car in the ramp, came in and went to bed. That morning he got up, hit the gym, had breakfast. Then he went to the ramp, threw his briefcase in the backseat, hopped in his rental car, drove to his meeting.

Only then did he notice that he had thrown his briefcase in next to not his one box of files, but two smaller boxes labeled ‘product samples’ and a large, blue mailing tube which appeared to contain blueprints. None of it (save the briefcase) were his. Thus, his hightailing it back to the hotel in the hopes that his favorite, stalwart bellmen could help him out of his presumed grand-theft predicament.

Hmparkingramp“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

Some quick sleuthing and deducing on the part of Franklin and I solved the not-a-crime. Seems when exiting the parking ramp elevator that morning, our intrepid traveler had gotten off on level two, not three, and had simply walked to what he presumed to be his rented white Ford, turned the key in the lock, got in and drove off.

With someone else’s rental car….from a different rental car company.

Franklin and I were able to quickly piece together the puzzle with any number of clues: the license number on his rental agreement wasn’t even the same state as the car he drove off in. The sticker in the corner of the windshield of the Ford he was driving said Hertz, the logo on the keys he had in his possession said National.


We were quickly able to locate his National Car rental white Ford in the ramp, right where he had parked it the night before, on level three right by the elevator.

While our guest was relieved there was no APB out on him and his pilfered ride, before we let him get back to his meeting, we needed to get his not-his-car back into the ramp, so that the person who had rightfully rented it could find it and not go into panic mode thinking their rental car (and blueprints, and whatever else) had been absconded with. We had only one set of keys to move two cars nationalkeyand the ramp was very busy, so jockeying them around was not a great option; for the sake of expedience we decided to return the phantom, accidentally stolen car to the nearest spot to where it had been taken from, and would try to catch up with the confused driver and explain at some point.

Unfortunately, the business day was in full swing, and the ramp was nearly full. The only open spot we could find was on level four, and nowhere near the elevator. But it was what we had, so we parked the car, brought the keys and the proper car to their rightful rentee and sent him merrily on his way without need of a brown paper bag or CPR.

And never heard a peep from the person whose car mysteriously moved.

As Franklin and I were in-and-out of the lobby making van runs and performing other duties, we instructed the front desk to call one of us on our radios if a guest showed up wither confused or in a panic because their rental Ford had disappeared, so we could explain the situation first-hand.

We heard nothing.

Our accidental-thief had checked out, departing town immediately after his meeting – a pre-arranged getaway. Franklin and I checked the ramp and within a couple of hours of returning the car to the ramp it was gone. Later that day, I took a luggage cart up to the ramp to assist some newly arrived guests, and there was the white Ford again, just a few spots down from its original locale on level three.

We chalked the lack of urgency up to a morning-after induced ‘hmmmm-I-don’t-remember-being-all-the-way-up-on-level-four’ shrugoff – a far more common occurrence to us than “You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

Things get taken from hotels all the time – inadvertently and otherwise; towels, toiletires, Gideon Bibles, lamps, phones. In ten years in the hotel business, this was the first and only instance of an accidental car theft, and one of my all-time, top-five favorite guest lines.

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!” is right up there with “Noooo…I think I’d remember if I had left an upright piano in my room.”

yellowpianoIf you ever need a good lost-yellow-piano story, just let me know.

A toast to brides and grooms and the parents that love them

June. The month of weddings. Love and romance. The month where your Facebook wall is slathered with a never-ending stream of caketopper1wedding pictures. Or, more accurately, the before-the-wedding pictures of bachelor and bachelorette party pictures. Friends getting together, celebrating brides and grooms, having final single flings, plotting pranks. There are also lots of pictures of people on their way to a wedding, bachelor or bachelorette party. So far this year, aside from some young women wearing panties as hats and a group of young men celebrating pending nuptials with some over-Freudian cigars, most of the stuff I’ve seen so far has been pretty tame.

Ahhh, romance.

Back on Valentine’s Day I wrote about two of my all-time favorite real-life love stories that I encountered during my days as a hotel bellman and manager (Flashback! While hotels are hotbeds of romance and romantic stories, they are also prime locales for all the things associated with weddings: ugly bridesmaid dresses, family bickering, mismatched families coming together, brides’ fathers contemplating bankruptcy from the festivities, that sort of thing.

Weddings are an odd occurrence, especially when one (or both) of the principals are from out-of-town, and two, oftentimes disparate families come together. This can make for a lot of awkwardness, one-upmanship and friction.

Or hilarity.

HIM1The Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis, where I spent much of the 1990’s working as a bellman, was a very nice fourteen-story facility right off the edge of downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota campus. This made us a prime spot for all sorts of university and student related functions.

An especially handy spot if you and your significant other are graduating from the university on one weekend, and getting married the next and neither one of you is a native of the area. One young couple had set up such a scenario so that their respective sets of parents could each make one trip, catch graduation and the wedding, and as a bonus, could spend the week between the two events bonding with one another.

Spolier alert! The four parents got along famously, but they really cemented their bond in an unexpected way at their children’s wedding reception.

bellhopAs one of the hotel’s few locally grown (and older) bellmen, I was the go-to guy for the obscure and trivial. I had been introduced to the bride and groom by the sales manager who took care of the wedding arrangements, and when the parents arrived prior to graduation, I became their hotel host/concierge/designated problem solver and logistics manager – especially once other family members began to arrive.

It was a fun week for the two fiftyish couples, profitable for me as they were all generous tippers. I finagled them some tee times, took them shopping, got them set up with a personal sightseeing tour, drive them around in the hotel van. We got to know each other very well, and by week’s end had developed a very comfortable, casual style of business.

