I met Martin Swig in 2008. I’ve never written this story, and it has little to do with him, so I will be succinct in 8 pages. From 2005-2008, I was part of a giant restoration / renovation of a historic army base in Sausalito, under the Golden Gate Bridge. (http://www.cavallopoint.com/images/home/greenwood_05202008_501e.jpg).
Well, my dear friend and wonderful General Manager had opened plenty of hotels, and he knows if you don’t give construction, owners, staff, and everyone else a firm “do or die” target date, the hotel will never open. It was a turn of the century base with gorgeous historic structures, phenomenal bones, and they became a reborn jewel. Such as it was, our opening day was 1st May, 2008. Our GM booked the prestigious California Mille to be our first group. *For real*. Of course it was appropriate and romantic, but the opening day? It was also a coup, as they had stayed at the Fairmont for years.
A note that I had been working to restore and open the property since 2005, for the operator, and since 2007 knew one of the adorably sweet and beautiful exec admin at the management company office. As I pined for her, I was lucky enough that she transferred to the property early 2008, prior to opening, as a sales manager. The historic office space was surreal, and we had a giant bullpen of about 15 operational people… Reservations, Rooms, IT, Sales, spa, even F&B. We had a 26 year old guy buying 1.5M wine list, wheeling and dealing on the phone all day. We had another guy who had been a pastry chef at French Laundry and Bouchon, and here I am, moving from operational project manager for 3 years, moving into a relatively low level operational role. *WHY*? Why you ask, would I open this stunning thing and not move on? Well, this sales person was so gorgeous, and we were quickly becoming obvious friends, kismet, connected, and frankly, if I had known, I would say in love. See, love is that funny thing, when it’s just neurotic panic when you’re think “I totally could love this person but I hold my cards close to my chest because I will be found at and they will laugh in my face and I will look like a crazy stalker”. I think love might just be stalking accepted because you like one another. Little did I know, we were stalking one another. And that’s romantic. The fact is, from the first time we met in 2007, I saw her and said “this *cannot* be the person I am talking to over email, so charming, smart, delightful,”(I am a hugger… men, women, puppies, I don’t care), “I can’t hug this woman, she’s far too beautiful”. In the months leading up to the opening, we quickly realize we both feel the same way, and we quickly realize we have to start secretly dating because, though in different departments, there was enough conflict of interest to be worried about. So the secret dating became slightly open dating a month prior to opening, and we were peas in a pod. Not to mention she soothed my manic tension over opening a property like that. So…. To opening day:
Some 70 ancient ragtops and beautiful works of car art were to be positioned all over the property. Of course, they were preceded by a truck with a U-Haul of luggage. It comes about an hour prior to their arrival, and marks the unhinged panicked countdown. Oh the painful memories.
We are literally rolling sod out as the luggage is dropped off. All of the luggage is being put right in front of the lobby building. As soon as *all* of these Mille people’s luggage is dropped off, the sprinklers go off on the sod, and mud (where unrolled), and begin to get the bags damp. So we panic and move all the bags. The bags are slightly out of order now (and end up in the wrong rooms). We are making a bunch of keys, because our hotel is basically sold out this first night, and we have a rooming list so that not everyone has to come to the front desk. But, upon arrival, some people want to move rooms, some rooms are also not totally finished, and some of the rooms had paint drying.
I mean… I could go on with the check in process…. keys were dead, locks were dead, rooms were switched, luggage was in the wrong rooms… some people complained of a paint smell, and had to be moved. Some of the rooms were occupied with unknown guests, etc. It was a cluster-eff. Now, mind you, this is the hotel industry, and the opening day. “Don’t look at the man behind the curtain”. For the most part, the guests or public don’t really see this as anything but a celebration, and miss most of the mistakes. The nominally grumpy people aside, as they are always grumpy… people were really in a wonderful mood. I, however, am about to commit hari kari in lieu of protecting my honor in front of so many professional peers as 3 hard years melt down around me.
So the cars start rolling in. I had a potato camera, so apologies:
https://goo.gl/photos/9vZURRZrCaCVUuq9A (The Mercedes Benz 300SL isn’t bad… gurgle unnggghhhh)
And we are swapping rooms, finding luggage, going crazy. There is a team of so many here…. 100’s?… trying to get this to work right (because it isn’t just operations opening day, but architects, construction, owners, investors… everyone is there on top of the guests, and it is a giant cluster-eff). People think they are helping, and the few hotel people *are* literally helping, but most people are schmoozing and starting to drink to celebrate “yay we did it the cars are here”, and just getting in the way. This hotel is a campus of many acres, so I am running around without a golf cart, delivering keys, luggage, etc. My suit is soaked through. It’s 4p, and I’ve been up since 3.30a easy… last inspections, final punch list items, etc.
So the cars line up around the parade ground. It’s pretty magnificent. It starts to get to be dusk, and people are settled in, heading to dinner. I am standing around, basically heaving and wide-eyed, blurry and exhausted. Up walks Mr. Swig. I don’t think he introduced himself as that. I think Martin, if anything at all. He basically just became my friend. He saddled up to me, obviously knew I was hard working and in a break by the valet stand, said that everything was fantastic, and we started talking about cars. It was very disarming, and charming. I mean, he knew I was working, and probably was tired. He didn’t make a point of saying “oh yeahhh… everything is sooo nice. so great. great job”. He just said how great the whole thing was, and we started chit chatting, and he wandered off to dinner. He was very kind.
