OK, let’s take a break from recent introspective, woe-is-me blogs. The last blog on my mental health struggles went over like a lead balloon, so I’ll try a few more and see if anyone is actually still tuning in. As a result of my rough patch, I’ve intentionally held back some of the best stories from life on the road. Not the RV’ing road, but my old road warrior days working for 3M. Many years ago in a hot tub far far away, a bald-headed gentleman heard this (and other) stories and urged me to write a book (Yes, there were women in the tub too). Sustained immersion in hot bubbling water and specific levels of gin and tonic seem to contribute to silly thoughts like writing a book. While a book will likely never happen, this blog was originally supposed to be an outlet for sharing strange, but always true events. These memories have maintained a certain hierarchy in my mind and at the risk of sounding like it might be downhill from here….if there ever was a #1 crazy story to me…..this is it. Here goes and I hope that it comes across half as well as it is remembered.
This event took place in October 2007. In 2002, I was approached by a bottled water company which had just completed an acquisition of three bottled water branches and a bottling plant in South Carolina. Ultimately, I was offered the role to manage this business and we relocated. As I am not well-versed in libel and slander laws, I’ll beat around the bush a bit. I quickly realized, after leaving friends and family in Massachusetts that I made a big mistake. I’d have a difficult time ranking sexism, racism, poor manufacturing standards and bad business practices in their rightful order, but remembering my direction from leadership NOT to write up an employee for missing work because she was fucking my boss still pisses me off. I hung in there for two years so I did not have to repay the relocation costs. One day while looking at Monster.com, I read an opportunity that literally sounded like it was written for me. My primary role at CUNO was supporting bottled water companies in their filtration business endeavors. While I was well-regarded in the bottled water industry, getting these same companies to “think outside the bottle” and embrace filtration technologies was much more difficult than I ever imagined. I was an active and passionate volunteer on Education, Membership and Supplier committees within the International Bottled Water Association since about 1997 and I continued on in these roles in my new filtration career with CUNO. Interestingly, less than a year after joining CUNO, 3M spent a cool 1.1 billion dollars and purchased the company. All of a sudden, an un-hirable guy at 3M (no 4 year college degree) is beginning a fantastic career at 3M.
Quick aside – It’s fascinating to me to consider how seemingly innocuous events can change the course of a life or career. I’ve never properly thanked the one person that inadvertently set in motion my departure from the bottled water industry to the filtration industry – Robin Householder. It was probably 1999 or so and I was General Manager for a bottle water operation in Western Massachusetts. Robin was a Sales Manager for Oasis Corporation, the largest manufacturer of bottled water dispensers at the time and he was in my office making a sales call. I liked Robin immediately and we had been industry buddies for almost twenty years. Robin asked if he could show me a new type of water dispenser and I immediately noticed that it did not have a hole on the top to support a five gallon bottle. This one featured plumbing connections to accept municipal water and there were four cartridges that would filter the water before dispensing. I was intrigued and Robin asked if all of my staff could compete in a race to see who could do a filter change the fastest. Christine won and her prize was an Oasis-logo’d three minute egg timer. I kept mine until we finally moved into our motorhome three years ago as a reminder of this fateful day. I think Robin and I extended that sales call into an evening complete with bourbons-a-plenty, but that initial exposure to a different kind of water dispenser completely opened my mind to a new consideration. Fast forward a few years and I thought to myself that if a bottled water guy like myself could transition to the filtration industry, perhaps I could convince my bottled water brethren that filtration wasn’t the enemy – rather, it was the future and it would complement their existing business model. It’s crazy how seemingly insignificant meetings can directly influence our futures. This idea from Robin was the snowflake that turned into an avalanche for me. If Robin hadn’t shown me that new Oasis filtration water cooler, I’d likely not have left the bottled water industry, wouldn’t have joined a company that 3M acquired, not have experienced the story I’m about to share nor would I have retired at 55 to wander North America with Lynn in a motorhome. So, thank you, Robin as that was long freaking overdue.
Perhaps now might be a good time to grab a cocktail, some 420 (me), a glass of wine (Liz) or even a shitty Bud Light (John), as I’m just getting on a roll. This story takes place in Sin City – Las Vegas, NV, concurrent with the International Bottled Water Association’s annual convention and trade show. I was a featured speaker on the subject of incorporating water filtration into a bottled water company’s business model. “Think Outside The Bottle” was the name of my presentation and frankly it was a controversial subject around the bottled water community at the time. While Lynn had a pretty good sense, I never really expressed how excited or proud I was to be able to speak in front of my old bottled water peers, especially at their national event. I honed my presentation, shipped filtration samples to the hotel and set off for Las Vegas. I was there for a full week and Lynn planned to fly out for the last three days so that she could watch me present and then once that was over, we’d have a few days to enjoy the area.