On the Saturday of the wedding, the couple got married without a hitch at a church just off campus, before returning to the hotel for an afternoon reception and evening dance. Everything was proceeding smoothly until about an hour into the reception. The two dads, tuxedo clad with bewildered looks and shaking their heads, came to lobby seeking me out. The sought to huddle with me quietly by the bellstand. Each peeling a twenty from their wallets, they proffered them to me with the following instructions:

sgtprestonssign“Mark, we are going across the street to Sergeant Preston’s to have a drink”.

“Maybe more than one. Probably more than one”.

“We need you to bring two luggage carts back to the ballroom for the wedding gifts. Our wives will be waiting for you. But if anybody is looking for us….”


“…you have no idea where we went”.

“Unless it’s an emergency”.

“A serious, need- to-call-the-cops or something emergency”.

“And even then, only if you think someone might die”.

“Yeah. That’s the only reason you would know where we were. We clear on that”?

“Sure”. I nodded.

“Good luck, Mark”.

“Be brave”.

With that, they each gave me a ‘carry on, brave soldier’ pat on the shoulder, walked out the door headed for Sergeant Preston’s bar.

Me, I grabbed a couple of luggage carts and headed for the ballroom area at the back of the hotel. When I made the turn down the long hallway to the ballroom they were using, I could see four people standing out in the hallway across from their ballroom in animated caketopper3discussion: the bride, the groom, their respective mothers. As I got closer, I could tell there was a strong difference of opinion on…something. The bride, clearly exasperated, was plaintively admonishing both her mother and new mother-in-law that “This isn’t funny! What are we going to do”?! The two mothers, resplendent in their wedding day attire, were laughing so hard they were doubled over, hands on knees, tears streaming down their cheeks.

The groom stood off to the side of it all looking totally befuddled, declining to or not sure how  to get involved.

Seeing me approach, but with some I-don’t-think-I-want-to-get-in-the-middle-of-this caution, the two mothers began waving for me to advance.

“Oh good! Here’s Mark”! Said one, through her tears and laughter.

“You have to see this”! Added the other, also struggling to control her laughter.

They each grabbed one of my arms and walked me to the ballroom doorway. In one corner of the room stood a number of the younger guests, mostly bridesmaids and groomsmen, looking concerned and sharing comments like,“Well, who did YOU tell”? “I only told a couple of people”! “I didn’t think this many would really do it” ! Most of them seemed rather embarrassed; the bridesmaids in particular. Meanwhile, other guests were sitting at the scattered tables, eating, drinking, conversing and trying to ignore the group in the corner, most probably dying to see what would happen next.

The mother’s pointed me toward the front of the room, where a chair sat empty, but surrounded by gifts and crumbled wrapping paper – the remnants of the gift opening, a fairly common occurrence at small receptions like this.

“Look at that”! Sputtered the mom of bride, turning me toward the chair and focusing me on the stacks of gifts.

“Mother, this isn’t funny”!  repeated the bride, now with some resignation.

The mom of the groom was barely containing her laughter, which totally went for naught when she saw the look on my face as I realized what the mothers found so amusing about the assembled gifts.

They were almost all toasters.

toaster4toaster6There were two, four and six slice toasters. Ordinary, put-the-bread-in-and-push-the-lever-down toasters and high-tech gizmos with multiple darkness and texture settings. There were futuristic looking, stainless steel toasters, wide slot toasters (for ‘bagel and English muffin lovers’, according to the box). There was a twelve-slice toaster – our hotel kitchen didn’t even have a twelve-slicer. There were toasters in a variety of colors, sizes and styles, from at least ten different stores. Box upon box upon box – each containing a toaster – stacked around the bride’s chair. All toasters, all the time. And there were still some wrapped packages she had yet to open, that based on their size and shape, were probably bread roasters as well

Final tally for the day: 71 boxed gifts. 58 of them toasters.toaster5 toaster2
Final outcome as a wedding story: Priceless

As I began loading up the wedding booty for transport to the lobby, the two mothers graciously took the floor to express their appreciation of the joke, telling everyone what a wonderful memory this would be, and that while they bride and groom were off on their honeymoon, they (the moms) would return as many of the gift toasters as they could. The mom’s public appreciation of the joke broke the tense mood; the party regained its festive nature.

I brought the carts of toasters to the lobby and then retrieved the two dads from Sergeant Preston’s so they could get their rental cars from the parking ramp so I could load them with toasters. I found them sitting on adjoining stools at Preston’s bar, and they were greatly relieved to have me deliver the ‘all clear’.

As the story was related to me later in its entirety by the parents and the bride, the gift opening was going fine until about the eighth or toasterjoyninth toaster, when the bride began to suspect something afoot and a nervous buzz began going through the crowd of guests; “They haven’t opened mine yet”! “I got them a toaster, too”! and so on as the unintended scope of their practical joke became clear.  By the time the bride unveiled toaster number twenty (or eighteen, depending on the source) both the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom had to step out into the hallway to keep their composure.

Reentering the room to see the bride opening yet another toaster (number thirty or so, by most accounts) and hearing her mutter with no enthusiasm whatsoever “it’s lovely” sent the moms into uncontrollable fits of laughter, which led to the dads quietly ducking out, and then my subsequent appearance on the scene.

To her credit, by the end of the night the bride had begun to see the humor and appreciate the reactions of her mother and new mother-in-law. By the next day, before leaving on her honeymoon, she was actually retelling the story with quite a bit of elaboration and humor – including the postscript:

As the night wound down, both dads made closing toasts, in tandem and repeatedly, to the happy couple.

“Before we go, a final toast…”bravelittletoaster


“I’d like to propose a final toast…”


“Here’s a toast…”


One of the most enjoyable weddings I have ever been to. And I wasn’t even on the guest list.