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Hotel Concierges Tell All: The Good, the Bad, and the Wacky

By Liza Weisstuch
January 27, 2022
concierge bell on counter lights in background
Oleg Dudko/Dreamstime
From crazy guest requests—like delivering a massive TV screen to a video-game addict—to life-or-death medical emergencies, these hotel concierges have seen it all.

Hotel guests can be very particular, and nobody knows that better than a concierge. They are a cornerstone of any hotel's daily operation. If the check-in desk and administrative departments are the brain, keeping logistics and operations functioning, then concierges are the heart, minding the rhythm and energy of the lobby and, perhaps more importantly, infusing the property with the soul that comes from hands-on, face-to-face attention and care.

Over the course of their career, a concierge can meet tens of thousands of individuals, if not more. Requests can range from eyebrow-raising (a concierge in North Carolina who asked to remain anonymous reported receiving a delivery of a 50-inch television screen for a guest who wanted to play the video game Fortnite during his one-night stay) to the all-out astonishing (a concierge at a luxury property in South Beach, who also asked to remain anonymous, spoke of a guest who checked in with a small dog and requested inordinate amounts of raw meat be sent to her room.) We checked in with a few seasoned veterans about their more memorable encounters, some of which might even make a superhero blanch.

Concierge to the Rescue in Winston-Salem

It was around 7:00 a.m. on a crisp spring morning last year. Things were normal enough as Mary Beth Wilhelm prepared for her shift at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in Winston-Salem. She greeted a regular guest, a business traveler, who was coming in from his habitual jog. But normalcy was upended when he approached her, clutching his chest. “My first reaction was to laugh because that’s how I feel after I take a jog,” she recalls, but within an instant it was clear that he wasn’t kidding and she immediately slipped into crisis-management mode. She called 911 and sat with him until the paramedics arrived and rushed him to Wake Forest Baptist Medical, a few minutes away. In that time, he had the wherewithal to give her his wife’s cell phone number. As he underwent bypass surgery, Mary Beth corresponded with his wife, who was making her way to North Carolina from the West Coast. The surgery was a success, and the couple stays with them regularly now. “He tells me, ‘You saved my life,’” Mary Beth says. “I just did what anyone else would do.”

Going to Extremes in New Orleans

As anyone who’s spent the bulk of his career at a hotel on Bourbon Street, Wayne Adams will be the first to tell you that alcohol does funny things to people. With 30 years in the New Orleans hotel industry under his belt, suffice it to say he's seen some things. Presently the guest services manager at the Royal Sonesta who regularly works the concierge desk, Wayne has borne witness to pretty much everything, including a career ice skater taking a 3:00 a.m. tumble into the hotel’s fountain while attempting to show off some new moves, a meeting organizer doing an impromptu late-night burlesque dance for the many, many meeting attendees, and the escapades of the attendees of a convention for swingers. Yes, swingers. (“Bourbon Street is pretty risqué. They’re really risqué,” he says.)

With bars that hardly ever close, a large history and culture of voodoo practitioners, and laws that allow drinking in public, New Orleans errs on the side of eccentric and attracts many travelers who relish the vibe. One of Wayne’s more memorable requests was from a guest who asked him to make a Sunday brunch reservation for her and her guests at one of the city’s more formal restaurants. She wanted Champagne and all the fancy fixings, he recalls. Her guests? Her four cats. He’s lent a hand to more than a few guests who wanted elaborate setups to propose to their girlfriends, going so far as to round up clowns and track down a unicyclist for one couple. “I’ve seen people meet in the morning and marry in the evening,” he said. More than once.

The extremes of his job swing both ways. During 9/11, there was a convention in the hotel with many people from New York. They had a command center set up in a music club, with many locals trying to reach the guests’ relatives and friends who worked in and around the towers. During Hurricane Katrina, they didn’t close. They played host to first-responders, cable news teams, and FEMA staff including Michael Brown, the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response who famously became known as "Brownie."

A Lifelong Career with a James Bond-Caliber Thrill

At a point in every concierge’s career, an extreme request will arrive—a request that will involve duties far beyond the everyday. In Gaby Delgado’s case, there was a James Bond quality to it. Gaby is presently the senior concierge at a Fairmont Washington D.C., Georgetown, but years ago while working at a luxury property in Hawaii, a guest wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so he bought her a diamond ring and had it specially made and cut. Just one sticky wicket: the diamond was on another island. Gaby was called upon to get on a private plane—accompanied by a security guard, of course—to obtain it. (“I’ve never been around so many diamonds,” she says, still sounding mystified.) With prize in hand, she made it back to the hotel in time for dinner, an extravagant affair involving roses, a violinist, and a harpist. The woman said yes. Whether they lived happily ever after, however, remains a mystery.

