With a group of travelers as my audience, I’d like to take a moment to brag a bit. It’s a small little detail, this piece of superiority that I possess, but, then, the best parts of life are hidden in the details, are they not? Ok, ready for it? I’m going to come out and declare that I have the best luggage tag in the whole world.
I can’t actually take credit for this amazing piece of identification; it was a gift from my sister a couple of years ago. She had a photo of her, our mother and me printed on a piece of plastic, with no name, no address, no phone number added on. There is, in fact, not one word printed on the thing, and yet, at an airport, in that tense time of waiting to see whether or not your luggage took the same flight you did, my bag is more immediately identifiable as mine than anyone else’s. When I first tied the thing to by suitcase it seemed funny and ironic, as time passes I’ve come to understand it as a kind of profound security measure. A person cannot steal my luggage and say they did it because they were confused, because not just me but me and my tribe are there, staring at whoever might inquire.
I kind of wish that my sister had done this DIY style, printed the thing herself in some non-replicable way, because I do so enjoy a bit of superiority, but I have to be honest and say that she got it off of one of those websites that you send photo files to and have them print your face on whatever you’d like it on. And, given that it really is that easy, I guess I have to go one step further and say that you all should get your own. It really is a great little thing to have.
When I was growing up, the people who were already grown up would always say that they remembered when this valley, whose name wasn’t Silicon yet, was full of orchards. I remember being annoyed, or maybe disappointed, because it was always a story about how much better things used to be and I didn’t like feeling like I came around after things got bad.
But when I was growing up there were still cherry orchards all over the place. There was one, in fact, right next door to the daycare center my brother and I went to, and another on the path from that house back to ours. Back then, when cherries were the only thing left but there were lots of them, this was the best time of the year. Cherry season isn’t long, but in the few short weeks that they’re ripe and available, a person can really gorge herself. Cherries, starting just about now, would be everywhere for these few short weeks. In stores, yes, but also spilling out of roadside stands on just about every corner in town.
Those days are gone. This valley is in a whole different kind of fertility mode, as we all know. But there are still some cherries orchards to be found here and there. One of the last, actually, is just down the street from this hotel. And, anyway, cherries are still growing somewhere, and wherever that may be, this is the moment to get them. Stop by Olson’s, just down the street at the corner of El Camino and Mathilda, or any one of the weekend farmer’s markets to get your fill of what used to be the specialty product of the area, before all of you started using the valley to turn life into a science fiction novel.
Business travel, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, can be kind of a bummer. Sure, it’s exciting at first. Maybe when you started doing it, staying hotels was still a novelty, eating in restaurants every night still an enjoyable decadence. After a while, though, the nights get lonely and the restaurant food gets monotonous, not to mention inescapably heavy. Packing and repacking your suitcase, and keeping your things always ready to be packed, can make you feel a little unsettled, even when you’re home. After a while, you might start to wonder what the point of it all is, you know? Why bother?
Well, friends, if you find yourself asking those questions, I have a solution for you! According to a study done at the University of British Columbia, Tylenol, or, rather, acetaminophen can cure symptoms of existential angst. Sounds bizarre and fishy, I know, but some crazy Canadians really, truly put a lot of time and money into this idea and, in the end, are willing to defend the claim. I say, why not give it a try? The next time you find yourself in an airport security line that you could swear was written by Kafka, pop a Tylenol. Tracking the results will, for sure, be more interesting than continuing to track your own rage and helplessness, so at the very least there’s a guarantee of some version of success. And, who knows, maybe you’ll suddenly feel a calm awareness of the importance of the screening process that will maybe lead to a sense that there are systems in the world that are in place to take care of you and then, maybe, you will even go one step further and believe, for four to six hours, that your individual life matters to your government. That would be so cool.
