It was a long line of job seekers, winding single file back from the exhibit hall, reforming at the top of the down escalator, snaking past the marble convention-registration counter, hugging three walls in the hotel lobby and spilling over into a triangle-shaped queue that rimmed the next room and doubled back to the sign: "Sheraton Grand Mass Hiring."
And at the head of the line, where they had arrived shortly before 8 a.m. yesterday, rain-soaked but hopeful, stood Marcella McCray and Delores Breckenridge, both unemployed.
"I'm looking for a front office job," said McCray, 27, who said she had done similar hotel work in Crystal City until a week ago, when she quit because of "differences."
Breckenridge, 50, said she worked at the Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store in Northeast until two weeks ago, when the shop moved to Roanoke. She wants a job cleaning or in the employe cafeteria.
"I hope I do get something," she said.
More than 700 people, all looking for "something" and some looking for "anything," jammed the convention wing of the Sheraton Washington Hotel on Woodley Road NW to put in their bids for one of the 250 jobs the hotel chain is filling for its new Sheraton Grand Hotel, opening on Capitol Hill Dec. 28. The mass turnout was no surprise, given the city's continued high unemployment, which in September was 8.6 percent.
The hotel, which will be accepting applications through Wednesday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., is working with the D.C. Department of Employment Services to help publicize the job openings and process the applicants.
"Most of these people don't have jobs or are working part time or as temporaries," said Marion Milman, the hotel's director of personnel. "Some were here as early as 7:15 a.m. even though we weren't taking applications until 10 a.m."
The job openings, all listed on the back of a sheet of application instructions, include entry-level and supervisory positions that pay anywhere from $6.55 an hour for housekeepers and stewards to $20,000 a year for an assistant restaurant manager. In addition, there are numerous waiter/waitress jobs that pay the minimum wage ($3.90/hour), plus tips.
Using a personnel force of 75, a third of whom came from the city's employment services agency, the Sheraton handed out application forms and conducted one-on-one interviews. Applicants were told to indicate the one job they were most interested in, have their Social Security card in hand and to supply names and phone numbers of three previous employers. Non-U.S. citizens were required to present a valid Green Card.
Most of yesterday's employment hopefuls were young and black, with applicants divided fairly evenly between men and women. Several seemed discouraged by the long line of competitors and embarrassed as television crews and reporters showed up to record their job-hunting efforts.
"I'll take anything I can get, ANYTHING," said one 19-year-old, who declined to give his name.
Thomas Brooks, 24, said he has been looking for work since July and would like to get hired for the hotel's banquet staff.
"I read the papers every week, and I've tried a lot of hotels," said Brooks, who formerly worked part time for a maintenance company. "My unemployment compensation ran out about two months ago."