That One Time is a recurring series of essays highlighting oddball, first-person experiences. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of Complex City Guide. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
“Brooklyn-based Hotel Toshi is hiring an operations specialist to join our team. This employee will act as a ‘gopher,’ diagnosing and troubleshooting logistics and maintenance issues of all shapes and sizes. Starting pay is $2,500 per month with opportunities for future benefits and promotion. Prior hotel experience is a plus.”
The address listed as Hotel Toshi was little more than a loading dock for a non-descript loft building on a dreary corner under the Williamsburg Bridge. When I arrived, the only signs of life were three fresh-faced, bewildered-looking Germans with a set of matching suitcases. One girl was wearing a neck pillow. With the traffic on the bridge above our heads roaring, one of them asked, “Excuse me, sir, can you direct us to Hotel Toshi?
After fumbling through a few hand gestures to explain that we were looking for the same place, a red door burst open, spilling a gaggle of beautiful, giggling women onto the sidewalk, each with a rolling suitcase in tow. I caught the door and waved the Germans inside, making a mental note of the tiny piece of masking tape that read “TOSHI” affixed to the buzzer.
We descended into a cinder block basement where a beautiful young black woman with perfect dreadlocks sat in front of a curtain at a reception desk. A middle-aged couple in glittery t-shirts emblazoned with hand-drawn caricatures of Barack Obama stood next to her, furiously pecking at a pair of smartphones. The waiting area contained only a small couch, a water cooler, and several wrinkled copies of New York magazine. The woman at the desk greeted the Germans in French. They responded in English, to which she simply replied, “Ah yes, Mulberry Street. Four nights, yes?”
Another woman emerged from behind the curtain, approached me, confidently stuck out her hand, and introduced herself as Cai. I followed her behind the curtain where dozens of employees sat clacking away at computers organized atop long banks of folding tables. My presence was barely acknowledged amidst the boiler room of frantic scurrying and multi-lingual babel. One entire wall was covered with color-coded sets of keys arranged onto meticulously labeled hooks. A small group of teenagers stood on step stools, arranging buckets full of key rings into their proper locations.
Elsewhere, chaotic “dispatchers” responded to a deluge of phone calls and barked orders to a group of boys who waddled around like little friendly dungeon masters with enormous key rings hanging from their belts. These were the gophers.
My interview was short and to the point: $2,500/month for the first two months. 50-60 hours per week, two graveyard shifts. No set schedules. “It’s the Chinese way. You work when we need you. If Toshi likes you, you get a bonus,” explained Cai. And yes, Toshi was a real human being. I agreed to start the following morning.
Toshi is Chinese-American and his full name is Robert Chan. His appearances in the office were infrequent, but his presence was always felt immediately. He wore white pants, white shoes, and carried around a tiny fluffy dog named Ponzu. His time in the office was marked by loud shouting matches with Cai, his office manager/girlfriend, and his role in the company seemed to mostly involve disingenuous smiles, over-filled glasses of white wine and vigorous handshakes with visiting Hasidic landlords.
At the time of my hiring, Hotel Toshi operated about 150 apartments scattered across Manhattan below 96th Street and over the bridge into Williamsburg. New units went online at an incredible pace—three were opened in my first week—and a fleet of yellow delivery trucks operated by a team of handy dudes feverishly assembled IKEA furniture to keep up with demand. Many of these guys were unemployed bicycle messengers with a keen understanding of city streets.
To avoid legal repercussions in the United States, nearly all of our advertising was directed toward European, South American and Asian tourists, and pushed through online home rental sites like AirBnb. American customers were rare.