Jacob Tomsky never intended to go into the hotel business. As a new college graduate, armed only with a philosophy degree and a singular lack of career direction, he became a valet parker for a large luxury hotel in New Orleans. Yet, rising fast through the ranks, he ended up working in “hospitality” for more than a decade, doing everything from supervising the housekeeping department to manning the front desk at an upscale Manhattan hotel. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room-service meals, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late checkout, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&Ms out of your minibar, laughed at your jokes, and taken your money. In Heads in Beds he pulls back the curtain to expose the crazy and compelling reality of a multi-billion-dollar industry we think we know.
Why I Read It
Not many people know that when I was in college, I worked as a housekeeper at a resort during the summer. It was probably the least enjoyable job I ever held, but it did instill in me a fascination with the hospitality industry.
Overarching Story Line: 5/5
I hesitate to judge memoirs based on “plot” per se, but I do like them to have a nice trajectory, and Heads in Beds definitely did. The underlying theme of this memoir was that Tomsky was stuck in the hotel business; with no other marketable skills, he kept returning to the one career that was slowly eating away at his soul. He began his first “real” hotel job–front desk agent at a hotel in New Orleans–with high hopes and with the best attitude. He set the bar high with exceptional service, even passing up tips because he felt that going the extra mile for a guest was just good manners and part of the job. After spending ten years working at his next hotel in Manhattan, though, he became sloppy, cheating the system and hustling as much money as he could out of the guests. The hospitality business had finally broken him.
Tomsky writes with a very distinctive voice. It was a little irreverent, a little crass, and peppered with the f-bomb. Sarcasm ran rampant in this memoir. I will give him this: it was entertaining, and at times even funny. But I have to give him 4 out of 5 because occasionally it felt a bit contrived, and even slightly annoying. At times it almost, almost offended my feminist sensibilities—but that’s just me. This memoir was extremely readable, and I have a feeling many people would find him very amusing.
There were many characters in this story, mainly bellmen, fellow desk agents, managers, and dramatic guests who made brief but memorable appearances. Although I didn’t feel as though I got to know each individual character extremely well, Tomsky did give me a strong impression of, for instance, bellmen as a whole, and the stories of individual complain-y guests and frequent guests with weird quirks or behaviors were quite entertaining.
Additional Elements: 5/5
One of my absolute favorite aspects of this memoir was the “insider tips” that Tomsky scattered throughout the book, like how to avoid minibar charges and how to tip your desk agent for room and service upgrades. By the time he wrote this memoir, Tomsky had clearly harbored enough ill-feeling toward the hospitality industry that he was as much on “our” side as he was on “their” side. He’s helping us—the guests—to get the most out of our hotel experiences. He’s getting back at the hotels, and it makes for great reading.
Frequent travelers/hotel guests, hotel employees, people who like to buck the system, people who work with rude/annoying customers in any capacity, people interested in what goes on behind the scenes of hotels.