Last night, listening to an archived episode of Radiolab, one of my favorite ways to use the internet, I learned about something they were calling “the Cupertino effect”. It was an episode called “Oops”, and the phrase was introduced just after a story about the Unibomber, so I got a little nervous about what “oops” our humble hometown might have inflicted on the world. It turned out to be merely hilarious. According to a man named Ben Zimmer, “the Cupertino effect” refers to an early version of spell check that only accepted the word co-operate spelled like that, with a hyphen. Do you see where this is going? Because this early spell check didn’t understand that cooperation is also possible without a hyphen, it told those hyphen-less peace-makers that the word the were looking for was spelled “cupertino”.
Who, you might be wondering, would allow themselves to be corrected in this way? Well, let’s just say that when writing in another language, sometimes the tools the computer gives you are life savers and sometimes they lead you astray, as I and some of you may well have experienced ourselves. Zimmer gives an example of a German NATO officer writing about “the cupertino with our Italian comrades,” and another from the EU scientific and research committee talking about “stimulating cross-border cupertino.”
I, personally, love this. When future generations, or aliens, or whomever you believe will be doing it, are combing through the remains of our civilization and they’re poring over NATO and EU documents, there is some possibility that they might think that cupertino is a synonym for cooperation, I mean co-operation, I mean cupertino. And, if you follow my logic, the next step would have to be imagining that this here, the real Cupertino, had been the source of peace and unity. And it’s also just very, very funny.
Have any of you noticed, lately, what appears to be a bizarre fashion trend for cars? That is, an inordinate number of cars are suddenly wearing pink mustaches. I had been passively noticing it for a while, weeks, but maybe even months, without paying much attention. I thought it was a trend, and that I would eventually walk into some dumb boutique where I could turn my nose up at the chance to buy my very own.
The other night, though, I met a guy who was talking about having recently started “driving”. Do you drive a taxi? I asked. Sort of, he responded, and thus I learned about Lyft. Turns out all those mustachioed vehicles are identifying citizen taxi drivers, accessible via an app. Anyone can sign up to be a driver and anyone can sign up to get a lyft.
The driver I met talked about this being a great service because taxis around here won’t go to certain neighborhoods, which is true, and because so often the drivers are unfriendly bordering on hostile, which has not actually been my experience. The city is concerned about loss of revenue, of course, but claims also to be concerned that Lyft drivers don’t have any anti-discrimination policies to be beholden to, which kind of rings false in my ears. Personally, I don’t care so much about this debate. I’m just glad to know what those stupid mustaches are all about and I thought there might be one or two of you out there who would feel the same.
A week ago I went out, finally, after months and months of intention, and bought myself a bike. It’s perfect. It’s a hybrid, so I get just the right amounts of lightness, quickness and durability for the way I like to ride around the city. It’s green, black and silver, which somehow makes me feel very cool. It, basically, is exactly the bike I was dreaming of going out and buying and now I actually have it.
I did it at just the right time, too. The weather has been perfect; warm, with just enough of a breeze to make doing a little work feel good. Everything is green and blooming and sparkling with new life and riding through it all feels, for lack of less dorky word, kind of wondrous.
And with that preface, I have a rumor to share with you. I’ve heard that someone at this hotel has been shopping around for bikes. That is, the way I hear it, sometime in the not-so-distant future, this hotel is going to have a cache of bicycles for guests to borrow. Now, this is still just in the whispering phase, so there’s no timeline that I’m aware of and it’s entirely possible that someone, somewhere is going to show our general manager a liability clause that’ll irrevocably turn her away. Then again, it just might be the case that by summer’s end you all will be cruising around in the warm California air, just like I’ve been doing lately. And if it doesn’t come together until winter, well, don’t worry. It’s warm then too.
Life has been pretty good at this hotel lately. Our rooms have a steady stream of guests, our bar is full of laughter and life almost every night, and mornings see who-knows-what kinds of important business decisions being made around our little breakfast tables. Spring is quickly turning to summer, after work swims will soon be an enticing option, as will taking your evening cocktail out to watch the swimmers. The internet is working. We’re in one of those sweet spots that you get every now and then, everything’s kind of going well.
