Hostel Takeover

Tracy Larson Issue: Section:

" the gentleman who called the front desk from the shower in his dorm room
because he had forgotten to bring his towel. That list is endless. "

Some people work from home, which is a nice gig. For 4 years, we lived at work. Same same, but different.

My husband, Torello, and I manage a hostel and guesthouse in Portland, OR. It is located in a compound of four historic Italianate style buildings that were built around 1900 - historic for Portland. When we took over the job (from my sister and her husband) we moved in to the 2 bedroom apartment upstairs in the main building. Upstairs from that apartment is another apartment where the owners, our bosses, live.

Some people when I tell them that I work in a hostel say “Oh, you work at the hospital?” or I get the occasional person who thinks a hostel is for transient housing. Then there are the people who have seen the movie Hostel. Finally there are the travelers, who have been all over the world (or at least outside of the US) and who have stayed in or almost stayed in a hostel. You see the remembrance in their eyes of their greatest hostel visit or of someone they met on a trip in a hostel and they say “Ohhh, you must meet so many interesting people.” That is certainly true. I get to meet people from all over the world everyday. I’ve checked in people from Mongolia and Nepal and Slovakia and many other countries I will probably never see. Then there are the people who stand out not because of the country they’re from – like the woman who traveled with her own Orlando Bloom pillowcase, quilt AND blanket (quilt was from Lord of the Rings while the blanket was Pirates of the Caribbean) or the young man who asked at the front desk how to make a Cup o Noodles because he couldn’t figure out how to boil water or the gentleman who called the front desk from the shower in his dorm room because he had forgotten to bring his towel. That list is endless. The hostel houses about 120 people when full, so it’s like having a rotating cast of about 100 neighbors. Like any neighbors, they are mostly diverse, interesting and respectful people with a few thrown in that just don’t seem to get it.

The obvious perk of living where you work is the commute. Walking down one flight of stairs, it took less than 60 seconds to get to work. Getting home was a little longer. After spending a day around the hostel, everyone knows who you are and so even if you have an armload of crap including a coffee mug, 2 notebooks, stacks of receipts and a lock programming machine, someone would stop and ask you which is the best brewery or is there anything going on in Portland tonight? There is just no easy answer to those questions. Are they talking about best IPA? Stout? Food selections? Is anyone gluten intolerant in the party? Vegan? Is there anything NOT going on in Portland tonight? There is live music, Powell’s books, it might be Zoobombers night… So, without dropping anything, I try to give the best answer.

That would happen at anytime. On the way out the door, or on the way back home, I could run into a guest who knew I work at the hostel or a member of the staff with a question. The temptation was to say Ask at the front desk or Send me an email, but I knew that if I was in the hall or getting my mail at the front desk, then I was fair game and I always answered or helped out. It was my responsibility to tuck my head and run out the front door if I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Another part of the responsibility of living onsite is having our phone numbers posted throughout all of the buildings for nighttime emergencies. The front desk closes at midnight and after that if there is an emergency or someone needs to check in late because of a delay, guests of the hostel call us. The emergencies range from people locking themselves out of their room or their key not working (90% of calls) to the more extreme and unusual – someone is peeing on my luggage (that only happened twice) or the heating element of the dryer is not working (not an emergency). They certainly made the night interesting. We would go weeks and sometimes months without an emergency nighttime call and then we could get 3 in one night. Someone forgetting their key at 2am just home from the bars, and then at 5am a person who locked themselves out and then at 7am someone who wanted to know if we had breakfast (also not an emergency). Then months again without getting a call.

A little over a year ago we had a baby and then the nighttime got really lively. Up several times a night feeding Mays, I would just get him and me back to sleep and the phone would ring. I might be up feeding him and hear people sitting in the courtyard drinking and laughing loudly. I would have to get Mays back to sleep while listening to them hoping they would juts go to bed. I thought about bringing him downstairs using him to guilt these AM revelers into going to bed. That didn’t seem fair – Mays worked at the hostel enough. In the summer he could be found strapped into the Baby Bjorn giving hostel tours and map tours at the front desk when it was very busy. He’s had to patiently watch me clean private rooms on a few occasions when we were short staffed. He has also entertained at every staff meeting, manager meeting and activity meeting. But he was lucky too. If he was hungry, I could just run upstairs for fifteen minutes and feed him. When he was grumpy at home I would tell him we were going to go visit the ladies at the front desk and he would perk up immediately. He does love the ladies at the front desk.

We moved out of the hostel and into our house two months ago. We still manage the hostel and meet all of the interesting people, we just don’t live with them anymore. Mays has a backyard to run around in anytime. His bedroom is his own and my office is my own again. We can do laundry whenever we want! At the end of a shift, I get to go outside, sit in the car for 15 minutes and unwind before I get home. I don’t stress out over every little sound at night anymore. Most of all, it is exciting to go to bed without my phone.

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