Home Portside On the Job: Keeping a hotel’s engines running during the pandemic

On the Job: Keeping a hotel’s engines running during the pandemic

Joe Perez, Chef Engineer, turns off the water to a room as he works on a valve in the bathroom while at the Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport in Long Beach Monday, November 9, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova

Wearing steel toe boots and black cargo pants, from which hangs a set of keys that jingles like a wind chime at every step, Joe Perez looks like he’s ready to get down to business.

Every day, Perez works on myriad maintenance tasks necessary to keep two hotels of nearly 300 rooms up and running—from balancing the pool chemicals to fixing a sink—in a place that, currently, can feel a little lifeless.

“I’m used to seeing guests walking around, having meetings,” he said. “Now, it’s a bit of a ghost town.”

Servicing both the Staybridge Suites and the adjacent Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport still leaves Chief Engineer Perez with plenty of work on his hands, despite a significant slowdown in guest traffic brought on by the pandemic.

Adding the new Staybridge Suites, a hotel that caters primarily to guests seeking longer-term accommodation and that opened earlier this year, has been a challenge. “I’m still getting used to managing two facilities,” Perez noted. “It’s a lot tougher.”

The pandemic has opened up some opportunities for maintenance at the Holiday Inn, one of 40 iconic tower-shaped hotels built by the chain in the 1960s, but the reduced staffing levels have forced Perez and his team to crank up the efficiency.

“There’s always something going on; it’s always keeping me busy,” he said.

On a recent day his team of six has snaked its way up the tower, one level at a time, refreshing the paint and checking light fixtures in five to six rooms per day.

But training new arrivals to the team has been more difficult as well during the current public health crisis. “There’s so many things on your mind because of this that you’re not really yourself. You can’t talk to people like you used to,” Perez said.

Especially in a hands-on job like building maintenance, the chief engineer had to adapt his teaching methods to allow for proper distancing. “It’s been a learning experience for me too,” he added.

Every morning, Perez meets with his workers on shift to discuss the tasks of the day, before checking in with the contractor who built the Staybridge Suites and is still on site to help smooth out any remaining kinks.

Throughout the day, Perez switches from speaking English to Spanish without missing a beat, a skill that has helped him connect more easily with the people on his team as well as outside contractors. “However they talk to me, I talk to them,” he explained. “I think it makes them feel more comfortable.”

While it’s great to have some time to catch up on work that is much harder to accomplish with more guests present, Perez said he misses the hustle and bustle they bring. “I think everyone does, right?” he asked.

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