I Want to be a Bellhop in the Capitol

by Daryl Lease leasfinn@fls.infi.net

"CAN I CARRY your bags to your car, sir?"

I’ve been chirping that question around the office here all week.

I'm practicing for the new job I'm hoping to land as a bellhop on Capitol Hill.

I don't know if such a position exists quite yet, but I'm thinking I might be able to rustle up one.

The idea occurred to me a few days ago while reading a story in The Hill, a weekly newspaper that covers the political scene in Washington.

The story focused on "codels," which is bureaucratese for "congressional delegations."

It seems the Pentagon has a fleet of people in its employ who assist codels when they go on military-related trips in this country or abroad.

Among other things, these escorts make arrangements for meals, beverages, snacks and any incidental supplies that might be needed by members of Congress and their aides.

It's not dull work, apparently.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, is one of many people on Capitol Hill who help make sure of that.

The Hill newspaper dug up a request filed by Sen. Specter for a trip, later canceled, to Nicaragua on a military plane in January 1997.

If you thought rock stars were spoiled and pampered, wait until you get a load of this guy.

Sen. Specter was rather specific about what he wanted carried onto the plane for his breakfast--a fresh fruit cup (containing bananas, strawberries, grapes and orange slices, to be exact), grilled sausage, homemade pancakes, Nabisco 100% Bran cereal, Familia/Swiss Muesli original recipe, and homefried potatoes.

Lunch and dinner plans were just as detailed, according to The Hill. For the record, the senator’s preference for ice cream is Healthy Choice Vanilla, and when you’re serving chicken, he’d rather it had been plucked by Tyson Foods.

The Pentagon doesn’t just take care of the codel’s taste buds. Oh, no.

The escorts also make sure the congressmen and their assistants have eye drops, ear plugs, shaving cream, deodorant, suntan lotion and any other items they might have trouble picking up on their own.

Sometimes the items are a little, um, unusual. Republican Rep. Floyd Spence of South Carolina and his entourage, for instance, took $14 worth of breath mints with them on a trip to Asia last year. Perhaps they were under the misimpression that they would encounter a lot of garlic-laden Italian food over there.

A great deal of booze goes into the suitcase, too, according to research by Jock Friedly, a reporter for The Hill.

Congressman Spence and 19 others went on a 10-day trip to Eurasia last summer and took with them 36 bottles of wine, 21 cases of beer and 11 bottles of hard liquor.

Similarly, Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, and his 10-person entourage plowed through more than $1,500 worth of booze on a 10-day trip to Asia--and stopped midway through the trip and picked up more.

I don’t know the technical term for that in Washington diplomatic circles, but in college we used to call that a bender.

Obviously, all of this codel coddling offers some real money-making opportunities for a young, go-getter entrepreneur like me.

A fellow could, for instance, make a lot of money by selling watered-down liquor to the Pentagon.

But I think the really big money awaits someone who is willing to do a little heavy lifting.

That’s where I come in. According to The Hill, the Pentagon also provides money to congressmen and military escorts to tip maids, porters and bellhops while they’re traveling.

Stingy, they’re not.

Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb, for instance, went to the Middle East and Eurasia last year for a week. The Pentagon escort filed reports listing a $50 tip for maid service at one hotel and a $50 tip at another hotel.

Tips for baggage handlers totaled $179.

The Pentagon suggests limiting tips to $1 per bag, but The Hill found quite a few examples of escorts being much more generous.

For instance, escorts accompanying Rep. Cass Ballenger, a Republican from North Carolina, on a trip to Latin Amer- ica gave out a whopping $435 to baggage handlers.

One tip alone was listed as $120.

Now, I know that as a taxpayer, such profligacy ought to enrage me.

But, frankly, I think this is fabulous news.

The way I see it, I can go to work for the federal government as a pack mule and charge half the amount those fancy-pants bellhops are now getting.

All the government would have to do is pay my air fare. My other expenses would be minuscule. I’m not as fussy about my meals as Sen. Specter is, and I promise I won’t touch the liquor cabinet.

Yes, my proposal sounds a bit like a scam, but I’m confident I can save taxpayers a lot of money and take home a tidy profit for myself.

Anybody know where I can get a case of breath mints wholesale?

Daryl Lease is a columnist for The Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg, Va. An archive of his columns is available at http://www.flstarweb.com/columns/lease/archive.htm.