Surry With The Fringe On Top

I’d been warned about “That British Sales lady” before I’d even stepped foot in the Holiday Inn Manassas front door. Needless to say, my first day on the job jitters were amplified. I walked into the back room, and there she stood smoking a long brown Moore cigarette. She walked right up to me, stuck out her hand and said “Hi. Maggie. I’m the bitch”. What was one supposed to say to that? I didn’t know.  I felt my face turn bright red, and there was nothing that I could do to stop it. She eye’d me up and down suspiciously. “So, you’re Chris’ sister? I guess we’ll see how long you last won’t we?” With that, she turned on her heel and shuffled back into her office. I thought “Holy crap!” There was just something about her though that I liked immediately.

Our Holiday Inn days were filled with laughter as well as tears. She constantly complained that she “didn’t have a proper office”. For some reason, her office had no door. On April Fool’s day the Food and Beverage Director took a giant roll of brown paper and spread it out on the office floor. With a large black marker she drew a door. It was with great delight that we took turns drawing murals on it with cartoon thought bubbles. The paper was filled with little Maggie-ism’s. “A smile costs nothing”, “Don’t lean on the counter”, and my favorite “That’s just rude!” It took quite a bit of tape, but we hung our newly constructed paper door with glee. We were extremely satisfied with our artistic efforts; that was until Mags showed up and burst our bubble with her beautifully sharpened British pin. “Is this what you do when I am not around? Have you nothing better to do?” Of course, being the nineteen year old smart ass that I was I replied simply “We built you that door to protect you from our den of iniquity”. She rolled her eyes, tore it down and shot back “I’ll need a thicker door”.  She was never one to mince words.

A few weeks later a world famous Rock and Roll band showed up. They had a concert at what was then the Nissan Pavilion. The rooms were pre-paid. We snuck them in the back, and up a flight of stairs that were hardly ever used. The next morning, the tour manager thanked me and went on his way. Things couldn’t have been smoother, or so I thought. My front desk agent forgot to adjust the room rate when she checked the band in, and when the nightly audit ran, the group rooms reflected a balance owed of $.25. I certainly wasn’t going to chase down the tour bus for a measly quarter because of our mistake, so I adjusted the room rate on all the rooms. When Mags came in and found out what I had done she called me into the main office and closed the door. I’d never seen her so livid. “That was my commission! What is wrong with you? Why can’t you train your staff to properly calculate the correct entertainment rate? I left instructions!” I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say. At first, I thought she was kidding. Who gets bent out of shape over a $.25 error? When I realized that she was completely serious, I said to her “My agent used the calculator that didn’t round up. It was an honest mistake.” I stuck up for my staff. Mistakes happen. I felt the mole hole grow larger as she spoke. By that time my staff had gathered at the front desk, and had closed both office doors in an effort to keep our guests from hearing the argument. Utterly exasperated I finally opened the office door, grabbed my purse and took out my wallet. “I believe this should cover the mistake on your commission” I snapped as I slammed the quarter down on her desk. We spent the rest of the day not speaking to each other. Later the quarter became our running joke whenever we disagreed about something.

The next several years of our hotel days were a learning experience. She taught me the importance of customer service, the “proper” way to reconcile an accounting ledger, and how to quickly get rid of a useless boyfriend. Admittedly, I never did follow her advice on the latter, and being the honest person that she was she never failed to say “I told you so! Why can’t you just listen? I know what I’m talking about!” I had learned early on that the angrier she was, the more pronounced her speaking became. I “drove her mad”, but she did the same for me and that made us even somehow.

Most people didn’t understand our friendship. We fought like cats and dogs sometimes! It was built on mutual respect, though to hear us argue you would never know it. I admired her greatly. She knew things, important things. She also had a knack for finding the best “secret” places to eat. One Saturday afternoon she called me up and asked me to lunch. There was a place in Old Town Manassas called Woolco. I’d never been there before but according to her they had the best fried egg sandwiches for miles. It was a drug store that had a 1950’s style dining counter. I’d lived in Manassas most of my life and I had never heard of such a place. She was Triple D without the camera and crew. We were supposed to meet at the counter but when I arrived she was nowhere in sight. Unsure of what to do, I started to sit down when I noticed a long brown cigarette on the floor. I walked over to it and as I reached down to pick it up, I noticed another. I knew immediately who the culprit was. I followed the trail, bending and collecting as I went. It was like Hansel and Gretel for smokers! I must have collected half a pack when I finally found her in an aisle reading the back of some package. “Oh! You found me!” she laughed as she shifted her basket around. “Hard not to Mags” I said as I handed over all her lost smokes. “You left quite a trail”. She just laughed. “They look like little poodle turds, and you went ‘round and snatched them up! How good of you!” She was extremely amused by that. I just rolled my eyes at her, but I couldn’t help but grin. She was indeed correct about the egg sandwiches. It took a strong stomach to overcome the thought of poodle turds while eating but I managed somehow.

Maggie gave my nineteen year old self the drive and determination to go forward. She was kind, intelligent, thoughtful, harsh, truthful, and the most direct person that I have ever known. She was full of quirky surprises. She showed up for work once at GSA wearing two different colored shoes. “It was dark, and I was in a hurry you know”. She also had the most creative ways to solve problems. Early on in her time at GSA she followed me into the ladies room with a stapler in her hand. I just looked at her and said “Mags, do I even want to know why you brought that into the ladies room?” She just grinned. “My slip is slipping!” I cracked up. “Well, maybe it wouldn’t if you called it something else!” Of course, her response was immediate “Smartass!” Every single time the bathroom door opened I giggled like a fool. She certainly gave Washington a run for its money.

My life is full of “Happy Accidents”. I only met Maggie because my brother was fired from The Holiday Inn. When the boss called to deliver the news I answered the phone. I said “Well I guess that means you’re hiring now huh?” Mags always said “I still can’t believe you said that” and she would laugh her head off.

It was a privilege and an honor to know her. She made the USA so much brighter. Her stories of Surry, and what Manassas used to look like will be with me forever. She was truly the best “U.K. Invasion” that I’d ever known, and I can only be thankful for everything that she taught me. She spilled wisdom onto the lost girl, and found the oil left in the bottom of the lamp, otherwise forgotten.

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2 thoughts on “Surry With The Fringe On Top

  1. Wonderful recount, Beth. The memories of those back office, sometimes loud, conversations, the countless cigarettes, the laughs, lessons, checking in tour buses, countless key cards and most of all, unforgettable friendships, will never be forgotten. ❤️ RIP

    Liked by 1 person

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