Back in those days, first class upgrades were elusive for me, and this time, I miraculously scored one. It was a late flight from Charlotte to Las Vegas, and I arrived just after midnight. 3M’s preferred hotel was the Las Vegas Hilton (RIP) and the quietness of my Bose headset world exploded into the chaos of the Las Vegas airport. Through the terminal, down the elevator, waiting at baggage claim, walking out to the dreaded pirate …I mean taxi stand – I dutifully plodded on. “Las Vegas Hilton. Please use Paradise and not I-15 please”, I instinctually said to Mr. Taxi Man. Eyes staring at me in his rear view mirror, he predictably lied and said, “There’s road construction on Paradise. We need to go on the interstate”. I gave the deadpan comment that I’m on company business, come to Vegas multiple times a year and I don’t tip when Vegas taxis take me on the interstate, so it was up to him. Funny how that comment always wrapped up these pretend Highway Department construction projects. As the pirate ship / taxis in Las Vegas were metered, taking the interstate racked up more miles on the meter. To offset the distance, these maniacs would drive at 75-85 mph. They’d get you there in the same time, but at a much higher fare and with white knuckles.
As the Jolly Roger reluctantly transited the back streets came his questions….Why am I visiting Vegas? Am I married? Will my wife be joining me? Would I need any private transportation? He then passes me a business card and explained that I could use him as a resource for “all sorts of things”. After the business card came a large photo album…. and this was a new one for me. It was an album of…..well, yes, hookers. “No, Really….Thanks. I’m fine”, I replied and up to the curb at the old Las Vegas Hilton my pirate ship docked and out I went.
While Marriott was likely a better brand than Hilton, I’ll never know as I bedded down with Hilton early on as it was 3M’s hotel brand. One of the Hilton perks was access to Executive Lounges, and in the case of the Las Vegas Hilton, this meant access to their High Roller Lounge. As soon as you walked into the Las Vegas Hilton, there was a mysterious door to the left. Behind it, I’d find unlimited bottled water, pour-yourself cocktails, snacks and Bambi. Unlike images in Mr. Taxi Man’s hooker photo album, this one’s name really was Bambi. I’d always score top floor upgrades, a splash of Diet Coke in my Crown Royal, cookies, warm nuts and….Bambi’s smile and charm. Because this was now close to 1:30 AM, the lounge was closed and up to Check In I went. I should add that like I’ve done many times in the past, earlier this day I called and spoke with Bambi and asked her for the best room possible as Lynn was going to be joining me in a few days. She assured me that I’d be pleasantly surprised when I arrived. And, boy, was I….just not in the pleasant sort of way.
Walking up to the Reception Desk, the only human I saw was a Hilton employee behind the desk. To my right was the Star Trek-themed casino. To my left was the main casino. “Hi. Checking in. Zaik…Z as in Zebra.” “Hello, Mr. Zaik. Welcome to the Las Vegas Hilton. I see you are here for seven nights. We have you in a lovely room on the 24th floor. Will you be needing one or two keys?” Still buzzed from the Jack and Diet Cokes I consumed on USAirways, I mumbled that one would be fine. Off I went to what had always been the slowest elevators in the history of elevators. This would be the appropriate time to again digress and share the fact that the 2007 headliner at the LV Hilton was the one, the only Barry Manilow. So, as the elevator doors clunked shut behind me, I heard the following on the slow ascent to the 24th floor…
“I’m standing on the edge of time…I’ve walked away when love was mine…Caught up in a world of uphill climbing…The tears are in my mind and nothin’ is rhyming…Oh Mandy well,…You came and you gave without taking…But I sent you away.”
I remember looking at the elevator inspection sheet and noticing the vertical feet per minute climb rate. Mandy. Mandy. It just continued and would not stop. Finally, the old doors opened and I escaped from my torment. The layout of the Hilton was, shall we say different. Built in 1969, it is called a tri-shape design with wings radiating from a central core where the elevators were found. When built, it was the largest hotel in the world and even in 2007, it was the largest Hilton property in the world with 2,956 rooms. Down the dimly lit hallway I dragged my luggage until I found my room.
