When I was the Resident Manager of the Flagship Hotel in Galveston, some of the many problems I had to put up with were the conventions that we scheduled. Conventions maximize profit: the rooms are all full, the bars are at capacity, and the restaurants are packed. On the other hand, a convention booked at a beach hotel is not there to do much work. The average patron after a week of heavily organized frivolity is sun-burnt, hung-over, sick, and too broke not to leave for home. This is not a recipe for happy guests.
Some conventions were fun. Others were an adventure in combat anger management. In 1971, the Veterans of Foreign Wars had a convention in Houston that was attended by Governor Reagan and Vice-President Agnew. Thousands of students laid siege to the hotel, protesting the war. Except for the rather humorless Secret Service agents, I thought the whole affair was great fun--in part because I was the only college student at the protest who was getting paid. But, I was only a lowly security guard in those days--you have a different view when you are management.
Undoubtedly, one of the worst conventions the Flagship ever hosted was The Telephone Workers of America. This group of miserable, angry drunks (What is the collective noun for a gathering of assholes? A toilet? A hemmorhoid?) held its convention at Halloween. We had more fist fights—in costume--than a Golden Glove bout. One drunk in particular created havoc by making an endless series of obscene phone calls to every room in the hotel. Somehow, even in his inebriated state, he had figured out that he could call room-to-room without the assistance of the hotel operator. No amount of pleading from his wife and friends could convince the large and violent drunk to stop making the calls.
Like most of the staff, I was in costume, dressed as Dracula--complete with a large flowing black cape. I opened the door to his room with my passkey and stepped in, loudly announcing in my best Tex-Transylvanian accent, “Good Evening!” As everyone stared at me, wide-eyed and frozen, I walked over and removed the handset from the drunk’s hand, yanked the receiver wire out of the wall, and left with the telephone. No one in the room moved or said a word until I was back in the hall, with the door securely shut behind me. I have always wondered how much the drunk remembered the next day.
The worst convention—by far—was the Texas Peace Officers convention. I would not do that convention again without… hell, I have no idea. Combat pay? Personal protection provided by Delta Force? None of that would be enough. Part of the problem is that the police do not believe that rules are written for them. As one sheriff put it, “You can’t break the law when you is the law!” That seemed to be the general attitude of pretty much everyone at that convention.
There was an enormous amount of drinking, which was followed by an equal amount of puking, retching, gagging, and upchucking. Most people, when they drink, pass through familiar stages of inebriation: loud, obnoxious, intelligent, handsome, and finally, invisible. With the police, it is angry, screaming, rampaging Cossack, and finally, crack shot.
As I have previously explained, the Flagship was situated on a pier over the Gulf of Mexico. Every room was over the water. So, when a group of East Texas policemen (including quite a few local cops) managed to force open the door to the roof so they could conduct some target practice at 3:00 am—evidently the Balinese Room a quarter a mile away was the target—other guests in the hotel couldn’t help being aware of the situation.
“Is that gunfire I hear?” asked every phone call to the front desk. “Is someone shooting? Should we call the police?”
“The police already know about it.” I answered. “With any luck, any second now they will shoot themselves and fall off the damn building into the water.”
NO! Of course I didn’t answer that.
“No!” I actually said. “That is the sound distant thunder makes when it comes rolling in from the sea.” I doubt that I was believed. What I was actually counting on was that the idiots on the roof were too drunk to reload.
The first night of the convention, the deputy sheriff from Montgomery County, Texas staggered out of the bar, stumbled and fell. A tiny little Spanish .25 automatic fell out of his sock, hit the floor, discharged and fell apart as the receiver, slide and spring all bounced in different directions. The anemic little toy had punched a neat hole through a nearby window, just inches above a local police lieutenant’s head.
The lieutenant was a little pissed. As he grabbed the deputy by the neck, he said, “I hope for your sake that you are a cop.”
The Montgomery County Sheriff was very angry at the cost of replacing that window. As it turned out, he got a lot angrier. The hotel had a parking problem when it was at full capacity. Because of this, the local fire marshal required us to keep the spaces directly in front of the hotel’s doors empty at all hours. He had ordered that appropriately marked red sawhorses block these spaces at all times.
That night, the sheriff came back to the hotel late, and not finding a close parking space, had moved the sawhorses, parked his squad car, and then moved the sawhorses back in place. By the time he had finished this chore, the lobby bellman had alerted me, and I was waiting at the front door. I was very polite, he was very drunk, and found my request to move the car hilarious. He didn’t even answer me as he got in the elevator and went to his room.
I didn’t live in Montgomery County, and didn’t want to. I did live on Galveston Island, and did know what the fire marshal would do if he found that fire lane blocked. I doubt the sheriff had reached his room before I had called the tow truck. The wrecker driver thought the whole affair sidesplitting. The sheriff’s car had rotating lights, an official paint job, radios, and a shotgun in the rack between the seats. And I had it towed away.
The next morning, the lobby was full of policemen from all over East Texas, each of them laughing his ass off while waiting for the sheriff to come to the breakfast the convention was hosting. When the sheriff finally stepped out of the elevator, the lobby was quiet for a few seconds, then the gathered cops started laughing. The sheriff, realizing that he was the object of the gathered mirth, looked out the glass doors and figured out the joke pretty quickly.
Furious, he marched over to me. “Where the hell is my car, boy!” he thundered.
I told him the car had been towed, and gave him a business card from the wrecker company.
“You better get my car back, boy!” he yelled. Every word was punctuated by him stabbing me in the chest with his finger, his red face just inches from mine. “You better get it back now, boy!”
“No sir.” I answered. The gathered police were roaring with laughter. I was wondering if any of them would try to stop the sheriff if he was to draw his gun and try to shoot me. Or would they just laugh harder?
“YES YOU WILL!” By now, the sheriff was screaming.
“That’s an official po-lice car,” shrieked the sheriff. “Just what the hell were you thinking, boy?”
By now, the finger poking was getting painful, but I had an answer. Calmly, but loud enough for every law enforcement official in the room to hear me, I said, “I thought it made up for every parking ticket I ever got.”
The last thing that sheriff said to me as the room erupted in laughter was very quiet, and very close to my ear. “If I ever catch you in Montgomery County, boy, you’re a dead man.”
That was almost 30 years ago. I know exactly where Montgomery County, Texas is. I still haven’t been there.