Personal Stories of America at Work
How a 70-something Finds Purpose in a Post-Retirement Job
Bellman Jack Edwards ushers in all types of people to his New Jersey hotel
It’s a rainy night in Georgia
I’ve been working as a bellman at this same hotel in New Jersey since 1982. I started part-time; it was an after-hours job in addition to my regular daytime manufacturing jobs as a painter, material handler, belt splitter, jobs like that. When I officially retired in 1990, I started full-time. To me, it’s kind of fun working at the hotel. At my age (I’m 77), it feels better than staying in the house doing nothing, and you meet a lot of interesting peoples.
When a big sports star or someone famous comes to the hotel, everyone tries to rush in to see them. I don’t really go for all of that. But if they come in and they’re by themselves, I speak to them and everything. Over the years, I’ve met some interesting people—James Brown, Bill Cosby, Shirley Caesar (the “First Lady of Gospel”), and Billy Dee Williams. I even got Billy to take a picture with my grandson. Another time, Ray Charles was here . . . he come in and I says to him, “It’s a rainy night in Georgia!” and he says, “Man, you know it!” It was pretty funny to me.
It’s a people business
Sometimes you can meet peoples, and for one reason or another, they just like you. I had a man from California; he stayed at the hotel about four days a week for about two years. When he come in, even if he didn’t have nothing but a briefcase, he’d give it to me and want me to walk it with him up to his room, and give me a nice tip. He wouldn’t let anyone else help him. During the week, you have business people who come here week after week, sometimes pretty much for the whole year or more. They know you by name, and if they need anything, they call for you personally. Those are the experiences you look back and feel good about—when you’re helping people.
He ain’t too young to eat
I have never minded working. It runs in my family. My father believed in letting you work if you wanted to. I started off young, about seven years old. Our family were sharecroppers in North Carolina. One day the owner saw me working and told my father, “That boy’s too little to be working on the farm.” My father said, “He ain’t too little to eat.” So I continued.
Growing up, I spent a lot of my earnings on clothes. My parents provided my heavy clothes, suits, shoes, things like that. But the other stuff I bought myself, like jeans for school and shirts. I always had nice clothes to wear. When I was sixteen, I had twenty shirts in all different colors. They were really nice. Even to this day, I still like nice clothes.
The con artists
It’s amazing how many people come to a hotel who are what I call con artists. They complain about everything–I don’t care what you do for them or how nice you are, they complain. They know if they go up to the management and tell them the service was bad or the room didn’t smell good or something like that, they’ll get a coupon for a free dinner. Some people are just like that.
Changes in the air
Every few years the hotel seems to change hands. Different owners or management groups come in and shake things up. We only have three supervisors who’ve been here as long as me; all the rest are new.
Some of the changes backfire, though. One time we had a new general manager, and he put a stop to a lot of services that guests liked. We used to drive people in the airport van to restaurants that were close by. We had one gentleman who stayed with us a lot, and I always took him to his favorite Italian restaurant. Then the policy changed, and when he asked me to drive him, I said, “I’m sorry; the General Manager has cut that out. We can’t take guests to the restaurant no more.” He looked at me and said, “Show me to your GM’s office.” He went in there, and when he finished, the GM said to me, “Whenever he wants to go the restaurant, you take him.”
I met another woman once, a very nice lady. I got used to meeting her and talking to her. She worked in New York City. Every day, she would come down to our lobby from the train station, and her husband would pick her up. She would wait inside the vestibule if it was cold, or outside if it was nice. I’d go out, and we’d exchange words and talk a little bit. She was a nice Christian lady. I’ve never been able to find out, but I think she died in that World Trade Center thing. She went to work on that day in September, and I never saw her again. I never learned what happened to her.
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The Working Chronicles
The Working Chronicles captures an intimate look at work in 21st century America through candid interviews with people from all walks of life and all corners of the country.
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