The fastest bed in Guilford County

by Brian Clarey

Three competitors move towards the atrium in the Embassy Suites hotel, the one by the airport, all dressed in identical blue uniforms with Employee of the Month pins on their chests and sensible shoes on their feet.

Together they survey the playing field: four full-size mattresses, naked as newborn birds, placed in a row inside a perimeter of gurgling fountainry and lit by a skylight seven stories above.

“We got two fitted, one blanket, two pillows,” one of them, India Inman, says. “This is actually less work for us.”

Indeed. At the Embassy Suites, where all three women work as chambermaids, the beds get three sheets and five pillows. This, they feel, gives them a distinct advantage over the competition.

The title for which they vie is the Fastest Bedmaker in Guilford County, an annual event put on by the Guilford County Hotel/Motel Association that draws sheet slingers from the greater Greensboro area every winter.

This year there are 28 competitors, each of whom hopes to beat the 2005 time of 1:38 set by Monica Brown of the Greensboro Airport Marriot or maybe even the world record of 28.2 seconds set by Australian Wendy Wall.

“It’s a great event,” says Joe Varipapa of the Comfort Suites. “We get our girls out of their routine, they get a nice lunch. It’s all in the spirit of good competition.”

The combatants file out of the Ambassador Ballroom after lunch and mill around the atrium’s perimeter. Nine Hispanic women in flowered smocks, the home-team contingent, lean against a brass railing as the instructions are spoken in English and Spanish.

Two sheets, one blanket, one bedspread, two pillows with pillowcases. Start with a hand on the linen table and time stops when you touch the table again. Five-second penalties for tucking infractions and untidy presentation.

And now it’s go time.

The first heat sees Amador “Abel” Espinoza, the event’s sole male participant and part of the Embassy Suites squad, race around bed No. 1 like a man on fire, tossing the groundsheet so that it opens like a parachute and casing the pillows after the all-around tuck.

“Aqui, aqui,” his teammates shout, gesturing to a corner of the bedspread that’s not quite perfect.

He touches the linen table at 1:34 and the judges deconstruct his work, pulling back the spread, checking the corners and examining his tuck.

It’s a strong performance and Amador watches the next few heats in nervous anticipation, clasping his hands behind his back and shifting his weight from foot to foot.

Like in any timed competition, technique and sequence are of paramount importance and the pillows present the most challenging variable. Case them before throwing the sheets or at the end? And then there’s that matter of technique – some hold the pillows under their chins; others use a flat surface like they’re putting a watermelon in a grocery bag; still others fold the pillow lengthwise and shove it into the case like they’re jamming it down someone’s throat.

India Inman competes in heat number four. On the word “go” she cases one pillow and then shifts her focus to the sheets. The bottom layer gives her some trouble – three tosses before it billows like a flag over the bed – but the top sheet goes cleanly, as does the bedspread. She cases the second pillow aptly and then slows down, checking the uniformity of her tuck before flipping the pillows under the spread and tagging out. She wins the round at 1:48, before penalties are assessed.

“I do pillows last,” says Leslie Vample from the Greensboro Airport Marriot who is not competing this year but cheers on her coworkers from the sidelines. “Sheet first then spread then pillows. When you get home tonight I want you to do something: Get someone to time you making your bed, see how you do.”

After several heats the air smells like fresh linen and judge Chris Adams, a vice president at Ashford Suites, says, “Speed is the thing, naturally, what they’re focusing on, but tucking in on all sides is the biggest penalty. But overall we’ve seen some really good beds today.”

Four contestants make it to the final round: Bridget Mattier from the Sheraton Four Seasons, Amador Espinoza and his sister Estella from Embassy Suites and Irma Benites from the Greensboro Airport Marriot who placed second last year and won the competition in 2004.

On the word “go” Estella gets a jump on the cover sheet but Amador buzzes around his bed like a hornet: one sheet, two sheets, blanket and spread. Irma works slow and steady, using her chin on the pillows and hitting all her tucks. She nails the bedspread toss and flips the pillows in a single, fluid motion. Amador finishes first, but Irma makes a batrter bed, good enough to capture the title in something of a threepeat.

She’s awarded first prize, $200, as her coworkers and bosses jump and cheer.

“So how did you do it?” she’s asked after the celebration.

She smiles sheepishly.

“No se,” she says.

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