George “Burt” Martin
In previous contributions to Postcard History there have been no references to my primary passion in life. I really like being a guest. My dear wife and I had some marvelous experiences as we travelled around the world, but the very best thing in life, for me, is to be called by my name by a perfect stranger, as they do in luxury hotels. In other words, they know me, but I have no clue who they are.
When I left England after retirement there was only one destination in mind – California! There was never an opportunity for me to work in California, so I wanted to retire there. From the years, when I was a boy back in the 1960s, sitting on the back fender of our farm tractor helping my dad plow the fields, (it was my job to watch the plowblades as they turned the soil, to be sure nothing out of the ordinary turned skyward) I can remember how I day-dreamed how much fun it would be to do the same job in different parts of the world.
As I left the stage of a business college just north of London on graduation day, 1978, I tucked my newly acquired leatherbound certificate-folder under my arm and went down the steps into poverty. My new degree didn’t come with promises, and at that time I was broke (literally penniless). As I made my way to Paddington Station for a train to Snitterfield (please, don’t laugh – there really is such a place and it was then the closest thing I had to a home address), I saw a sign in a pub window that read: free lunch to LSE grads with degree. That was the luckiest day of my life.
I stopped “dead in my tracks” as they say, turned and entered the Hen and the Feather. I walked straight to the keeper and held my certificate up for him to see, then announced that I was here to claim my free lunch.
“Have a seat, Lad!” I sat at a table by the kitchen door and ten minutes later, I had a pint of ale and a plate of fish ‘n chips in front of me that would have fed a family of five. “There is a hitch,” said the keeper as he put the plate on the table, “if you accept this lunch you have to sit for a job interview.”
At that point I would have done handstands for a free lunch. The keeper told me that the fellow in the corner was a hotel comptroller and he needed to form a new staff of smart people to run a new hotel. And then he told me, “Since you have a degree, you must be smart.”
I know this sounds like an O. Henry short [story], but it is absolutely true. This is how I became a hotel executive, got to travel around the world staying in luxury hotels, to have people I did not know call me Mr. Martin.
* * *
I didn’t buy the first postcard I collected; I found it in a book I bought in a used bookstore in Baltimore, Maryland. Someone left their bookmarker when they finished their book.
Naturally, the concept of an unnamed providence looms over this card. There is no way to know, but judging from old travel diaries, logbooks, and other business records, it may be safe to assume that I have spent at least 100 nights each year for the last 38 years in hotels. And, I find a postcard of a hotel that I have never heard of in a place I have never visited.
The caption claimed that the Colonial Hotel of Hagerstown, Maryland, was a rendezvous where the best food and your favorite drink were served “correctly.” Blimey! That statement was a true gut punch suffered by my ego. I couldn’t wait to find the “correct” way to serve a drink! In all my years, it was my thought that my hotels were doing it right.
Sadly, I will never know. The postcard however has provided a good idea of how to decorate the lobby of a refurbished hotel in the 1930s. Ferns, lamps with stained glass shades, a golden birdcage at the foot of the stairs, and flowered upholstery would never reach the measure of luxury in my day. Who is to say, according to the postcard, Jim Koliopulos is “My Friend” maybe all this was his idea. Perhaps, on my next visit to a used bookstore, I’ll find one of his business diaries with his recipe for “correct.”
Charming story… thank you…
Interesting that Jim’s last name is spelled “Koliopulous” in the newspaper headline and photo caption, yet is rendered as “Koliopolus” in the text of the article. The card just adds to the confusion, as it features the spelling of “Koliopulos”.
What a great story about the way you joined the hotel world, Burt. And what a great finfd in your second hand book!