It must be the uniform. That's what I tell myself when I'm riding my bike home and I pass the AT&T building on Lindell. Outside, under the summer heat, there's a security guard smoking. His Whelan Security uniform is unfamiliar to me. Instead of the normal black pants and white shirt, this gentleman is wearing creased khakis and a straw hat. The straw hat has a badge with a big WS officially engraved on it. Of everyone standing outside, this is the man I notice. I catch his eye and give a slight nod. Just to let him know I'm passing.
But this story isn't about a security guard. It's about Joe Carter, a doorman at Union Station for the past two years. Joe is a happy and engaging man. The summer heat has broken, if 88 degrees is considered cooler. And as he comes on his shift all the Party Lite groups have unloaded and are on their way to the convention center for the pep rally. Joe shows a few women to the shuttle bus that will pick them up at the corner of Market and 20th.
The first thing I notice about Joe is his tact. For instance, a car comes to the curb and a family gets out. Joe closes their door and then asks to help with their bags. Obviously, it's just simple customer service. But something in the way that he asks the question. Something in the way he takes just long enough to close the door so that no one feels like he's hawking for a tip. It's the same feeling I get at a nice restaurant. When the server knows exactly when to ask if I'd like coffee after my meal, and then doesn't look disappointed if I ask for the check instead of dessert.
Tips are not really an issue. They're more of a story. While I am there, a woman apologizes to Joe for giving him change. "That's money I can use for a soda during one of my breaks," Joe says. After just an hour, I can honestly say that Joe doesn't expect money from anyone. He's doing his job, which is to greet new guests when they arrive and then to assist them in any way while they're in St. Louis.
That doesn't mean he won't take someone's money if it's offered. Joe has received two $100 tips while he's been doorman at the Hyatt at Union Station. The first was from a man who had apparently been generous with everyone on the staff. When all was said and done he must have handed out eight or nine $100 tips during his stay. The second time came when Joe was in the elevator with some baseball players. It was 5:30 a.m.. The men had won big at the casinos and were talking about it when someone said they could never imagine giving anyone a $100 tip. Joe matter-of-factly mentioned that he'd been given one before. Then everything on the elevator was quiet until Joe got off to deliver newspapers. One of the players called him back and handed him a $100 bill.
Joe could talk to anyone about anything, which is what makes him such a great doorman. He knows how to fill in those awkward spaces like when he calls for a cab and everyone stands at the curb waiting for it to come. He knows what not to say also. While I am talking to him, a group of women drive up in a minivan. "Do you need help with your bags?" Joe asks in his usual tone. "I'm a woman. I pack a lot," she replies. Joe just continues to take things out of the back and put them on the cart. She also tips him $10 another satisfied customer starting her stay.
Of course, because it's the Hyatt, Joe has met plenty of celebrities. One morning, a limousine pulled up and Rob Reiner was escorted inside. Another time he saw Sisqo taking something out of his bags in the lobby. Joe has also met Muhammad Ali, Chuck Berry, and Marion Ross, better known as Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days. While I stand with him, I am lucky enough to meet a carload of women who jump out and proclaim, "The Party Girls are here." I'm sure they were famous as well, or it could be the royal treatment that Joe gives to everyone.
On this summer day, Joe is hot the sweat makes little patches around the open neck of his pressed green shirt. His arms shine from the sweat also. In terms of the heat, the worst part is being required to wear his cap. To stay cool, it would be better to have a T-shirt that said Hyatt, or something like that. But people tell him he looks sharp in his uniform. I have to admit Joe is a charismatic guy who would be singled out regardless of where he stood: a Metrolink platform, waiting for a table at a restaurant. But here in front of Union Station, he has a special air of authority that distinguishes him from others. Maybe it's just something about the uniform.
Kent Shaw, a poet and writer, lives in St. Louis.