And yet, even now, insecurity creeps in. Yes, our rooms are full, and, yes, that makes it seem as if you all want to stay here with us. But Silicon Valley has the number one economy in the nation right now, so it’s possible that our little hotel is full because hotels in general are full, and not because anyone’s choosing us in particular. And, yes, our bar is full and bustling every night and that makes it look like it’s fun and cool to come here for a drink at night. But, then, we’re giving away free alcohol, which is not unlike paying the cool kids to hang out with us at lunch and, ultimately, it’s equally alienating.
What am I asking for? What will pacify these nagging insecurities and give us our Sally Field moment, that is, a chance to think you really like us? It’s so simple, really. Just like us on Facebook. A moment of your time and this hotel will drop its shoulders, puff out its chest and stand proudly in the world. Please?
Failing to find my own words today, I’m going to quote Gandhi, via George Takei: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty the ocean does not become dirty.”
Watching the interview with Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the bombing suspects, I could not help but think of my own great grandparents who found refuge here in America from their own hostile homeland and were as grateful for the lives they were able to make here as this man so clearly is.
And then the ubiquitous Mr. Rogers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I hesitate to repeat that because I’m so clearly just copying everyone on the internet, but, still, watching a video, this morning, of an ER doctor in Boston talking about how, when the city got put on lockdown, he understood it was time for him to go to work, there was that quote in my mind.
Weeks like these make it easy to turn against people in general, or against groups of people that are not our own. It’s easy to let fear and paranoia invade us. I’m going to try to do something harder and just keep believing.
The weather, lately, has turned almost sickeningly beautiful. The hills are green and kind of glowing, the sky is a perfect, uninterrupted blue, any flower planted anywhere is practically jumping up and down, screaming for attention. California is, at this moment, a cliché of itself. It is time, friends, to get outside.
But what if you’re not the outdoorsy type? I know there are those of you who would not dream of a hike and yet feel guilty for staying inside when all of nature is flaunting herself so wildly. Sure, there’s the pool, but what if you want a little adventure? Where is your middle ground?
I’m not sure, but it’s possible that what you’re looking for can be found at the Pruneridge Golf Course. California is known for its spectacular, world-class golf courses and this is not one of them, but it’s nearby and everyone is welcome. It’s only nine holes, so you won’t be stuck forever and ever out there, but, still, you’ll have a guided walk through a well-manicured park, with a semi-interesting project to occupy yourself with along the way. And drinking beer as you go seems to be not just permitted but encouraged.
Obviously, this could be mildly offensive to any serious golfers and I apologize if I’ve just casually degraded something you love. Golf, I know, can be an intricate game of precision and balance. But it can also be a relaxing way for laypeople to traipse through an afternoon of sunshine and, if I may, the Pruneridge Golf Course is more for those of us who fall into the latter category.
When Olivia, who now works behind our front desk, graduated from high school, she was confused about what she wanted to do with her life. Surprised? I’m guessing no. This is the story of nearly every one of my under-30 coworkers, our little hotel serving as a nice, warm incubator for those who know they are headed somewhere, but just need a little more time to find the starting line. Olivia, though, 18 and unsure, did something you have not yet read about in this little newsletter: She moved to Sierra Leone for a year to work on a farm.
She says that being there taught her about simplicity and that coming back to life in the American suburbs was a little confusing. She’s 20 now and she’s been with us for a little over a year, meaning that she came to us just a couple of months after leaving Africa. This hotel, she says, has been great for her because she loves to be connected to all the travelers. She sees more travel in her future and, in the mean time, values the connections to an international life that she can make through you, our guests.
In the mean time, as she was transitioning from African field work to Silicon Valley hotel work and found herself still confused about a larger pathway, her mother persuaded her to go through a dental hygienist course, so that she would have a career. She now cleans people’s mouths during the week, learning from that that there are things that she most certainly will not be choosing to do with her life long term, and comes here on the weekends. Her dream is to move back to Africa. She says she will live there permanently as soon as she can figure out how. Until then, we’ve got her and she’s got us.