Subject: Re: Westin discussion contact?
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 12:24:13

Thanks for opening the line of communication.  Here's the firehose...
Making a bit of quiet time to go through this is probably wise.

I've been part of Arisia for close to three decades, and present during
every year we've been at the Westin.  The hotel seems well-suited for
our size and needs and we've developed a pretty good relationship,
especially with regard to the technical areas where I do most of my
work.  Unlike some infamous groups, we try to leave any venue better
than we found it!  We were particularly sensitive to the overall
needs of the staff in our "off year" in 2019, to avoid creating more
animosity over the strike.  Unfortunately, Marriott corporate took
a different view and is actually in the process of suing us over
contractual disagreements -- and yet, the show goes on.

I also understand that your management/ownership structure is changing
and that there may be some ongoing turmoil at those levels.  However,
that mostly doesn't affect how things work "on the ground", with the
same people still in the loop such as some of the fellows from PSAV,
various housemen we recognize [and tip well], and our CSM Veronica from
Banquets.  Who in particular I finally actually met for real this year,
after seeing her name go by numerous times.

I've also happily dropped about a thousand dollars in the place every
January for a room, as that just makes my lengthy time there easier.
That's five nights of revenue, not the typical two or three.  Well,
there was a year at the Aloft but that was mostly due to floor
renovation, and I spent most of my days at the Westin anyway.  My
room stay this year was just peachy, by the way; no problem there.

So with our relationship well-developed over the prior eight years, it
came as a shock that certain elements of hotel staff began suddenly
harassing our attendance over their appearance and manner of dress on
Sunday evening, specifically with regard to footwear.  There has been
minor contention about this in past years but as far as I ever knew
it came mostly from within the Arisia structure; I was not party to
involvement with the hotel if there was any.  Assuming you're fairly
new on board with management, you may have to ask around for some of
the history here.  But fundamentally I and several of my colleagues
have not needed or wanted footwear while attending and working the
convention end-to-end, through all its phases and all the areas of
the hotel that we utilize.  We are confident and comfortable with
this, as anyone watching us work will quickly realize.

My first hint Sunday night was receiving texts from friends, saying
that they had been rudely kicked out of M.J.O'Connors while trying to
get a meal -- even just to pick up takeout.  Now I understand that MJ's
is a separate entity, but almost at the same time it turned out that
people were also being harassed in the "Birch Bar" area -- an arbitrary
and ill-defined rectangle of floor space, which has come under *no*
such contention previously.  People were angry and upset by this, and
looking to *me* for help.  Many people had been shoeless in both of
these areas earlier in the weekend with absolutely no problem.  So it
quickly began feeling like a conspiracy of some sort, where MJ's and
certain paranoid hotel management personnel had suddenly decided
together to clamp down on Arisians with footwear as an excuse.  I spent
a good part of that evening talking to various managers about the
inappropriateness of this, while missing one of our major events
down in the ballroom that I had just worked to help build.

Personally, I've avoided wearing shoes for health and mobility reasons
for many years, in a similar way that one would avoid smoking or
excess drinking.  There is plenty of science asserting that shoes are
ultimately harmful in many ways and that bare feet are healthy, and far
safer than most people realize.  Yes, I'll grant you that the lifestyle
is unusual, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with it -- anyone can
prove this for themselves with about five minutes on the internet.  And
it's not just me, although I may be the most vocal about it within our
fold.  I also go hiking and climb mountains and drive trucks and work
outdoors without shoes, in complete confidence, and participate in
various forums discussing the lifestyle.  You'll discover that I'm
the source of the brown "barefooter" ribbons and the "five myths"
info-sheets that help debunk the most popular misconceptions.

Those misconceptions come only from social conditioning, which began
back in the Sixties when establishment owners found it a convenient
excuse to continue discriminating against "undesireables" like blacks
and hippies without crossing the Civil Rights act of 1964.  That's
where those dumb signs come from.  There has never been any factual
basis for this, despite various cooked-up lies like "health code" or
venue liability.  None of that is true, and yet it became so entrenched
that not only do many people believe it wholesale, they actually
develop phobias about feet as they grow up.  Fifty-plus years later,
we're still stuck with this nonsense and outright hatred.

A little education goes a long way, however, and many of us hope that
getting out of one's shoes becomes more generally viewed as helping
to relax and enjoy life in a more sophisticated and health-conscious
way, and benefit from the better stability, proprioception, and
strengthening that comes from that.  This is not about a low-class
invasion, or some kind of "rebellion" or bucking social convention for
its own sake, this is about personal comfort and well-being.  And you
want your guests to be comfortable, right?  How about all the signs
posted everywhere encouraging us to Relax, Renew, Rejuventae, Live
Well, do yoga by the pool, etc?  Spending our time there free of the
adverse constraints of footwear goes right along with that, and could
even be material for additional publicity if spun the right way.
Envision another one of those signs similar to the one in an elevator
with just the hands and the feet -- "kick off your shoes and relax,
it's fine and welcome here".

One of the most pervasive and yet ridiculous mythologies centers around
food service, and that's apparently where this year's problem also
centered.  As I talked to various staff and got clarification on what
their issue was, it seemed limited to "food areas" which again, is
quite arbitrary and ill-defined in some cases.  This rendered the whole
situation even more ridiculous, and the insult on top of that was the
continued stream of "it comes from Marriott/Westin" excuses and similar
finger-pointing.  That just dehumanizes the whole thing, letting the
people engaged in harassment avoid personal responsibility for it.

