Going in I wasnt exactly a Whiting virgin. In fact far from it. Id stayed there briefly eight years previous and as a result of some inappropriate behavior, (enough said), was on the notorious NO list; a purple plastic notebook filled with at least a couple hundred names of people no longer welcome at the Whiting. The owner at the time -- Sharon -- being a kind and forgiving woman hired me nonetheless couldnt stay there but I could work there is how I saw it.
I remember seeing the film Blue Velvet, with its pretty and perfect town, hiding a dark and violent world barely under the surface and thinking, Thats Traverse City. Jaws isnt a bad metaphor for this place either, especially around Cherry Festival time. Tell yourself what you want, but bad things happen here in our pretty little resort mecca. Affluence may hide desperation but it sure doesnt erase it.
Shortly after starting at the hotel I was sitting next to one of the residents at the library computers. Britneys a young girl who at the time lived with her mother at the Whiting and is, (by a long shot), one of the most interesting people I met during my tenure. She did tarot readings at the hotel and also had a notebook filled with the criminal record printouts of many of the residents. But that day at the library as we both stared at the computer monitors she turned to me and asked Why do you work at the hotel? Cause I need a job, I started to tell her when she interrupted with, I know .but bad things happen there. A truer statement was never made and bad things did happen there, maybe the worst being that I became someone I didnt like very much.
I started out full of empathy and compassion for the residents and ended up as the house Nazi -- You are outta here NOW. Thing is, when I came in, considering where I had come from, my view was that I could easily be where these people were. Without sobriety and some good fortune and family-- and considering I was officially barred from staying at the Whiting -- god knows what bridge or plot of earth Id be under. So when a drunk was passed out on the stairs Id help him to his room; when some crazed lady needed to talk to a person instead of the walls, Id be there; or worse yet, when some young girl or guy came in, kicked out of their home and filled with shame, Id make sure they knew they werent freaks or losers -- just somebody in a place anyone could be living in under the wrong circumstances.
The history of the Whiting I dont know so well, only that its over 100 years old and was a fancy-ass place back in the day. There had been a bar and restaurant downstairs where the original front desk was located, and a large staircase leading upstairs. That desk is now upstairs at one end of the large lobby that at some point had an unfortunate Alpine-themed makeover, the faux stucco now yellowed with cigarette smoke.
There are two floors and the upper one is a literal maze. Even after months there on occasion Id have to escort pizza delivery guys upstairs cause it was too difficult giving directions to some of the rooms. Along with the redecorated lobby, at some point in time the hallway walls were partially lined with bronze/orange foil wallpaper depicting Elizabethan renaissance fair types frolicking about. Also, somebody at some point got hold of some turquoise paint and hit up some of the walls with it.
I didnt really see into many of the rooms until Goodwill Industries took over in March and we started moving people around. Theyre all different and most of them were okay, but some of them were unbelievable. It was appalling to see what people lived like.
One old guy had lived there for years and it took a couple of weeks to convince him to move into another room. He thought that if he wasnt there to drain the continually filling sink from the leaky faucet it would flood the place, and didnt understand that the reason he had to move was so that the plumbing could be fixed. I saw his room and was sickened that hed lived for years with a foul caved in mattress, piles of trash and a toilet sinking into the floor. Theres a huge amount of shame that comes with alcoholism, and some of these people felt lucky to have a roof over their heads and were afraid to complain about anything, even though they were paying rent. He was one of the residents that I couldnt even describe -- they only appeared when rent was due; a ghost.
Oh yeah, and the Whiting has ghost stories too, the most popularly perpetuated one being of a little boy whos seen from time to time disappearing into walls. He carries a ball and wants to play. One resident claims to have been visited by an incubus who sprinkled rose petals on her bed. Fact and fiction blur at the Whiting, but personally I saw no ghosts.
No one ever ended up at the Whiting as the result of a lot of good life choices but they did land there as a result of having no choices left. Some people I came to really care about and respect -- people whod been Mack-trucked by life, but whose sense of self and force of will kept them going nonetheless.
But for the most part my empathy and sympathy vaporized. I got sick of drunks; I got sick of drunks who scam charities in order to have a roof over their heads while they drink themselves to death. These local churches that fund people week after week have no idea that most of these people could be working but choose not to, and I dont only mean the drinkers, there are very few people that are actually in need.
So towards the end of my employment there, the underbelly appeal of the Whiting became lost for me and instead of helping drunks to their rooms I was calling the police and throwing them out. Social work is not in my future.
Goodwill Industries runs the hotel now and they have admirable plans for the place; turning it into a low-rent starting point for people reclaiming their lives. The hotel is clearly in a state of transition and will never be what it was. My concern is that emptying out the hotel will only put more people on the streets. The other day I ran into one of the guys I evicted with the aid of the police. I seriously doubt that he remembers me bent over him -- as he lay passed out in bed -- yelling, WAKE UP GET OUT. When I asked him where he was living, he told me Oh here and there. I decidedly felt like an asshole.