Breakfast at the 85-year-old Westin Poinsett hotel is soooo civilized. The servers glide in and out, making plates disappear, quietly asking if this is satisfactory or if that needs a little more or less of the other. Always, always, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” never chatting up. Never “sweetie” or “honey.”
Whether this is owing to the influence of hotel manager Fabian Unterzaucher, whose resume includes stints at Four Seasons in New York and Maxim’s in Paris, or to the Westin chain’s rules of restaurant engagement, I don’t know, but I do like the way it makes me feel.
A few of my friends are members of a place not far from the Westin Poinsett called the Poinsett Club. No connection that I’m aware of, except that both are named after the 18th century statesman scientist Joel Poinsett, one of Greenville’s founding fathers.
Nibbling blackberries and bacon this morning at the Westin while reading my leather-bound copy of The Way of All Flesh, I was quite the hypocritical poser. Quick as I am to condemn the Poinsett Club’s tradition of uniformed black men helping overstuffed good old boys pretend that Grant surrendered to Sherman at Appomattox, unimpressed as I am with the self-congratulatory tale that members tell of the server who put his children through college on their generous tips, what did I do this morning?
Just like the good old boys, I tipped in direct proportion to obsequiousness.
The only justification I can offer – and it’s a sad one, I admit – is that I’m 50 years old and I want people to be nice to me. I want them not to scare me, maybe even let me think that I scare them a little once in a while. It’s a favor that I’m prepared to pay for, too. Just like the good old boys.