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For Hotel Housekeepers, Spring Break is No Party

By Jeremy Roebuck, The Monitor, McAllen, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 16, 2008 - It's only 10 a.m., but in Room 403 the party has already started.

Muffled bass beats thump from behind the closed door as hotel maid Alicia Ortiz steels herself to venture inside.

She gathers her cleaning solutions, gives her uniform a final adjusting tug, balls her hand into a fist and knocks.

Tap, tap, tap. "Housekeeping."

The same refrain rings out hundreds of times a day in hotel hallways up and down South Padre Island. But during the height of the Spring Break tourist season, each room holds its own surprises.

From rooms packed to the walls with snoring college students to floors strewn with the flotsam of a hard night of partying, maids like Ortiz are left to clean up the mess.

And unlike the stakes for an eager game show contestant, there's hardly ever a prize behind the door.

In Room 403 at the Padre South Hotel, an 18-year-old greets Ortiz, accompanied by the sour stench of smoked cigarettes, stale beer and too many hormonally addled youths living in tight quarters.

"Just clean around us," he says before returning to his interrupted game of beer pong.

She quickly sets to work, picking up balled-up sheets and towels from the floor -- largely ignoring the ping-pong balls that zip past, deflected from the rims of plastic cups.

A three-year veteran at the hotel, Ortiz briefly puzzles over a tube from a cast-off beer bong before shaking her head and tossing it aside.

"This must suck for her," Texas State University freshman Austin Fay says in between swigs. "I mean, look at this place."

'OLD ENOUGH TO BE YOUR GRANDMOTHER'

As Texas Week -- a seven-day hedonistic binge for students from the state's public colleges -- draws to a close this weekend, the Padre South's housekeepers are ready to do a little celebrating of their own.

"They have the hardest jobs in all of Spring Break," hotel manager Lisa Leal says. "These kids have so much stuff and just leave it everywhere."

But despite the hard work and stressful conditions, the maids say they appreciate the Spring Break crowds. High hotel occupancy rates in March mean more working hours, and the end of the season usually brings a hefty bonus.

And today, Manuela Mendoza catches a break on the hotel's third floor. She is on check-out duty, charged with preparing vacated rooms for a new set of guests.

The cleaning is more demanding than the quick spruce-up of occupied rooms, she says. But she has already had her fill of spring breakers this week.

Tuesday, a group of inebriated students invited her to dance as she stopped to clean their messy room. Mendoza, a matronly woman with grown children of her own, declined. So they offered her a strip tease instead.

"I told them, 'Put your clothes back on. I'm old enough to be your grandmother,'" she says in Spanish.

There are no drunken young men to contend with today, but plenty of evidence of their presence remains.

Grease-stained fast-food bags litter the countertops, a pile of burned tobacco leaves still stews in a puddle on the nightstand, and dozens of wooden pieces from a toppled chess set lay strewn across the floor.

It's nothing compared to other messes she has encountered during her 29 tours of Spring Break duty at the Padre South -- including bathtubs slathered in ketchup and spaghetti and shattered toilets put back together piece-by-piece. But the room will still take a half an hour or more to clean.

"I wouldn't let my children leave messes like this," she says. "My children were clean."

CHECK-OUT

Most of the hotel's maids shrug off the Spring Break antics with a smile, but occasionally things do get ugly, says Leal, the Padre South manager.

"We get a lot of problems with missing money and items during Spring Break," she says. "And (the students') first instinct is try to blame the maid."

To protect its housekeepers, hotel management imposes strict rules on its Spring Break guests. Each room requires a $250 deposit and occupants must go through an exhaustive checklist before checking out.

As Rishi Naran, 19, and Supratik Mukherjee, 18, pack up their bags to leave Thursday, they anxiously watch stern-faced maid Estela Nava rifle through cabinets and check towel drawers to make sure they haven't damaged their rooms.

"They're really strict here," Naran says. "But we didn't run into any problems."

Once the teens leave, a search of a different sort begins. Spring Break is peak season for found treasure.

Shoes, T-shirts and wallets left behind in the rooms go into a lost-and-found drawer, with a maid's name attached to each find. If no one calls back to claim the items, the hotel staff divvies up the loot.

Still, there are some things even the housekeeping staff won't touch.

"We had someone leave a sex toy in one of the rooms," Leal says. "They got mad when we wouldn't ship it back to them. None of us were going near that one."

ROUND TWO

Just before noon, the maids have finished their first round of cleaning. Most rooms remain shuttered, though, and Rufina Colorado already has a full afternoon of work ahead of her.

But for now, she shuffles off to the hotel's break room for lunch. For the next hour she will join her co-workers to rest, eat and share stories of the borrachos (drunkards) and dormilones (sleepyheads) encountered this morning.

Upstairs, however, the students are already preparing for another round of parties and late-night drinking.

Room 403's game of beer pong has moved out into the hallway.

The thumping bass beats multiply with each roomful of revelers roused from sleep.

And floors just mopped and vacuumed wait to be sullied again.

"It's a lot of work," Colorado says in Spanish with a sigh. "But if they didn't come, we wouldn't have a job."

____

Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.

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To see more of The Monitor, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.themonitor.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

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