It’s been eight months since we moved into a one-hundred-year-old hotel. Eight months of meeting new people, and eight months of hard work.
My wife and I both have our day jobs, so the cleaning and hosting and fixing happens during our time off. We make quite the team.
Though I’m involved in the normal business of checking guests in and carrying luggage and cleaning windows and mopping the lobby and sweeping the sidewalk and cleaning the pool, my favorite jobs are the ones that I do in solitude. I spent most of two months in a third-floor room painting, reflooring, replacing counter tops, and the like. I can work at my own pace, which is slow. That gives me time to think.
My skills have expanded. I know how to work on 100-year-old door mechanisms. I know that orange oil is great for mopping tile. I can swap out an air conditioning unit in fifteen minutes. And I know how to fold wash cloths into flowery looking things.
Despite a limited workforce, our hotel stays spotless. After working non-stop all weekend, I mentioned to my wife that we might die from too much work. She said, “We have to die from something.” I’d rather die from working too hard than from sitting too much, so I think we are on the right path.
Most of our guests have been terrific. Aside from the occasional low water pressure that comes with an old, very large building, or the loss of TV channels that comes from being a long way from the nearest city, we’ve had almost no complaints, and we’ve only had a guest or two whom we hope not to see again.
One of our first guests requested a discount, which my wife politely declined. That guest made her own discount by taking most of the food out of the hall refrigerator, including the food brought by other guests. She took the cookies that were to be used for our daughter’s Christmas cookie decorating party. And she took the extra toilet paper.
Another guest, in two nights, managed to cover every square inch of carpet and table and nightstand in various food crumbs. If I hadn’t checked him in myself, I would have sworn that Fantastic Mr. Fox stayed in that room. Or a pack of dogs. After his departure, I vacuumed for forty days and forty nights.
Because our hotel still looks in many ways like it did when it was built—antique floors, high, tin ceilings—some guests ask if it is haunted. The building makes its own noise. Creaky stairs, squeaky hardwood floors, lots of plumbing. I’ve learned to identify most of the sounds. And I’ve been all over, day and night, including the attic and elevator shaft. I’ve seen no ghosts and only thought they were a possibility twice.
Once while working on the floor in a third-floor apartment, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I have no idea why; I didn’t hear anything, and I wasn’t scared. I noticed, but then I went back to work and my thoughts.
Another time, we discovered that the main water valve to the building was shut off. The valve is under the staircase in the lobby. This happened while everything in Texas was shut down, so our only guests were a couple from Romania who could not get back home, and they knew nothing about our water valve. I’m sure someone shut it off, but we have no idea who.
A local historian told a story of a man who jumped to his death from our third floor during a fire around 1918-19, but his ghost is said to haunt the theater next door. And the bank robber who was hung behind our building hasn’t made another appearance in Eastland since. So no, I don’t believe it’s haunted. But ask again in another year. These things take time.
The kids have adjusted well to living in a business. Sometimes they have a huge building almost to themselves in which to play hide-and-go seek. They have an elevator and fire escape and swimming pool and more than one kitchen. Other times, their extended home is invaded. They know how to make reservations and clean toilets, and sometimes they are even willing to. So sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s not—just like it is for the grownups.
All in all, life in an old hotel is a tiring adventure. One thing I’m sure of is that I’ll never be bored again.