The shortest job interview hotel manager Robert Fredy ever conducted took place at a New York City intersection as he waited at a light.
Something in Stephen Pearman's voice moved Fredy one cold day last February. Pearman had approached Fredy's car to wash his windshield, and, like many motorists who try to fend off the usually insistent beggars, Fredy flipped on the wipers to indicate he wasn't interested.Pearman leaned into the window.
"Come on, mister, give me a break. I need a job," he said.
In the seconds before traffic started moving again, Fredy, general manager of the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel here, handed Pearman a business card and told him to call if he was serious.
Two days later, the 30-year-old windshield washer appeared in the lobby of the fancy hotel in this old seaside resort. In the past year, he has become a valued member of the hotel staff, found an apartment and gotten married.
"I've gotten a second chance and took advantage of it," Pearman said with a grin as he sat recently in the hotel's restaurant, eating an omelette on the house.
"You know, I could have just come here a while, eaten up and left," he said. "But there ain't no future in washing windows."
Fredy paid for Pearman's bus ticket from New York to Asbury Park and put him up in a motel. He fed him three meals a day and loaned him pocket money while training him to be a banquet houseman.
Pearman now works full time, setting up the hotel's banquet rooms for conventions and business meetings. Neither man would say how much Pearman is paid, but he said he is saving up for a car.
Fredy acknowledged that there is a shortage of labor for such blue-collar jobs, but said, "I didn't hire him for that reason. This was purely impulsive. A lot of people hate to get involved. New Yorkers tend to look the other way and say, `That's not my problem.'
"But being with the public all the time, I have a good sense of what people are all about," he said. "It gives me good judgment about people."
Fredy was not proved wrong about Pearman, who took his job seriously and repaid Fredy for his first loans. Pearman often works 12 to 14 hours a day, Fredy said.
"He was willing to work hard and listen," the manager said. "I never had any problem whatsoever."
The past year has been a happy one for Pearman, who quickly gained 60 pounds "always has a smile on his face," Fredy said. During the summer, Pearman learned to love the beach. In November, he was named employee of the month. In December, he married Helena White, an 18-year-old housekeeper at the hotel. Fredy gave them a champagne reception and the bridal suite.
Ironically, it was Pearman who had doubts about Fredy's sincerity.
"My friends told me he was just pulling my leg when he handed me the card," Pearman said. "But I said, `No, he's a businessman. I need to give it a shot. If there's a chance, I should take it.' "
Pearman previously drove taxis, limousines and trucks for several years, and even took some college business courses.
"But it got pretty hectic trying to reach a quota all the time," he said of his driving jobs. "And all the hustle and bustle of New York - it was so tiring.
"It got to the point where I was out of work for a few months, and I took up washing windshields" to pay for food and a room at a boarding house, he said.
Fredy acknowledged that ordinarily he is wary of New York's street people.
"I figure they use the money to get drunk," he said. "But Stephen seemed so honest and open, asking for an opportunity rather than just money. I don't hand my business card to just anybody."
With Fredy's permission, Pearman invited a fellow windshield washer to try out for a job at the hotel, "and it didn't work," Pearman said. "He didn't want to be tied down."
Pearman has since returned to New York several times to hand out $5 bills and sweatshirts to his old street buddies. "They didn't believe it was me," he said.