The story moves on, and if that anecdote isn’t enough, I seem to recall that year was one of his favorite cars that he knew wouldn’t run in the Mille…. a 2008 Miata. I have to find the source to that!!
But so he sort of made my twilight. =) He took the panic and exhaustion of 3 years, and really settled it into a lovely evening of celebration. He calmed me down with kindness. Softness? I hope that’s not rude. Gentle, and warm guy. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE….
As everyone wanders to dinner, and I mean *everyone* short a few front office management and staff, we’re left alone with a brand new hotel, living and breathing, doing what it wants. You see, when you build something, you plan, and design, and construct, and meet, and plan. Then you open the building, and you throw all of that away, and then hold on. The systems come to life, and things happen that you can’t control.
I think you already knew we didn’t know about the timing of the sprinkler systems, and frankly, if it wasn’t totally insane that day, we would have looked at the half million to multi-million dollar cars surrounding our 15 acre lawned parade ground and asked “HMMM… I wonder when those sprinklers went on”.
So, it’s dusk to twilight now, and dinner is almost through. The lights have come on around the property, security is out around the cars (to some extent, pretty light, actually), and the people that *are* wobbling around the property are simply inebriated.
What’s the sound a row of high powered sprinklers makes? TCCCCHHhHHHHhHH CHhhhh CHhahhahhaha. Sort of like that Friday the 13th “Jason is chasing you” sound. I am standing at the valet stand, and I see, down by the Golden Gate Bridge at the front of the property, the parade ground is lined with about 10 really high powered golf course type sprinklers. I don’t really think about it, other than “oh look something else I didn’t know about”. 10 minutes go by, and they sink into the ground…… TCCCCHHhHHHHhHH CHhhhh CHhahhahhaha
A 2nd row of sprinklers comes up. It’s closer to me. Which is fine. It’s coming up toward the main buildings. It’s coming near the cars.
OH MY GOD IT IS COMING NEAR THE CARS. These are soft tops, convertibles, multi-million dollar cars with their windows down and their owners drunk. This sprinkler is marching, dutifully, up the parade ground towards approximately 50 cars, a new row of sprinklers every 10 minutes. We have no idea where the boxes are, valves, shut off, plumbing… absolutely no idea. Architects, Construction, Park people…. all at dinner, all “celebratory”.
It’s a full panic by the time it is 3 rows away, and one of the furthest most sprinklers is definitely hitting a hubcap. Oh my god rusty calipers. Were those even calipers back then? Oh my god I am watching a horrendously difficult day turn into the largest legal liability of my professional life. I am running around a muddy parade ground with relatively fresh lawn that has constantly been watered for weeks in preparation for opening, so call it mud. And golf sprinklers. I am basically test kicking a sprinkler and trying to stand on it, until it sort of knocks me on my ass. I’ve got underpaid security and desk people in horrendous polyester uniforms (we fixed that) getting soaked and punched in the face with major H20 PSI.
3rd row goes down. And I’m just waiting. Baited breath. You can hear everyone’s breathing, spotted around a giant parade ground, silently paused…. waiting. Listening, like we’re spotted through an empty landscape at night, praying we are hunting and not the prey.
TCCCCHHhHHHHhHH CHhhhh CHhahhahhaha
2nd to last line of sprinklers pop up, and I am quite literally about to scream at the top of my lungs for people to protect the cars, get the cars, push the cars. These sprinklers would be taking paint off cars, I suspect. I literally wasn’t sure what was next. I’ve been in my own private hell, so I don’t realize at least a few people have been mobilized around me. I notice some of the people involved with the project are getting back from dinner. As I am looking around, our head of engineering rolls up in a golf cart, with a giant cardboard box. With Red nose, round cheeks (he might as well have been hiccupping bubbles, for aesthetic), he hands me a few commercial / industrial grade plungers… the one with the rubber dangly part that creates a better seal. “Engineering to the rescue! These fit on the sprinklers” He hands me two, I run and hand one off…. slip completely on my way to another sprinkler… and by the time we are all positioned and covering the sprinklers… and protecting EVERY SINGLE CAR except for two that got lightly sprayed…. that row turns off.
So… we don’t even know where the last row of sprinklers *is* exactly…. so it’s waiting, hovering, and finally… a bit of calm. There’s a crowd now, spectators… onlookers. Amused people, scared people.
The next row turns on, and we’re ready….
TCCCCHHhHHHHhHH CHh… and they almost immediately go off, silently dying, scurrying into their little ground sockets. Minutes later, I realize the Park Superintendent had found out what was happening, and immediately when to the junction box to turn off the valves. He truly saved the day.
But it was at this moment, surrounded by nearly 100 turn of the century masterpiece works of automotive art, and with shining jewels of Gatsby like historic buildings glowing in front of me, a silhouette slowly walks up, an inky shape that takes form from the brilliant shine of the historic buildings.
“Why is your suit soaking wet, and why are you holding two plungers?”
She had known it was a long day. But she hadn’t expected to come back from a company dinner to find her sapped and drained boyfriend to be soaking wet and plunging sprinklers.
Before I could explain all that happened, I said (something like), “Will you marry me?”
She said yes. In front of the California Mille, and at a building that, at the time, glowed perfection and was born anew with classical hope, memories of looking forward with optimism and enthusiasm. It just felt the right moment. And it was. We married a year later 19th September 2009, and have been married every since. I truly need to thank Mr. Martin Swig, whether that brief encounter, creating the Mille, or giving me the opportunity to find the perfect moment in my life. I am sure we deserve many, and I hope we get more… but that was one of mine (and Lauren’s!).