It was therefore rather distressing to get this same sort of rhetoric
from Veronica the next day, who to her credit did go off and do a
bunch of "research" before coming to me for our first formal meeting.
However, what she presented really fails to support what she was
asserting, sticking to what she views as the party line.  She had
in hand a printout from the hotel's webpages, showing the suggested
"smart casual" dress for most of the consumption areas, and to support
that, a copy of the Wikipedia page on "Smart Casual".  However, that
very page says right up front that any discussion of "style" is highly
subjective and open to interpretation and context.  Veronica also had
a copy of the 2017 letter from the Massachusetts health department
stating clearly that there is no relationship between food service and
footwear.  However, Veronica clung to the one sentence in that letter
acknowledging that a venue may have its own arbitrary rules.  Sure,
but those "rules" need to be sensitive to the needs of the clientele.
Do I need to be wearing a Red Sox cap to enter the Concourse-level
restrooms?  Exactly the same non-thinking.

All told the papers that Veronica gave me did not actually prove the
point she was trying to make, and it really felt like she was allowing
her own personal bias to creep in and influence what she was telling
me.  It was actually a rather one-sided conversation, where it's clear
that she's more used to dealing with high-strung event planners and
telling them in a cold hard way what they can't have, and being
selectively dismissive of what the client says as part of her job
description.  Sure, when it affects the hotel's resources or
capabilities, that's what makes her good at her job.  But when she's
trying to dictate a manner of dress wholly inappropriate to the event
at hand and based on such flimsy "evidence" and dredging up the typical
myths, that's a hostile and hateful attitude she needs to leave at
home and not bring to her workplace.  Tell her this: service dogs and
regular dogs have exactly the same feet; the difference is all about

I talked with Cynthia up in the Birch Bar for quite a while as well;
she's apparently in charge of various internal food functions.  She
at least agreed that the situation was stupid, but still out of her
control.  She mentioned that those little white disposable slippers
that you give out with bathrobes would have been "acceptable" footwear
in the bar area, as would just about anything else.  Not only does that
miss the point, but those slippers are about as far removed from "smart
casual" as it gets -- thereby rendering the arguments-against even more
laughable.  She was just making stuff up, possibly to placate me.  In
fact, I defy anyone to look across the lobby on a Saturday night at
the height of Arisia and find all the people who match Veronica's vision
of "smart casual".  I assure you it will be none or precious few, and
maybe even not that many after-hours at your corporate events!  What
then, is Veronica going to wander through that arbitrary "magic
rectangle" of floor and tell everyone else to GTFO and remove
themeslves to behind an invisible line?  No, the right answer is to
let the *client* decide such policies to be more in keeping with their
own event, not for Westin to dictate something that is self-declared
arbitrary to every group that comes through there.

Again, none of this is a safety or liability concern.  People accustomed
to living unshod are well-conditioned and things like small bits of
glass or detritus are simply not a problem, indoors or out.  We would
rather pick up and dispose of injurious objects, not just leave them
there.  We take full responsibility for ourselves, which in fact is the
legal truth of the situation and needs no hostile intervention.  We are
adults making our own decisions and do not need or expect to be treated
like five-year-olds, especially when so many other diverse personal
attributes and presentations are running around at an event like Arisia
in the space that we work hard to make feel safe for them.  And I *am*
speaking for many of us, not just myself here.  With all the facts
at hand, there is no *rational* argument against something as harmless
as barefooting.  The sky does not fall when soles happen to contact
the floor.

Despite Veronica's assertion that all of the food-area nonsense
falls under "Westin branding", it seems to me that the new franchise
arrangement may give you a bit more versatility in how the hotel is
managed with less corporate interference.  Marriott, in fact, has quite
a bit of material on their website about "diversity" and acceptance
and welcoming, which specifically extends to guests too.  This is me
trying to have broad perspective and defend my point at the same time.
Someone in your position has the power to influence in both directions,
informing staff that footwear is simply not an issue and never an
excuse to marginalize, and upward if needed to voice objections to
arbitrary "rules" that misinformed corporate representatives may have
thundered down.  However the structure above you evolves, in these
divisive times it's one thing we can do as an example of creating an
environment where everyone is truly welcome.  That's what the lodging
business is about, and removing the negative factors seems something
worth striving toward.

I'm sure this isn't quite the continuation of the conversation in the
elevator that you expected, but please realize that in effect, we're on
the same side and working toward the same goal of successful events.
I am being asked to participate in the upcoming Boskone as well, and
whether I do depends on my confident knowledge of the Westin's stance.
I would be happy to provide additional material and resources to help
your colleagues understand the facts and free themselves from the old
falsehoods they believe as truth, but all of this is easy to find
online given a little diligence.  I have written extensively on the
topic in recent years, but I'm not going to push a bunch of web-links
at you unless you ask.  The point is that we need this sort of thing
to simply never happen again, and for that philosophy and understanding
to be permanently embedded in the hotel's institutional memory and
beyond.  Everyone should innately realize that hostility where it's
not warranted is not worth losing revenue over.  MJ's turned the
"Failte" painted on their door into a solid "Fail" that evening with
their hastily-printed rude signs, and while I'm dealing with them
separately feel free to have a chat with them too.  Their GM is
Donnie Hui, but he's been on vacation or something.

Thank you for your time, and I'm always here to listen.