I have a piece of information to give you now that may seem counterintuitive at first, so I have to ask you to stay with me for a few moments. I want to tell you about something we will not offer you at our hotel, now or ever, in spite of that fact that this is something we know you can find with many of our competitors. We will never provide you with an on-site “fitness room.” You know the room I’m talking about, I’m sure. It’s windowless, probably a converted storage room. There’s one, maybe two, treadmills. Two weight machines, one for upper body, one for lower. A mirror that makes you look fat. Some kind of non-functional cd player. Maybe a Pilates ball, if the hotel is groovy enough. It’s convenient, I will grant that to the competition, but I cannot think of presenting any better evidence to the world that my soul has been irreversibly sucked than willfully shutting myself into a cramped space so that I can perpetually jog toward an uglier version of me. Our exercise routines should not so clearly be punishments, I think.
And now, with my perhaps too obvious set up out of the way, I will tell you about our alternative: free passes to a nearby health club. Mingle with the locals, or just watch them work out. We’re giving you a pass to observe the natives, under the clever disguise of personal care. I know it’s not as easy as getting in the elevator and going up a couple of floors, the way you could somewhere else, but our way gives so much more respect to your humanity. We are social creatures; if we must run in place, we should at least have company!
This was proposed as a very cool story. We have an events manager named Jazz. “Don’t you think that’s cool?” our general manager asked, in lieu of giving a reason for choosing him to be this month’s featured employee. It is pretty slick, it’s hard to disagree. Especially when he starts describing himself as a reformed asshole, trying to learn to bow down to petty social conventions. There’s a Playstation in his office too. This is one cool rebel, you may be thinking now. I may even be selling his party planning services.
Romance is so often spoiled by details, I know. I will try to preserve the cool factor as I give you just a little bit more information. Jazz (maybe just continuing to use his name will be enough) was hired as a bellman because he went to high school with nearly everyone else who works here. Perhaps at that time he was the asshole he so proudly claims to have been. I don’t know. What I do know is that he is now both our events manager and our in-house IT guy. The latter, he says, is the more stressful because he is completely self-trained. Meaning that when a problem arises that he’s never seen before, he has some research to do. He’s in school now, getting an advertising degree. After he finishes that, he plans to get an MBA. Not yet sure what he will do in his life, Jazz’s plan is to stay in training mode, keep acquiring skills until he figures out how he wants to apply them. One more piece of evidence: he recently started riding his bike to work. He says he hasn’t used his car in a month and he’s happy for the change. I submit that this is a young (and I mean very young) man with an uncommon amount of native intelligence and a superior work ethic who we can observe now collecting the information that he will use to shape his life. Actually, that’s pretty cool.
I want to make what may not be an entirely appropriate confession to you right now. I hope that my credibility remains intact when I tell you that I’m writing about things to do in the Bay Area from a hotel in Italy. This feels slightly shady, even to me, and I would never have mentioned it had I not eaten such terrible pizza today. In Italy! Oh, the sadness, sitting on the shore of the Lago di Garda, hazy mountain silhouettes in the distance, hundreds of languages swarming around my ears, and then having to realize that the beautiful, arugula topped pizza in front of me was nearly inedible. I mean really gross: slimy mushrooms and not quite fully melted cheese. In the end I picked off everything but the arugula and still left with a stomachache. And so I’m writing to you about Zachary’s, a Berkeley pizza legend. I say pizza, but these things are as much like potpies as anything else. This was maybe originally Italian, but it passed through Chicago, got sunk down into a deep dish, and then continued on to Berkeley, where it was filled with fresh vegetables and given a gourmet crust. And I am so very far away! But you should go immediately. It’s even the right time of year: summer vacation. Because I didn’t really use “legend” hyperbolically and when Berkeley is full of students, you can wait two hours for what, to me, in this moment, seems like culinary perfection. It’s worth a wait, but carpe diem, you know. For me.
Silverado is a great name for a California wine. It evokes our place as the last frontier of the wild west, calls on our mining history and our collective memory of the potential treasure buried under our feet, if only we would take the time to dig for it. Carefully chosen, the name was intended to cast the proprietors as prospectors, in the tradition of the gold diggers who risked everything for the chance of instant fortune. Ah, but already the words “careful” and “intentional” give them away. This is actually the story of a couple who moved to the Napa Valley for love of the wine country. After moving, they decided to start growing grapes. After growing the grapes, they decided to start selling the crops to wineries. And it was only after seeing the success other wineries were having with their grapes that the pair decided to open their own winery. When, finally, it was time to create their own brand, they took a name from a book by Robert Louis Stevenson. Forgive me a little snobbery when I say that culling a name from classical literature is not quite frontiersman-like behavior. Even their commitment to keeping their wines affordable leaves them out of line with the money hungry fortune seekers they would claim as ancestors. It’s all OK, though. What they actually are, the Millers, is a practical, industrious pair who methodically applied themselves to building a winery. They produce wine that has been called “a remarkable study in success.” They are solid, dependable people who have given us solid, dependable wines. I say we forgive them their wild west fantasy.
I know, as I write this, that all of you who will receive it are successful professionals. This is a mailing list comprised entirely of people who do not need the tip I am about to give. So I guess what I will have to ask you all to do is to step back into the shoes of your former selves for a few minutes. Go back to your college days, maybe, or to the time you spent taking LSD and following The Grateful Dead. Whatever. All I’m asking for is a recollection of a time when money was not so plentiful and scheming for freebies was a way of life. The restaurant I want to tell you about would have been quite the little gem to pass on to that version of you. It’s called Negeen Restaurant, it’s Persian, and, following Persian custom, I guess, when you sit down the table is laid with lavash bread, raw onion, fresh mint and feta cheese. You do not order it and you do not pay for it. They give you a lot and it feels very generous and a few years ago I probably would have started going three times a week, just for the satisfaction of getting something for free.
Time has passed, though, my sense of myself in the world has changed, and I have this adult guilt that compelled me to order “real” food as well. And so I was served grilled meat that arrived looking so dismal and heavy that I packed the entire plate of it up and took it home. Because the thing about the mint, onion, cheese combo is that once I started eating it, I had this revelation that I could eat nothing else for the rest of my life and be totally happy and healthy. What a wonderful, refreshing combination of flavors it is! The meat was great for breakfast the next day, but when I go back I vow to order only hummus and wine. And I will not feel guilty. I will channel the version of me that used to relish whatever was given to me without question and I will feel grateful. How about you?
Last month I had the audacity to suggest that construction around the San Jose Airport would somehow benefit this hotel. How silly of me. Cute, glib words that made light of the mess you have to face just when you are most ready for your travels to be over. I forgot that we, too, the local inhabitants, would get stuck in the chaos. I’m sorry for teasing you about the agony that awaits your arrival. I failed to recognize that it would be our shared pain. Work will continue at least until the fall. We can survive it, I’m sure.