Gratitude from the road….
Over the last four months, I have been traveling to Philadelphia every four weeks in the pursuit of an additional certification in Applied Positive Psychology. My travel occurs in the late afternoon or evenings following what is typically a very full workday. There are no direct flights from Austin to Philadelphia that meet my needs, so the travel distance of 1,662 miles requires approximately 8 hours of airports, planes, shuttles, rental car driving and the like. No big deal however, when I arrive at my hotel somewhere between 11:30pm and 1:000am, I am absolutely shattered and ready for bed.
During a recent trip to Philly, and upon arrival at the hotel, there were a few things that were a little different. The first difference was staying at a new hotel in a part of town that I had not previously known. Lacking familiarity with this new part of town, I required the navigating assistance of my phone which ran out of juice the moment I found a parking spot. Not an issue one would think but….(and this story has a few buts), as I pulled my rolling bag up to the front door I noticed that I had two Hilton Hotel options side by side. Feeling a little more technologically advanced this trip (I was actually running late and did not print my travel plans) I only archived my itinerary on my phone. Continuing with an optimistic mindset (after all, I was in town or a course in Positive Psychology), I went to hotel option number one and began to wait in line for my opportunity to check-in.
As I waited in line, I quickly started to fade. My body was stiffening up from a long flight and most unexpectedly, I felt the “hangries” moving in on me. These realizations helped me to center and regain my focus of getting into my hotel room. Unfortunately, it appeared as if both parties in front of me were experiencing check-in issues, extending my wait in line.
Each guest before me was methodically and gracefully managed by the sole front desk attendant working that evening. It’s important to note that she was not the only person available to assist as a couple of additional highly competent looking employees dressed in the exact same front desk attire sized up the three groups of us waiting to check-in, and quickly proceeded to priorities elsewhere.
A quick aside: Have you ever noticed that when times like this occur at a hotel, there is often the floating manager that pops in, scans the area, looks over the shoulder of the employee already working on resolving the issues, points at something on the computer monitor, utters no more than two sentences of direction, (almost certainly emphasizing the exact actions the guest service attendant was already pursuing), and then promptly leaves the scene? Well, it certainly happened this evening.
I finally had my opportunity to check-in while noting there was a 50% chance of me having selected the incorrect hotel option. Upon the exchange of cordialities and my request to check in, it was quite evident that I had selected poorly and now needed to move onto option #2.
The very patient and calm guest service attendant offered to call the hotel next door to ensure they were ready and waiting for me. Unfortunately for me, she was notified that my second option also, did not have a reservation in my name.
Oh my. Hangry, tired, ready for bed, and no end in sight.
Sensing my frustration and or perhaps my exhaustion, the guest service attendant looked at me and promptly stated, “I got this, don’t worry, I will take care of you.” Hearing her commitment and knowing that I mattered to her, I slipped off to the side of the counter and watched her take charge of the situation.
At this point the only thing that could help me as both hotels were allegedly at capacity (allegedly as there always seems to be the “mystery room” available) was the itinerary and confirmation code which lay peacefully inside my utterly uncharged cell phone. Knowing this, the guest service attendant took my phone and charger and began the charging process.
Next she brought me a small glass of water, asked about my upcoming weekend, and made sure that I felt seen and well taken care of.
Within ten minutes, my cell phone had enough juice that we were able to retrieve my itinerary. Upon reviewing my travel details, it was clear that I had indeed selected the wrong hotel and that my reservation was for hotel option number two, approximately fifty yards away.
My ever so helpful guest service steward mobilized once again, called the correct hotel, putting them on notice that I did indeed have a reservation. What do you think happened next? The “mystery” room became available to me. (Magic is a thing folks….just look for it.)
As my personal guest service attendant returned to give me all the final details to expedite check-in next door, she thanked me for my patience, apologized for the miscommunication, wished me goodnight, and sent me on my way.
In the spirit of exhaustion, I gave her a quick “Thanks, I appreciate it” and shuffled off to the hotel next door. I arrived at hotel number two, began the check-in process, and no less than thirty seconds later the phone rang. It was the guest service attendant from hotel number one called the front desk to make sure that I arrived OK and that I was offered complimentary breakfast, wifi, and parking for the weekend. I was again, thankful for the nice gesture but probably not as complimentary as what I would normally be considering it was 1:00am.
I finally made it to my room, dropped my clothes next to the bed, and was soon fast asleep. The remainder of my weekend went perfectly. My learning experience was inspirational, soulful and my return travel all came together just right.
After I got home and returned to my normal routine, there was something that continued to resurface for me when thinking about the previous weekend. When I took the time to examine my thoughts more thoroughly, it was clear that I needed to send a thank you note to the guest service attendant who saved my weekend and kept me out of the cold, snowy Philadelphia streets at 1:00am looking for an alternate hotel.
That evening, I bought a thank you card filled with bright colors, wrote an accompanying note and included a little gift card as a small showing of gratitude towards someone who took the time to let me know that I matter during our brief customer service interaction. I sent off the note which I hoped would be well received and continued along with things as usual.
To my surprise, a few weeks later, I received a response. Here is exactly what it said.
“Where do I begin?
Firstly, I am moved to tears by your kind words. I am at a loss for words. I am BEYOND honored that I was able to make your stay a great one! You couldn’t possibly begin to fathom what you have just done for me. Just to give you a hint; my 6 year old daughter received open heart surgery on the 5th of March which caused me to be out of work – unpaid- for 3 1/2 weeks. Finances have since been strained, as has my joy. I come to work everyday leaving everything that happens in my personal life at the door when I clock-in. I always say this prayer, “Lord, let there be someone I can make smile, after traveling for miles, someone’s day that I can brighten, someone’s load that i can lighten. Shine through me, so they can see, a brighter day on the horizon!” I know it’s probably cheesy but there is so much joy and happiness I get from helping others! A smile is contagious! There are times when I get discouraged and your letter turned that all the way around for me! In addition, the gift card for Whole Foods?!?!?! How could you have known? I LOVE WHOLE FOODS!!
I came into work today and received your letter… I struggled today. I mustered up the strength to come into work and the neon green color of the envelope alone lit me up!!! You have truly proven to me that efforts are not in vein! I am more than appreciative!! Thank you so very much!! If your travels ever bring you back to Philadelphia, I hope they also bring you to Hotel, “option number one”!”
When I read this note, I immediately had a sense of sadness fall upon me. Not for the difficulties that this resilient and spirited woman had experienced, but for the countless other opportunities where I had not gotten outside of myself enough to remember my own potential to make a positive contribution to someone else’s life. It was a powerful reminder of how we all choose how to show up in this great big world of ours.
When we see each other in line, when we cut each other off in traffic, as we give our subordinates direction, when we identify a missed opportunity to connect, I hope that we experience these types of reminders, allowing access to the importance of extending compassion and understanding to one another.
Our words, our gestures, our behavior, our actions, our observations, judgements, decisions, and energy distribution…it all counts.
It has been said that if we experience insight and choose to deny it, we are denying truth itself.
What will our individual and collective truth be?
I would like to express gratitude once again to the inspirational guest service steward who literally kept me out of a cold, snowy night. Through your acts of kindness, you have awakened, this weary traveler.