As the song says, “If I can make it there (New York), I’ll make it anywhere.” We got a feeling for what that actually means a couple of weeks ago while briefly passing through the city en route to Nantucket, a place our family has had a connection with since the mid-1800s.
Anyway, we’re chatting it up over breakfast with the waiter at the hotel before getting on the road for a rainy, five-hour drive to Hyannis to catch the ferry across Nantucket Sound. For some reason, even though the dining room was moderately busy, he must have taken 10 minutes to entertain us with details concerning his background, about how he came over as an Italian immigrant 20 or so years ago with a couple of university degrees under his belt ready to take on the corporate world in the Big Apple.
Which he did while able to support his wife and two young children, but at enormous personal cost.
It didn’t take long to realize that he was in effect an absentee husband and father, consumed by work, not able to do anything but work, not able to leave the office with all of his work done before about 9 p.m. and only then to collapse in bed and wait for the alarm to go off at 4 a.m. the next morning.
This couldn’t go on, of course, but he persevered until the youngest was at least walking, talking and potty trained. The idea was to find adequate child care and, although clearly not part of the original plan, for his wife to find a job as well. There was no way around the expected and significant pay cut he and the family would face when the time came to punt the corporate life and say hello to a new opportunity. Because, as he explained, a family of four can’t make it in Manhattan on income less than $150,000 per year. Just about anywhere else 150 grand for a family of four is excellent; in New York it’s barely scraping by.
But what to do? He was miserable and — although a generalization — nothing makes an Italian more miserable than being separated from family. His wife and children might as well have been back home in Italy. Things were better on weekends, but he was tired and by Sunday afternoon had that sickening pit in his stomach knowing that the alarm was going off at 4 the next morning and that the rat race would start all over again.
After weeks of weighing various options, he kept coming back to the idea of working for one of the larger hotels in midtown Manhattan. They’re always looking for multilingual employees and he knew that even busboys in the busier hotel restaurants could make up to $85,000 — an astounding figure for bottom rung personnel.
Being a head front doorman is a top of the ladder career job. Not only is he supposed to know how to pour on the charm, but should probably be at least somewhat conversant in several languages, have friends in the police department, keep a constant eye out for any perceived threats or danger and know how to handle them accordingly, and of course be a master at hailing cabs for hotel guests. We didn’t have the nerve to ask how much a head doorman makes, but got the general impression that it’s a seriously large figure.
When the time was right he accepted the first thing that was available at the desired location and cut himself free from the job that had become more like a prison sentence. It wasn’t too long before he ended up on the wait staff, with union and corporate benefits, a good salary and generous gratuities. He likes his job; he likes talking with people and the money and benefits are too good not to like, yet acknowledges the irony of being over-educated for it. This nonetheless parlays into an advantage of being able to talk with people about practically anything, and that helps. Everybody’s satisfied — the people he serves, his customers, supervisors, and most important his wife and children.
With all the money comes high expectations, including having to work two and even up to three consecutive shifts on occasion. But it’s part of the job — and part of one man’s view of what it’s like to make it in New York City these days.