Service Goes to the Dogs in Boston

In the 14 years that he's worked as concierge at the landmark Fairmont Copley Plaza, located on Boston's bustling Copley Square, Joe Fallon has taken care of countless guests, from Hollywood luminaries to some of the world’s most illustrious performers—even if he doesn't always recognize them. (He's still a little sheepish about not recognizing a woman he later learned was the biggest opera star in Italy.) But arguably, his biggest responsibility over the years has been Catie Copley, the black lab that was, until she passed in 2017, as much of a fixture in the glitzy lobby as the crystal chandeliers and Italian marble columns. To hear him tell it, he’s just the personal assistant to a famous dog: "I know my place,” he says, only half-kidding. As such, he was responsible for taking care at Catie after-hours at his home, accompanying her to schools, libraries, and hospitals, and keeping her calendar clear for an annual appearance with the mayor for the tree-lighting ceremony.

Catie, he says, was as big of a star as much more familiar household names. Joe has photos of her with Leonard Cohen as well as an Elvis Costello shot that she photo-bombed. But perhaps her biggest fan was Paul Newman, a regular who celebrated his 82nd birthday at the hotel and, Joe says, "one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met." He was such a Catie fan that the hotel presented him with a framed photo of her, imprinted with her “pawgraph.” (That’s dog-speak for autograph.) He was very open and conversational, and, Joe recalls, he eventually came clean: “He didn’t want to be actor, he wanted to be a race car driver." Apparently some concierges field confessions along with the regular influx of requests.

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11 In-Flight Essentials to Pack for Your Next Trip

While we can’t do anything about the seatmate who takes over your shared armrest, or the drink cart that bumps your elbow with every trip down the aisle, or the lack of legroom in coach, we’ve put our frequent-flier miles to good use and collected the gear to make your time in transit as enjoyable as possible. From pillows and earplugs to blankets and socks, here’s what you should stash in your carry-on for a smooth, no-friction travel day. 1. Charge Up (Courtesy Anker) Yes, most planes have in-seat outlets these days, but if you’re on a short hopper flight, your aircraft probably won’t have a plug. Avoid outages with Anker’s tiny power bank—at just four inches long and weighing less than five ounces, it’ll keep your devices humming along until you’re back on the ground. Anker PowerCore 5000, $22; amazon.com. 2. Get Some Rest (Courtesy Travelrest) When it comes to long-haul travel, catching those Zs is critical, and Travelrest’s memory-foam neck pillow is one of our most highly rated nap-time tools. Between the under-chin support that keeps your head from dropping, an angled back that cradles your neck just-so, and a velour cover that feels extra-cozy against your cheeks, you’ll be nodding off in no time. Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. 3. Avoid the Noise (Courtesy the Grommet) Whether you’re blocking out your seatmate’s snoring or trying to catch every last word of your favorite podcast, a solid set of headphones is non-negotiable. These Bluetooth earbuds from ISOtunes come with a noise-reduction rating of 27 dB and a selection of foam tips—much more comfortable than, say, Apple’s hard-plastic AirPods. Plus, with 10 hours of playback time, they’ll take you from check-in to deplaning in one go.ISOtunes Audio Professional Noise Isolating Earbuds, $90; thegrommet.com. 4. Organize Your Essentials (Courtesy Flight 001) With labeled pockets and pouches for your tablet, smartphone, passport, and more, Flight 001’s in-seat organizer is a Type A personality’s dream. Unfold it and hang it from your tray table’s hook, or keep it zipped and put it in the seat-back pocket in front of you—either way, you’ll have instant access to your gear. Seat Pak Pro, $40; flight001.com. 5. Stay Moisturized (Courtesy Skinny & Company) Recirculated cabin air is notoriously drying and germ-ridden, but a good lip balm can help keep your skin's moisture barrier intact. Skinny & Co.’s formula relies on coconut oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, and vitamin E to prevent against the painful cracks and chapping that allow bacteria to sneak into your system, and it feels light yet substantial when applied. Stash one tube in the aforementioned organizer, one in your Dopp kit, and one in your coat pocket, and you’ll be covered on all fronts.Lip balm, $17 for three; skinnyandcompany.com. 6. Get Comfortable (Courtesy Slip) First-class tastes on a main-cabin budget? Slip’s pure-silk pillow and eye mask will keep tangles, flyaways, and sleep creases at bay, so you’ll arrive at your destination looking refreshed. The set is a bit of a splurge, both in terms of cost and how much space it takes up in your bag, but if you’ve got a serious beauty routine, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected, especially when you're crammed into a middle seat in coach.Beauty Sleep to Go! Travel Set, $120; slip.com. 7. Guard Your Ears (Courtesy Pluggerz) Changing air pressure on takeoff and landing often wreaks havoc on sensitive ears, especially during cold-and-flu season, when congestion can result in all kinds of aches and pains. 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These accessory bags from Topo Designs are ideal: Stash eye drops, lip balm, and Advil in the smallest; hand sanitizer, lotion, and a compact in the next size up; and laptop chargers, power cords, and social-media equipment in the largest. Made from hardy Cordura fabric and boasting bright-red zipper pulls, they’ll withstand potential snags and tears, and they’re easy to spot in your bag too. Accessory bags, from $15; topodesigns.com.

