In the early 20th century, three grandiose hotels were built within a few blocks of Grand Central Terminal, known as the Terminal City development. The idea was the location is ideal for all travelers staying at the properties, be it for business or leisure. Any New Yorker or history buff can name the trio without hesitation, in order of esteem: The Roosevelt, The Commodore, and The Biltmore.
The Roosevelt is the only one that remains as originally built--even the bell uniforms seem to be from another era. The Commodore now serves as a less impressive Grand Hyatt property, bought out by none other than the allegedly self-pardonable now “President” of the United States in 1980. Yep, the answer to every first question on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me since the 2016 election. Because if anybody in America has taught us the dangers of who you are when you’re okay with being a sellout, it’s him. The (once landmarked) Biltmore-notably the most iconic of the three-was gutted in the early 80’s, leaving behind only the underground tunnel connecting the terminal to Vanderbilt Avenue and the clock that sits in the center of the Main Concourse of Grand Central (also known as a very popular Pokestop in the summer of 2016). The Bank of America building and parking garage below are now simply known by the address, 335 Madison Avenue.
The parking garage at 335 Madison Avenue has a partnership with the 102 year old, 22 story building across the street from it, snugged comfortably on the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and 44th Street: The Primere Ivy League Club of New York City. The once designated Terminal CIty is an area in modern day that I like to refer to as “Ivy League Lane.” Branching out a little further from Grand Central than the Terminal City properties, there are a few blocks of Midtown East where the most prestigious Ivy League colleges’ private clubs for their alumni are situated.
It’s an interesting and incredibly profitable concept to have a private club for an ivy league school. Everything about it remains consistent with the culture of ivy schools: feeling privileged to pay membership dues to a place where all of their friends have social gatherings, and all of the staff knows them by name. Who doesn’t want to feel like the Cheers theme song is about their life?
It’s like being a celebrity in your own private bubble of the universe. Take that element and add the aspect of playing into the glory days of college. High school is typically a bust, but most people remain attached and nostalgic to those 4-6 (8, 10, 12? In this decade that number could go on forever. Think Buster Bluth in Arrested Development.) spent in college where they had theabsolutebest (!) time of their lives. The psychology of it is about as corrupt as any hotel branding, but with a little more shame.
They know these recent ivy graduates are coming from old money and will soon be making a nice sum for their own salary (or have already cashed in the trust fund. VanGuard, holla!), so they can charge outrageous prices for membership dues, gift shop items, the rooms, and-probably most revenue building-food and beverage (including events). Since these private clubs are non-profit organizations, all the money remains within. What that really means is that the general manager who does next to nothing makes six figures, with the first figure being a “5” or higher.
There was a feeling that lingered throughout today was so cosmically unexplainable that I was obligated to see if Mercury was in retrograde by the end of it. Not that I necessarily believe its backwards orbits has an impact on this already unpredictable world we already live in, but I just had to check. Consensus: not for another three weeks.
I let all of these thoughts simmer somewhere locked away in a safe I have bank key number 7 for in my brain, compartmentalized, as I power walk through the rotating doors of the Club. A bellman tells me to slow down, and, like almost every day I answer that I’m running late while taking one earbud out, smiling and waving. I punch in right as the Grandfather Clock rings three times and walk quickly, yet politely, across the lobby to the front desk.
Before opening the half-sized door that often makes me think about that Virginia Woolf line “I thought about how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought about how worse it is, perhaps, to be locked in,” I see one of my favorite members and she gives me a hug. Upon pulling away, she notes the heat radiating off my body. I comment on how awful the humidity has been, small talking about the weather. I smile and make my way behind the desk, mentally calculating the amount of conversations I’ve had making small talk about the weather in my years working in hotels. I set down my bag in the back office, grabbing one of the cordless phones ringing off the hook despite the three other employees that are working (read: not working), while walking to the closet to grab my navy blue blazer I complain about roughly five times every shift. I wander into the back office to put it on, still entertaining the person on the phone who is unsurprisingly telling me everything without telling me anything.
I run on autopilot for phone calls at this point. I’m greeting my co workers enthusiastically, mouthing a conversation with one of them about the MTA’s constant delays while half listening to the person on the phone until they finally get to the part that I need to be signed into our property management system for. I lie shamelessly to them, apologizing that my computer is running slowly, when really I’m taking a sip of my iced coffee before darting over and signing in with my login information. 2260. At my last hotel I was leiesca, which I prefered much more to some meaningless numbers.
I hear something fall in the back office although nobody is no longer in the vicinity. I make eye contact with Camila and I mouth “ghost,” as she says it out loud (given she doesn’t have a member on the phone), and as I am hanging up my current call to answer the next, I say for what I always say, we really need to burn some sage in this lobby.
“Good afternoon, thank you for calling the Yale Club. This is Leila speaking.”
“Who is this?”
I hesitate, wondering if they were trying to catch my name or the place where they called (although with technology these days, they should undeniably know the latter).
“Uh, the Yale Club of New York CIty. This is Leila speaking.”
Leilam?! I get that so often! Is that even a real name?
“Uh, no Leila.”
How did they get worse at hearing my name in the matter of two seconds?!
“Um, no Leila. Like, the song.--”
I resist saying except spelt differently.
“--how can I assist you, sir?”
“Oh, yes. Leila, like the Clapton song…”
Technically it’s Derek & The Dominos. Trust me, this information would be the only thing you remembered if you had amnesia and you were named Leila.
“Beautiful, beautiful name. Great song too. Did you know it was actually written for George Harrison’s wife whose name was not ‘Layla’”
This is the second piece of information you would remember if you had amnesia and were named Leila. The third piece of information was that she ultimately left Harrison for Clapton, although you would never remember her actual name for the life of you--amnesia or no amnesia.
Five minutes later, the should be forty second phone conversation is coming to a close.
“Alright sir, you’re all set. We’ll see you in August.”
“Thank you so much, dear. What was your name again?”
Rolling my eyes with a sigh of premature exhaustion, I turn to Camila, “So, like, seriously, we should burn some sage back here. Maybe on a Sunday night when it’s dead and nobody is here to question what we’re doing?” I ask in the “just kidding, but seriously” tone I am prone to fall into.
As I finish my sigh, she returns the eye roll out of solidarity, and by the time my sentence is over she makes an expression of full consensus as we proceed to fill each other in on everything that has happened in the past sixteen hours since we’ve last seen one another with constant interruptions.
I take a phone call as a young, quintessentially attractive, blonde haired man in a overpriced polo walks up to the desk saying “Jones.” She gives him a blank stare, and I know exactly what she’s doing. She feigns a look of needing more information although she knows he is checking into a room, in a way he misreads properly. It’s a subtle way of prompting people into knowing they should be speaking to us in full sentences. We exchange yet another eye roll while she is making the keys and he is intently checking his Apple Watch.
Sometimes we complain about, mock, or comment on a guest as the doors of the elevator they just entered are closing, but mostly we just return to our conversation.
The grandfather clock sings again, indicating the passing of a mere quarter hour. We’ve only been here for fifteen minutes, and already discussing what we’re eating for dinner. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to work front desk at a hotel, that fifteen minute excerpt sums up the bulk of it.