My mom took me to New York for the first time on my 16th birthday. It was my dream to move here as soon as I could, so this was the first major step toward that reality. In hindsight, I didn’t even realize how big of a deal it was that we stayed at a place as beautiful and storied place as the Waldorf Astoria.
That was 2000.
Fast forward to 2008, I’m two years out of college and just got laid off. With a bit of hair-salon-reception experience, the only job I could find was as a receptionist at The Kenneth Salon in the Waldorf Astoria. What. An. Experience. One that today I think back on fondly—and often. Kenneth was still there, cutting hair in his private salon. Lauren Bacall and her small dog visited him often.
I was part of an army of receptionists (that’s what it took to keep this iconic, luxurious, celebrity-patroned salon humming along smoothly). I sat in the back, windowless room answering phones and trying not to mess up as I scheduled, updated, and cancelled appointments accordingly. Each stylist, colorist, esthetician—and in some cases, client—had their own rules. It was stressful, but exciting. A woman named Belkis was my closest ally, helping me navigate the land mines. Only rarely, when one of the main receptionists was on break, did I get a turn at the front desk. One time, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to help Meryl Streep check out. Screaming inside, I was perfectly calm and professional as I swiped her card and handed her a pen.
At the time I worked there, all I could think about was finding a job with benefits in the industry I’d been trying to choose after graduating with an English degree. One thing I’m glad I was smart enough to do each morning, as I walked through the doors of the Waldorf Astoria, was soak in the brilliance, elegance, and historical New York significance of my unmatched surroundings.
The Waldorf Astoria will always hold a special place in my heart—and my history.