Death Stalks the Waldorf

Death Stalks the Waldorf     

When we got back from Ellis Island that afternoon, we took the side Towers entrance as usual. Three bell boys were in a corner just as we walked in, huddled around a newspaper, talking in low voices. I didn’t think much about it at the time. We took a nap and woke up just before sunset. I suggested we check out the TV, to watch some San Diego local news.

I was sitting on the bed and Barb was where she usually was, in the bathroom. On flashed the boob tube.

“Look, Honey, it’s the local news, and they’re expecting an avocado shortage!”

Barb ran in and sat down.


“Because of all the fires at home.”

“Hey, what’s this?”

A lady shuffled some papers, then looked up towards the camera.

“The Waldorf Astoria and the Hotel Workers Union Reach $149 Million Deal for Severance Payouts

When a Chinese insurance firm bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for $1.95 billion this year, it said it planned to convert part of the aging building into high-end condominiums, while maintaining a smaller five-star hotel.

Standing in its way were the hotel’s 1,221 union workers, whose jobs were protected by the Waldorf Astoria’s contract with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, a union that represents hotel workers.

Now, the owners of the Waldorf, New York’s largest union hotel employer, have reached a record deal with the union in which the hotel could pay almost $149 million in severance packages to its employees over the next two years.”

“The Chinese own the hotel?

“They’re shutting it down?”

“They’re turning it into condos?”

I decided we needed something to temper the news, something to make it digestible.

“Babygirl, look in your purse for those coupons they gave us when we checked in. They’re good for a couple of drinks in the Peacock Alley. It’s right off the lobby.”

Down in the elevator we go, and into the magnificent Art Deco lobby. A huge silver statue/clock thingy is in the center and within steps of that, the bar.

I spy a piano and wonder if it could be Gershwin’s piano where he wrote Rhapsody in Blue. It must not be the famed instrument; there’s no sign. Right next to it we take a small table.

Out pops a waiter. He’s tall as a streetlight and has a towel draped over his arm. His hair is slicked back as if it’s nineteen-thirty-something and he used a whole tube of Brylcreem.

I pull out the two coupons with an executive’s flourish. He’s not amused. He may be down in the dumps. Maybe he’s not having a good time. We’re the ones having a good time.

“What would the lady and gentleman prefer?”

“I’ll have a Hennessey, straight up, with a water chaser. She’ll have a glass of Riesling.”

Off he dashes. When he returns with the drinks I decide he’s the first one to grill.

“I saw on the news some kind of Chinese conglomerate is going to tear a lot of the place down and build condos? How do you feel about that?”

“These things happen. It doesn’t mean much to me.” He shrugged his shoulders and walked away, but then he walks back.

“Every president has stayed here, every one of them, including Obama. Did you know?”

“Yes, we read about that,” said Barb.

“William, our Bell Captain, has been here thirty years.” I said. “How long have you been here?”

“Two years,” he replied, and looked at the barkeep, who motioned him to another table where a couple was just sitting down. The silver statue/timepiece gizmo in the center of the lobby went off, marking six o’clock, and sounded just like a mini Big Ben.

And that brought me right back to the history of the place. Back flew Slick Waiter with ice water and venom.

“You know, Obama didn’t come back. He had a chance, but he didn’t.”

He looked all four directions, the front desk, the bar, the Guerlain Spa, the entrance on Park Avenue, and leaned down closer, almost between us, and whispered while pouring the water, “That was right after the Chinese bought it.”

“Really?” said Barb. “It doesn’t seem fair. It’s a piece of American history.”

“It’s a historical monument, a historical monument!” he insisted. “How can they do this thing? You know how many rooms are going to go? A thousand rooms, out of one thousand four-hundred!”

“Won’t many people lose their jobs?”

“They will have to. No matter how golden their golden-hand retirement seems now, they’ll all end up beggars. There’s no way around it.”

He wiped a wet spot that wasn’t really there with his towel. At last he sighed, and looked resigned to his fate.

“For me, things aren’t so bad. They could be worse. I’m reasonably new. Back in the kitchen we have a man who’s been here fifty years. Fifty years!

“Whoa.” I wanted to reign in the conglomerate monster. I motioned to Barb to lean closer, crooking my finger. She drew so near I could smell her White Shoulders.

“***king Chinese conglomerate ***holes,” I whispered.

And that was the end of our drinks. We proceeded down the hallway to the Bull and Bear for dinner.

 After that, we shot back upstairs to the security of the Towers to make sense of the tragedy.

©Steven Hunley 2017 Manhattan – Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

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