To look at her, you would think she was a middle-aged housewife, very pretty with her black hair and blue eyes, just up from some San Francisco suburb for shopping and sightseeing with her two beautiful and well-behaved daughters. They check into their hotel room. Maybe they'll like it, but then maybe not. If they don't, they will move. Perhaps several times. They appear to be normal with their roll-aways and garment bags.
But that's where the usual stops, and the cloak and dagger begins. Her name is Lucia (not really) and she is a spy. She doesn't trap Bulgarians with microfilm hidden in their tieclips and she doesn't pass Silicon Valley corporate secrets. But she does let the management of prominent, upscale hotels know if their staffs are on the ball, doing their jobs and doing them well.
"There is so much stiff competition in San Francisco and hotels rely on service to their customers for repeat business. There are certain standards each hotel has to abide by, according to corporate policy, and they want to make sure everybody is doing their job.Ó So you have to have somebody in there who is testing the standards. Call her the Consumer Reports of hotel spies. Lucia is a very tough grader.
She is the mistress of dirty tricks, literally. Hidden away in her garment bag is a ditty bag filled with vacuum cleaner filth to deposit under the bed for the night crew to find . . . "if," she confides, "they're doing their job." She's also got chips and salsa, chocolate bars, dead light bulbs, and a screwdriver to disable sink and bathtub drains and faucets.
"I am authorized to do minor vandalism." She giggles. "Once, I got on the sink and pulled out a stopper and hid it and called the front desk and told them I didn't have one." They replaced it immediately. But sometimes, trashing a room backfires. One night she and her children emptied the courtesy bar, ground chips and peanuts into the carpet and staged a food fight. "When I called down to have somebody come clean the room, nobody was on duty. We had to sleep in that filth."
Meanwhile, her eight-year-old is a private investigator in training a Mata Hari in bunny slippers. "Everybody loves curious little girls, sort of like Eloise at the Plaza, and here she is in her quilted robe and slippers, as cute as can be. She says, 'Show me the hotel,' and they do. From hidden back elevators to the laundry room. She remembers and reports back to me everything from whether room service trays have been picked up to the name on the person's badge."
From the time she was ten, Lucia had wanted to be a private investigator. She got a fingerprint kit when she was in fifth grade; in junior high, she worked for a friend's father who owned a Woolworth's. Her assignment: To go in once a week to buy one dollar's worth of candy and then watch what the clerk did with the money. By the time she married her insurance agent husband and moved to the East Bay with their two daughters, she was a licensed private investigator, spending several days a week or a weekend or two a month looking for the birth mothers of adopted children, following errant wives to see if they were really going to Tupperware parties, and spying on Triple A hotels.
For her current post, she writes 65-page reports, gets her expenses paid and fees that range between $350 to $500. Plus, presumably, everything she'd possibly want to order from room service.
Cynthia Robins is the Beauty Editor of the San Francisco Examiner and thinks that kegeling is essential to inner beauty.