Four blue sofas form a great square in the center of the Shoreham lobby. They enclose a small table bearing a glass glove with bird of paradise flowers. A blond woman slumps on the sofa. She is encased in a flowering maroon gown that covers her down to her scuffed loafers. Her dark-circled eyes stare at nothing.
Behind her five bellmen lounge against the wall or circle about endlessly. It is 10 a.m., a slow time. The cab dispatcher slips in to chat with them. At the front desk a woman half-drowned in black diamond fur waits dreamily while the clerk phones.
"Hey Charlie, let's wait here." Two trench-coated young businessmen drop their briefcases at the top of the steps leading to the glass doors. They are looking back through the lobby for someone, but all they can see is a painter in a T-shirt scraping the wall.
A gum-chewing bellman in tinted glasses calls out discreetly to a brisk young hotel executive who carries a clipboard: "You see her?"
"Get outta here," replies the man, laughing. The bellman strolls back to his post.
If you have to be on your feet all day, the trick is to keep moving. You learn that very quickly in a job like this.
A vacuum cleaner whines somewhere. A phone rings. Over the intercom: "Miss Price, Miss Evelyn Price. Please contact the front desk. Miss Evelyn Price."
A third young businessman, also trench-coated, strides up to meet his friends. As he passes the blond, she gives him the eye, actually swiveling in her seat. People are beginning to check out now. A bellman, set in motion by some unseen signal, grabs a luggage truck and heads across the floor humming "O Sole Mio."
Two airline pilots plunk themselves on the sofa, are joined immediately by two stewardesses and a third pilot, and finally a fourth. They are bubbling with talk. "We came down for Mark Russell last night," one says. "Man, he was great."
A flood of people streams across the rear of the lobby headed for the restrooms. A meeting has broken up. Everyone moves with great purpose.
It is 11. All at once there is a line of six people checking in. They have heaps of luggage, three or four pieces each. A short, curly-haired man rushes up to the blond woman, and they kiss and move toward the door. She ignores the trench-coated men who are still chatting on the steps. Her place on the sofa is taken by a tanned couple with matching Southern drawls who are telling each other how much they drank last night.
"Irish coffee, brandy, beer, my God," says the man. "Tonight we have to go out to dinner with them."
"Lord," says the woman, shading her eyes.
A hotel lobby is a waiting place. People dash here and there carrying suitcases and papers, coats and coffee cups, with an air achievement. But it is a waiting place.
"You get so you can size up luggage," says Mike Spatola, a bellman for 36 years, 30 of them at the Shoreham. "Now that one" -- glancing at a much-traveled bag by the desk -- "that's good stuff. All leather. You also get so you can size a guy up."
A dollar tip for a load of luggage does not make a bellman cry with joy, he says. "They give you a buck and think they're doing you a big favor. A buck is worth 35 cents. They should give two."
The busiest time is at checkout, because when a group arrives they come in dribs and drabs, but when they leave, they all go at the same time." "After the inaugural the place was full of high rollers," he recalls wistfully, "lots of ball gowns and baggage. A lot of fives and tens."
At the Shoreham, you don't have the street visitors you see in the downtown hotels, the loungers and drunks and hookers, says Spatola, through when there's a big convention some enterprising hookers are apt to check in as guests, thus making themselves immune to the bellman's fisheye.
"You have a pretty good management here," he adds, "it's a good job. You take stuff from guests, some of these people come through here and think they can run you around. . ."
He shrugs with ancient wisdom.
"You gotta keep in shape on this job. Once your legs go, you're gone. Me, I'm an athlete." He pulls his trim stomach in a bit. "But my feet give me trouble, you know."
"Your mouth, too," mutters another bellman. They laugh. It is Spatola's turn in rotation.He steps snappily over to the front desk.
The others wait.