THINGS I LEARNED AS A CABANA BOY
One summer, at age 18, I worked at a prominent Laguna Beach resort as a cabana boy. Sorry, this gets dark.
- •Hospitality can be super demeaning.In addition to getting guests towels, sunscreen, and drinks, we circled the pool with different amenities on the hour: smoothies, nuts, and, at 3PM, Evian misters. I literally had to approach a complete stranger and ask if they would like to be “misted.” With Evian. Most people were totally embarassed for you and politely declined.
- •Rich people can be absolute dicks.People feel like they can do a lot of things when they are paying $10K to stay in a bungalow. You constantly were reamed out and asked to do stupid tasks. Once, I asked a man if he needed anything and he replied that he would like to know what year Prince’s Purple Rain was released as soon as possible. This was pre-iPhone, so I had to call an annoyed guest receptionist with Google access in order to learn the answer (FYI: 1984).
- •There are so many rules.The most annoying part of the job was just walking. When you passed a guest in the hallway, you had to stop, put your arms behind your back, and bow while saying “Good morning” etc. Getting from the pool to the front desk, the length of maybe half a football field, could take up to 20 minutes at peak hours.
- •The tips were bonkers.Co-workers tried to scoop your tips constantly. It was the Wild-West. Business travelers tipped most. Twenties were pretty standard. My biggest tip of the summer came from a German man (not all Europeans are bad tippers!) who asked me to tilt an umbrella: $100. Even though I was excited, I generally kept things like this to myself out of fear a co-worker would go fishing by their chair and smother them with attention. And, because, y’know, 💰.
- •Ellen Degeneres taught me what a sommelier is.Ellen was in my section and asked if "Nina, the sommelier" was working that day. I didn't know what that was because I was, y'know, 18. I called the resort's restaurant asking for an employee named Nina LaSommé. It was super embarassing.
- •Fancy hotel staffs know so much about guests.We were told to report pretty much any details about a guest’s personal life that we learned while serving them. Everything was printed and circulated. Usually the notes were benign: Miss Hanson in Room 206 likes iced tea extra cold and her daughter Josephine is studying Comparative Literature at Wesleyan. Sometimes they were really crazy. One guy had two pages filled with drugs, shower slips, fights with his wife, and fights with women who were not his wife.
- •You're paid to LIE.There were so many scripted phrases we had to memorize, as well. Most importantly: "Guest: Oh, wow. Cloudy day, huh? You: Oh, that? It’s just a light marine layer. It’s supposed to burn off in the afternoon." Of course, it wouldn’t. You knew that because a) you lived in Southern California, and b) you had read the daily one sheet that morning, which had said so. If you ever caught saying JUNE GLOOM, you were basically fired.
- •I was actually sexually assaulted.People are inappro all the time. They'll slap your ass, give you their room number, etc. One day, two women asked me to show them where the restroom was. We got there and they took off their tops and tried to pull me in. They said they wanted to make my dreams come true. "My dreams" mostly included cunnilingus in a stall. (Note: I was closeted at the time). The rest of the summer, I was famous. The bartenders treated me nicer. Strangers from valet gave me high-fives. I still regret not suing.