I’ve been on the road a lot the past year or so. After a while the hotel rooms all feel the same. This is fine with me — all I need is a place to work, a comfortable bed and hot water in the shower. If there’s a sofa and HBO, bonus. Maybe I can finally see “Game of Thrones.”
Having said that, all those similar hotel rooms have similar little irritations. Too many pillows on the bed. Not enough shampoo in that little bottle. Curtains you can never get all the way closed to keep that laser of sunlight from hitting your face at 6 a.m.
The main problem is that moment when you first wake up, and the room looks the same as a hundred other rooms, and you can’t remember where you are.
The other day I checked into a Fairfield Inn in Smyrna, Tenn., a Nashville suburb. When I opened the door to my room, this was on the bed.
I thought it was a heart. I emailed the photo to my wife, who immediately said it was two swans. As soon as she said it, I saw the swans, too.
I don’t know how many Fairfield Inns you’ve been to in your life, but you don’t usually see swans.
When I went back down to the lobby, I asked about it. The manager said I should see Mindy, the head of housekeeping.
Her full name is Mindy Ledford. She has all kinds of pins on her nametag — awards for good service. About three years ago, she said, the hotel staff was talking about ways to make the place memorable. Somebody brought up how cruise ships made animals out of towels and put one on the bed in each cabin as a little surprise for the guests. (Maybe you had heard of this. I hadn’t. Most of my experience on the water has been in a bass boat.)
Mindy went online and found a couple of places that show you how to make the animals. She taught the other housekeepers. Now they make the swans for anybody staying in a king room, and elephants for anybody staying in a double. If you’re staying more than one night, and you leave them a nice note, they’ll make you another. They also rotate animals down by the pool. Mindy can make a dog, a monkey and a lobster.
One guy who’s a regular at the hotel is getting her to teach him how to make them.
Something I’ve come to appreciate in life is a thankless job done well. My mama was a waitress for a long time, and she was so good at it that travelers requested her when they came through town. I’ve watched the guys at the car wash who clean out the cup holders and vacuum under the seats. I’ve seen the movers who covered our furniture with a double layer of quilts so it wouldn’t bang around in their truck.
I don’t have to tell you how hard it is to clean hotel rooms for a living. The only time anybody notices is when it’s done wrong. There’s no rule, not even much of an incentive, for these housekeepers to do a little extra. But they do it anyway.
Mindy’s idea worked. The Smyrna Fairfield Inn is, in fact, memorable. I won’t forget how much it means to give people a little more than they expect.
I think I was right about the swans the first time. They do make a heart.
P.S.: When I got back to the hotel, a few hours after talking to Mindy, this was waiting on the bed. They make turtles, too.