I Play a Cocktail Waitress on TV

My shift starts with the stench of garbage, more of a blast really, just inside the employee entrance.

I work at a certain hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco, the inspiration for a TV show about, well, people working in a hotel. I don’t watch the show but I can guarantee that none of the writers have stepped foot backstage.

The brief wind tunnel I walk into is made by the blowers that are supposed to keep the air fresh and flowing. Still, I’m mouth-breathing only all the way to the dry cleaning counter to pick up a clean uniform that never feels quite clean, just pressed and re-chemicalized.


A quick peak into the laundry room, where machines muffle the voices of the workers and bedding tumbles in the gigantic driers. The smell is better, here.

But in the locker room, it’s fresh and stale cigarette smoke. Lockers open and slam. Housemaids chat in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish. Some of them are on break, others finished with their shifts and putting on street clothes.

I have the tug-o-war with my L’eggs pantyhose, and slip into the red-orange, gypsy blouse and a skirt, burgundy velvet with floral print panels. It’s New Orleans-themed in keeping with the famous jazz band that plays weekend nights in the bar off the lobby, where I’ll be working today.

When I work a shift in the piano bar down the hall, it’s a different uniform. A Grecian gown thing that’s a bronze color and wants to shimmer, but doesn’t. It’s thick, pure polyester, supposedly designed for every body. The thinner cocktail waitresses look emaciated in it and the fuller bodied, frumpy.

In the lobby upstairs, it’s vast flower arrangements and Beaux Arts era chandeliers and mirrors. Bellmen and guests roam, check in, consult the concierge.

Every day all day, tourists hop off the cable car and hurry in to take pictures of the staircase. It’s sweeping, with brass railing and stairs of plush carpet and marble.

They usually want to know if the show is “actually” filmed here.

If they order a drink, I set the napkin, glass, peanuts, and the bill in a fancy black folder on the table, and smile politely.

“Actually, no. They recreated the lobby on a set in Hollywood.”

Otherwise where would you sit and sip your nine-dollar Pina Colada?

“I bet you get to wait on a lot of famous people, working here.”

“A few, I guess.”

“Like who?”

“One of the actors from LA Law,” I say.

“Who else?”

“I waited on the guy who played the first Ronald McDonald.”

“Oh. You mean the clown. On the commercial.”

“That one.”

“What did he order?”

“Hot tea,” I say.

I know what’s coming next — the longing gaze cast across the lobby. They’re looking at the entrance to the French restaurant, one of four eating establishments in the hotel.

“Do you get to eat the food here?”

“Sometimes,” I say.

“You’re lucky.”

Veterans of the employee cafeteria confirm multiple cases of food poisoning. The grilled cheese sandwiches are rumored to be safe. So far so good.

In the piano bar, the customers have more refined concerns. Most of them want to know if the piano player knows “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” He does. Too well.

Sometimes, I tell my customers that a group of world leaders worked on the United Nations Charter in 1945 in the Garden Room. They can take the elevator down to see the plaque commemorating the meeting.

The hotel guests are interested in this historical event, and the tourists, mostly, are unimpressed.

People from both camps often want to know how the hotel managed to escape the fires created by the 1906 Earthquake. I show them the wall of old black-and-white photos, where the hotel sits, high on a hill.

Plenty destroyed, but still standing and destined for greatness.





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