Travel Tips

Worst Cities in the World for Traffic

The New England Patriots just brought home their third Super Bowl ring in five years, and it looks like the Red Sox have a promising pitching lineup going into 2019 spring training. Boston's universities and medical facilities are regularly ranked best in the world, and its legacy of political royalty is unparalleled. But this month, the city earned another notch in its belt of superlatives, and locals won’t be beating their chests about this one: worst traffic in the United States. A Traffic-Stopping Analysis (Roman Smirnov/Dreamstime) INRIX, a transportation data firm that publishes annual rankings of urban traffic and congestion around the world, released its Global Traffic Scorecard last week (inrix.com/scorecard). The study identifies and ranks mobility and traffic in more than 200 cities in 38 countries, analyzing lost time due to congestion as well as the severity of the congestion and reasons for it. When it comes to spending time in gridlock at peak hours of morning and evening commutes, Boston drivers took home top prize for 2018. (Well, if they can ever manage to get home, that is.) To be fair, Boston isn’t alone in its supremely slow-moving misery—it’s an honor shared with Washington, D.C. Both have 15 more hours of congestion per year than Chicago and Seattle. Logic would dictate that New York City and Los Angeles, both infamous for bumper-to-bumper traffic, would come out on top. Chalk the counterintuitive results up to methodology. The study looked at commutes during peak times in the day, and, according to the report, “Los Angeles experiences high levels of congestion throughout the day, but its peak severity is less than Boston.” It also notes that the city has employment across a wider geographic area, preventing severe downtown congestion that more centralized cities experience, which helps explain Boston’s issues. Even with the billions spent on the so-called Big Dig, the decades-long construction project designed to relieve traffic by building a tunnel under the highway, it did nothing to alleviate the gridlock on the city streets, which were originally built for horse-drawn carriages. New York City has an honor entirely of its own: the slowest city in the U.S., with “last mile” speeds of nine miles per hour. Translation: It’s faster to bike than to drive or take the bus. (L.A.’s last mile speed is four minutes.) Time Is Money (Erik Lattwein/Dreamstime) The Global Traffic Scorecard found that congestion alone cost Americans nearly $87 billion in 2018, an average of $1,348 per driver. When it comes to time wasted, Americans lost an average of 97 hours annually. As far as the breakdown of losses across the world, the Scorecard ranked cities both by economic impact and hours lost. On the economic scale, the cities where traffic had the most serious impact are, in decreasing order, Moscow, Istanbul, Bogota, Mexico City, and São Paulo. Boston is the only U.S. city in the top ten, with drivers losing $2,291 per year due to congestion. As far as U.S. cities go, Boston is followed by D.C. ($2,161), Seattle ($1,932), Chicago ($1,920), and New York City ($1,859). At $304 per driver, Wichita, Kansas, had the lowest cost of congestion among the U.S. cities studied. When it comes to lost time, Bogota had the most hours lost globally to peak period congestion: 272 in 2018. That almost makes Boston, the top-ranking U.S. city, look good, with 164 hours lost. D.C. drivers lost 155 hours per year, with Chicago and Seattle trailing not far behind at 138 hours lost in each. New York City, L.A., Pittsburgh, and Portland, Oregon, are only marginally less congested, with 133, 128, 127, and 116 hours lost, respectively. So next time the hankering for a road trip takes hold, make sure you account for time lost to gridlock when you’re planning your journey.