I slid the key in, turned the knob and walked in. There in my room….my room….was a man lying in bed covered with a thick mat of body hair, clad only in white underwear. When I say white, I mean the parts that were not orange stained from the pile of Cheese Puffs that were dumped into and then eaten from his chest hair. Realizing that it was in fact, not Danny DeVito, I noticed his ten orange fingers held out wide and we both engaged in “What The Fuck”…”Wait”. “This Is My Room”, with a few “Holy Shits” for good measure. With my blood alcohol level immediately zero’d out, I backed out of the room, dragged my shit down the dimly lit hallway and waited for the elevator to drag itself back to Floor 24. Ding. It has arrived. More Barry.
“I write the songs that make the whole world sing…I write the songs of love and special things…I write the songs that make the young girls cry…I write the songs, I write the songs
Oh, my music makes you dance…And gives your spirit to take a chance…And I wrote some rock ‘n’ roll so you can move…Music fills your heart, well, that’s a real fine place to start…It’s from me, it’s for you
It’s from you, it’s from me…It’s a worldwide symphony”
After about ten paces, the same front desk clerk looked up. His face, momentarily a forced smile turned to confusion and then perhaps alarm. For only the second time in my life, I threw the room key like a Frisbee. “Is there a problem with the room, Sir”? “The room looked great, but there is a mostly naked guy in my bed covered in orange Cheese Puff dust”. The poor dude apologized profusely and produced a new room key. “Here you go. I’m so sorry for the mistake.” Off I go to another high floor. And….More Barry.
“His name was Rico, he wore a diamond…He was escorted to his chair…He saw Lola dancing there
And when she finished, he called her over…But Rico went a bit too far…Tony sailed across the bar
And then the punches flew…And chairs were smashed in two…There was blood and a single gunshot
But just who shot who?”
Frustrated and over-tired, I carefully opened the door to my new room and walked in to find it empty. No people at all. And….No Bed. It’s now past 2:00AM and I’m absolutely delirious. Where is the damn bed I thought. How can there be No Bed? Not thinking to use the room phone, I again trudged back to the lobby. This time getting a double shot of Mandy. Panic is what I sensed in the face of the hotel clerk when he saw me come out of the elevator. “There’s no fucking bed in my room” I said. “Sure there is”, was the response. “Then you are coming up with me to find the damn bed” and once he summoned back-up for the desk, we rode up the Barry Manilow Express wordless….Except for…
“You came along just like a song…And brightened my day…Who would have believed that you were part of a dream…Now it all seems light years away…And now you know I can’t smile without you…I can’t smile without you…I can’t laugh and I can’t sing…I’m finding it hard to do anything…You see I feel sad when you’re sad…I feel glad when you’re glad…If you only knew what I’m going through…I just can’t smile.”
I just can’t smile seems about right. We walk into the room and I again say, “Where’s the Bed?” almost as emphatically as the old Wendy’s “Where’s The Beef” lady. The guy walks over to the wall and I see a rope hanging out of a hole. He pulls it and a slim board and mattress pivots down from the wall. “What the hell is this” I ask. He tells me that its a Murphy Bed. I tell him that I have probably stayed at this property ten times and stay 80-100 nights a year in Hiltons and I have never seen such a thing. He tells me that this is the only room available. I bring up my call to Bambi and he explains that while she did secure me an upgraded room, a manager reassigned it and I got this. This is the only room available out of 2,956 in the whole damn place. I said that I’d take it for one night but expected them to re-assign me to something legit tomorrow. He agreed and left. I hopped onto the floor, I mean in bed and stared blankly into the carpet, just a few inches lower than my pillow.
After my committee meetings the next day, I met with the General Manager who explained that they would not be able to move me out of this closet into a real room until the following day. So, I hung in there and the next day, the GM knocked on my door and walked me to the new room. Those that know me well understand that I am not a gambler. Still, this new room was, shall I say….Jackpot! As soon as we walked in, I started laughing. “What the hell is this?”, I asked. “Well Sir, I was so disappointed in your experience that I secured you this suite. Suite? Sweet!.
A foyer leading to a living room with books, porcelain figures and large wooden entertainment center. One dining room with a table for four. One bedroom with a wooden four post bed. Two full bathrooms. Oh, and a wet bar. All on the top floor of the largest Hilton in the world. And, no Danny Devito, inhaling Cheese Puffs. That night, I drove to the Las Vegas airport and picked Lynn up. I did an admirable job withholding any information about the room to Lynn.
Up the elevator we went, Barry and Mandy at our sides. I opened the door, stood back and Lynn walked in and started laughing. We had a blast in Vegas…My presentation was on point. Lynn met Bambi in the lounge. We enjoyed the marvelous Hilton buffet for breakfast. And may I add that she looked absolutely marvelous on that bar (as did my dark hair in 2007)
Lynn’s Two Cents – I have never seen such an amazing hotel suite and doubt I ever will again. Thanks Cheeto Man!