A long line of late-night hi-jinks

By Don Brown

May 10, 2014

For most of my working career before joining the News-Gazette in 1994 I worked in many different hotels around the country as a desk clerk, cashier or night auditor.

A lot of famous people passed through during those nearly 25 years… Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Kate Jackson (a Charlies’ Angel), Bill Russell, Steve Garvey, and most of the Big Red Machine of the 70’s. I even stood by as a fellow desk clerk checked in Captain Kirk (aka William Shatner) and listened as my old friend handed the keys to a bellman and said, with a straight face, “Two to beam up!”

Many of the most interesting moments, though, came during the times when I worked as a night auditor. The auditor’s job began at 11 p.m. and ended at 7 a.m. His job was to balance all the charges accrued during the day, correcting any errors, charge room & tax on all the occupied rooms, make a spread sheet of all monies taken in from any bars or restaurants in the hotel and close out all the day’s business before beginning the new day.

I worked at several hotels doing this, but without a doubt the most interesting place was the Sheraton Inn in Concord, California.

It was situated next to a small airport, and pilots could use a phone at the desk to file their flight plans with the tower. There was also a commuter service that had a desk in the lobby which allowed them to make connecting flights with the San Francisco and Oakland International Airports.

Inside the hotel, there was a coffee shop for those needing something in short order, and there was also a dining room for those who wanted to have a nice sit-down dinner.

But what made the place really go were the two places that jumped in the evenings, especially on the weekends.

There was a lounge that was open all week and that had a live band on five of those nights. It was always jam packed. But the star of the show for five nights was the discotheque in the basement, a place called Sasha’s, after the hotel’s owner. People came from all over the Bay Area to go to Sasha’s.

Working behind the desk during the wee hours of the morning, I saw things that were funny, sad, interesting, and sometimes frightening.

The Sheraton had a very large lobby that had a couple of large planters in an atrium that had full-grown trees growing in it. All around the lobby, there were advertisements for the Sheraton Inn reservation number in large, lighted displays that stood about five feet high.

One morning, just after the lounge and disco had closed, but not everyone had cleared out, I watched as a young man stood in front of one of these advertisements, taking a quarter and placing it against the plastic. When the quarter would drop and roll away, he would pick it up and try again.

Finally, after watching him do this a few times, I called out to him and asked what it was he was trying to do.

“I can’t seem to get any cigarettes out of this machine!” he called back.

Sometimes watching the effects of alcohol on the brain, if not life-threatening, can be hilarious.

But the piece de risistance came shortly after I started working there in 1975. The bars had closed and I was getting ready to close things out for the day when a call came through the switchboard from one of the guest rooms.

When I answered, a man came on to ask, “Did you know you have a car in your swimming pool?”

Taken aback, I hesitated, then repeated, ” A car in the swimming pool?”

He assured me it wasn’t a joke and said I needed to go out and look. Sure enough, when I got out there there was a bright yellow Ford convertible sitting at the bottom of our pool.

It was obvious that whoever had done this had driven around the sleeping rooms over a grassy area between the hotel and the airport and taken it straight into the pool.

I called Sasha, who lived on the property, to let him know what had happened, then called the Contra Costa Sheriff’s office, who sent officers out to make a report.

I thought that would be the end of it, but around four in the morning I got a call from the Contra Costa Times with the query, “Is it true you have a car in your swimming pool?”

“Yes it is,” I replied.

“Well, would it be all right if we sent a photographer to come out for some pictures?”

I said sure, and shortly thereafter a photographer came out and posed me beside the waterlogged Ford and snapped a few shots. He asked me my name and when I told him, “Don Brown,” he replied, “Well, that’s easy enough!”

Evidently it was harder that he had imagined because when the photo appeared in the paper, the cutline underneath began, “Sheraton Inn night auditor, Dan Brown…”

You just can’t trust those media guys!