Travel Tips

Conquer the Top 6 Travel Anxieties

It’s happened to the best of us. We have that jolt of panic, just like that classic moment in Home Alone when Kevin’s mom, Kate McCallister, bolts up during her flight, trying to recall whether she locked everything, turned everything off, remembered everything. Most people, of course, don’t leave their kids behind, but the jitters and worries that come with the excitement of zipping off to a distant locale are common to even the most seasoned frequent flyer. To help debunk common fears surrounding travel, whether by plane, train, automobile, or otherwise, we asked the experts to analyze the anxieties that can strike when we embark on a journey, and to suggest in-the-moment exercises or mantras to help ease those nerves. 1. The Fear: My Plane Will Malfunction Tom Bunn, LCSW, a former Air Force and commercial pilot who now teaches a course around conquering the fear of flying, says there are so many back-up systems in place on board an aircraft that there’s very little room for something major to go wrong. “The problem during takeoff, for example, is stress hormones build up because a series of things are happening one after another," he says. "The engines rev, the pitch changes, the engine exhaust sounds, the acceleration pushes passengers back in their seats, the plane bumps down the runway, the overhead compartments shake.” Try This Exercise: The 5,4,3,2,1 exercise helps release stress hormones. Stay in the moment by naming five things you see ("I see a coffee cup"). Then switch to five things you hear ("I hear a fan"). Moving on to touch, what five things do you feel? ("I feel my wedding band"). Go back and repeat each sensory step with four new things, then three, then two, then one. 2. The Fear: Crowds Are Overwhelming/Strangers Intimidate Me As Jean Kim, psychiatry professor at George Washington University, explains it, each traveler has his or her individual agenda, often paying no mind to what others around them are doing. “Depending on one's past history of social interactions, or just one's physiological tendencies towards social anxiety, being around lots of unknown people can trigger one's sense of potential threat and loss of safety,” Kim says. Try This Mantra: "Others around me are feeling this way, too, and they have their own goals today. My goals are: [fill in the blank]." 3. The Fear: Is My To-Do List Complete? Remember Kate McCallister? It's that constant feedback loop: Did I remember everything? Did I bring enough cash? Will my kids be okay? Did I pack enough? Will my luggage make it? And it can be paralyzing. “Everyone increasingly juggles so many responsibilities and data points in today's hectic, tech-driven society that people can feel swamped and overwhelmed and prone to forgetfulness, or anxiety about making mistakes,” says Kim. She suggests advance preparation, like writing a list to follow as you leave. “A general attitude that solutions will still exist even if something that's missing may help.” Try This Mantra: "I can always adapt and find a solution at hand." 4. The Fear: The Unknowns of Weather Weather can make or break some trips. For some, it’s an obstacle to the planned activities. To others, it’s a safety issue, especially when it comes to flying or boating or driving. “The planes we are flying these days can handle any kind of weather, and if the destination airport has state-of-the air guidance systems on the runways, landing can be made automatically in almost any weather,” Bunn assures. Try This Mantra: "My safety is more important than my plans." Or: "There are countless experts making an informed decision." 5. The Fear: I Don't Speak the Language or Know the Culture When this feeling creeps in, it’s easy to stay in our comfort zone, spending most of the time in the hotel or on group tours. That could mean forgoing a rich cultural experience and missing out on meeting new people. “Some discomfort with new social customs or situations or language barriers is normal, especially if you’re someone comfortable with routine and familiarity,” says Kim. “Just remember that it's not the end of the world if you commit a social faux pas or encounter a different way of doing things you don't quite grasp—it's very normal. If you encounter unfriendly people, that's on them and isn't your fault.” Try This Mantra: "When I go with the flow, I broaden my horizons and gain a new perspective." 6. The Fear: I'm Afraid of Getting Sick Planes have a reputation for being a breeding ground for germs. Plus there’s the lack of sleep, an all-too-common consequence of being uprooted from your routine. “While it's true that the stresses of travel and shifting time zones can lower your immunity, and you can encounter bugs that you may have less resistance to in new places, if you are generally in good health you will usually be fine,” Kim says. “Prepare as needed by bringing medications, taking care of yourself with proper sleep and hydration, and investigating health care options where you are going in advance. Mostly any travel-related illnesses are mild and time-limited.” Try This Mantra: "I am capable of taking care of myself and enjoying new experiences, even if I catch a small bug."

Travel Tips

Cheap Flights for Spring

Our friends at Skyscanner have the cure for the winter blues: Now is the ideal window to book airfare deals for March and beyond. Whether your dream spring getaway is an immersion in all things Disney in Orlando, a visit to one of the best budget destinations in Europe, or checking out the latest crop of Broadway shows in NYC, the time to shop for airfares has arrived. Best Time to Book Airfare Skyscanner, the global travel search company offering free search of flights, hotels and car rental, has crunched the numbers and reported that spring travelers will find the best savings by booking eight weeks in advance for domestic flights (that’s right now for March travel) and 12 weeks in advance for international flights (that’s right now for April and beyond). Those windows match Budget Travel’s general tips for finding affordable flight deals, and the worst savings, not surprisingly, will be found by booking one to two weeks in advance. Some Sample Airfares for March 2019 Where will you go next? Skyscanner is reporting some great deals right now, including the following samples (remember, airfares are always subject to fluctuation): Chicago to Orlando r/t: $88 Los Angeles to New York City r/t: $237 Boston to Paris r/t: $330 New York City to Tel Aviv r/t: $595 We recommend you start your spring airfare shopping now, and arm yourself with our best tips for booking, packing, breezing through security, and enjoying your flight.

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