TIPtoeing Around New York

1996/5/1 #425377: New York City skyline and Empire State Building, photo
New York, the "Big Apple," is often characterized as the "rotten apple" by people who don't live there. It's crowded, it's loud, it's in a hurry. While all that may be true, it's also exciting, fun, and, yes, friendly.

Recently, I was there on business. By the time I was in my hotel room, I had tipped half a dozen people, and gotten dirty looks from three others who apparently felt I had stiffed them. My hotel was one of those hip "boutique" hotels. There is no name outside the building to identify it as a hotel and the employees don't wear uniforms, so it's hard to tell who works there and who is a guest.

After checking in, I decided to get something to eat. Just walking down the noisy, teeming street for a few blocks was energizing. When I returned after my snack, I couldn't figure out how to unlock the door to my room. Embarrassed, I went back down to the lobby and found someone to help me. He admitted that the key was "tricky," and went with me to my room and demonstrated. I tipped him, even though I wasn't sure if he was a hotel employee or a salesman from Ohio looking for an extra buck.

The next morning, I had a business meeting in a different hotel. This one had a sign outside with the hotel's name on it. As I walked into the lobby, I couldn't help noticing that three policemen were arresting and handcuffing someone. I actually heard one of the cops say something into his microphone that until then I had only heard on television: "I've got the perp." The guy I was meeting there smiled at me and said, "Welcome To New York."

After the meeting, and after tipping that hotel's uniformed doorman because he almost helped me, I got into a cab to take me back to my hotel. The driver was wearing a full chauffeur's uniform, including the cap.

He explained, "I drove a limo for years, and now that I'm driving a taxi, I see no reason why I shouldn't give the same service with the same professionalism."

He said he was a positive person, and if I ever had negative feelings, I should think of him as a computer icon on my desktop. All I had to do was double-click him in my mind, and I'd feel better. Cynics would say he was just trying to get a bigger tip, but I didn't think so.

He found my hotel, despite the absence of any identifying marks, and I paid him. (OK, I admit I gave him a dollar more than I normally would have.) He thanked me, and handed me an envelope.

I successfully unlocked the door to my room, went in, and opened the envelope. It was a thank you note for taking his cab. The same cynics would probably guess it was a way for him to advertise in case I ever wanted to hire him privately. But that wasn't the case. There was no phone number on the card. But there was a little poem that he had written, along with his name and address — "Paul J. Hintersteiner, New York, New York." He was just a genuine, positive person, dedicated to professionalism who happened to wear a chauffeur's cap.

Like seeing the "perp," meeting Mr. Hintersteiner was, for me, another "Welcome to New York."

A few days later, it was time for me to go home. As I headed to the airport, I had a nagging feeling that I hadn't done something in my four days in New York. Then I realized what it was. There were still probably two or three people in Manhattan that I hadn't tipped.

The flight attendants on my plane were based in New York. When they pushed the food cart down the aisle, I declined the breakfast. I added, "But when you're serving drinks, I'd love some orange juice, please." The flight attendant looked at me as if I had just suggested that Los Angeles had better corned beef than New York. She answered in her New York accent, "Yeah, right. Like I'm going to remember your drink after I get done serving all this food." I guess that was New York-ese for, "Y'all come back soon." And I will.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver