July 28th, 2008

Traveling with a group of coworkers can be so strange. You kind of know these people, in a very specific context. You have maintained some kind of functional relationship with them, but still there is a certain distance. At home, that is, when your interactions are specifically defined by the parameters of the office and working hours. Traveling is different. Traveling, suddenly, there are these blank spaces that you normally fill with friends, family and hobbies, and now all that’s around you are cable television and these mysterious colleagues. There may be a desire for interaction, but when it is coupled with hesitation, uncertainty and a little shyness, often people end up watching stupid movies alone in their rooms, wishing they could think of something better to do. Or at least that’s what has happened to me.

If you are at all relating to what I’m saying, we have a brand new feature that can help. We have recently developed a relationship with a company that creates what I think can be best described as mobile parties. They have a variety of vehicles, from limos to giant school-type buses, ready to pick up groups of whatever size and convey them to whatever event or destination the group desires. Food and drinks are provided, either en route or upon arrival. Go to a play in San Francisco in a limo, take a bus to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, but know that picking your destination is the most complicated thing you will have to do. The rest is taken care of. So you can get all your colleagues together and let someone else create an environment for you to relax in. Maybe you’ll get to feel more comfortable around each other, but at the very least it’ll be a night away from the hotel. A quick chat with our Director of Sales and Marketing will set the whole thing in motion.

July 24th, 2008

Over these months that I’ve been writing to you about this hotel, its features, events and the employees we are so proud of, I’ve also given you little hints about the general makeup of the staff. So you already know that most people who work here were hired because they were the friend or family member of someone who already worked here. The reservations manager says that he looks forward to coming to work every day because all his friends are here. If you are a regular guest you’ve probably noticed that one of the strongest things we have to offer as an establishment is a sense of casual comfort, and a lot of that comes from how comfortable our staff is with each other.

Let me tell you about the one person whose life is more difficult because of everything I’ve just written, the HR manager. It is Leann’s job to educate and to enforce in an environment where people are used to relating to each other in familial and unregulated ways. I think that to describe this task being carried out in this hotel, I get to use one of my favorite phrases:  it’s like herding cats. She has managed to invoke some fear and one bellman classifies her as the person who “punks” the staff when they are out of line, but to her it is an uphill battle. And, even worse, that’s only part of her job. As assistant to the general manager, poor Leann has to make first contact with the chaos and eccentricity of said team leader. Think of Leann at staff barbeques, eating tofu while the rest of the group gnaws bones. Think of any order and professionalism you’ve experienced as a guest of our hotel and know that Leann has had some success. Think of joining us in the strange combination of fear and admiration of Leann.

July 20th, 2008

I had a birthday a few years ago that found me pretty ill. I’m never actually sure if I’m allowed to call hangovers illnesses since they’re self-inflicted, temporary, just punishments, etc. Anyway, I was not well and my friend had made this plan to take me kayaking near Monterey Bay. I lay in my bed that morning in a state of dread. Hours in a car to go sit in a boat did not sound like a good idea. Plus, I knew she had arranged for us to go on a tour and while there certainly was some comfort in knowing that we would not be left to our own devices, overbearing, micromanaging tour guides are really not among the things I enjoy in life.

All of this to tell you about how wonderful it is to take a kayaking tour on the Elkhorn Slough. First, Monterey is so much closer than it seems like it will be. The drive is over before you know it. I braced myself for hours of confinement that day and was released before I even had gotten a proper sense of captivity. The tour was structured in what was, in my mind, the best way a tour could be structured. The slough is quite a labyrinth, so we had a knowledgeable leader who stayed ahead of what he allowed to be quite a loose group behind him. He would answer questions when asked and offer only the most interesting and/or pertinent information. Other than that we could just meander. Or spin the kayak in circles, if it seemed funny for a moment. It’s also beautiful, a great place for wildlife spotting and a lot of other things that I shouldn’t be short-shifting in this way, except I think that I can justify myself by saying that describing Monterey’s natural resources isn’t quite as useful as letting you know that they’re more accessible than you may have thought them to be.

July 15th, 2008

I wanted to begin this by saying “Mio Vicino is a neighborhood restaurant.” Then I realized that mio vicino means my neighbor in Italian, so I feel a bit foolish about using that as an introductory line now. Ah, yes, very good research, you would think, sarcastically, translating the name and using it as a description. Still, I can’t think of a better way to start. This is a tiny, tiny little place. Maybe there are 8 tables in it. Its surrounding area is completely residential. It is not near any major intersection, or any major street, for that matter. There is a middle school nearby and it is in the vicinity of Santa Clara University. It would be impossible to spot it out and wander in unless you were in the area and you would only be in this area if you or a friend lived nearby or taught at Buscher Middle School. I like the lack of pretension and, for lack of a better word, ambition of a place like this. Maybe that’s unfair; probably the owners had great ambition to make a comfortable local restaurant and in that they were totally successful. This is a good place for people to go when they don’t feel like cooking, but want to feel as comfortable as they would have been at home. And by comfortable I do not mean only that you can show up in your sweatpants. Applebee’s will always be available for that. I am talking about a simplicity of menu and a simplicity of atmosphere that match the simplicity of the location. Not to harp too hard on Applebee’s, but I like this kind of place as a contrast to the giant chain that claims to be everything Mio Vicino is, but loses its ability through homogenization and mass production. However, if that’s what you prefer, our Applebee’s can be found at the intersection of the giant freeway and the largest street that runs through Santa Clara, right where everyone can find it.

July 10th, 2008

I have now told you quite a lot of stories about wineries. And story is really the right word, I think, because they have all been tales of dreams and desires acted upon. Off the top of my head I can remember a wine loving couple, a pair of scientifically minded college buddies and several wealthy families that wanted to follow some ancestor’s passion. However much research, talent and/or money any of those people brought into their respective wine adventures, there were, in each case, elements of risk and whimsy. And so I got to tell you about success, about people who pursued ideas until they became tangible reality and then delighted in the results.

I do not have such a story to tell about the Luna winery. There is no tale of dreams, entrepreneurship or risk here. In 1995 two men who were already very well respected in the winemaking industry decided to collaborate. They hired the best winemaker they knew, which, of course, meant that he was very, very good. They bought land in the best region of Napa Valley. They set up vineyards that operated according to the most current scientific and ecological practices. This wine was always going to be very, very good. I am sorry that it’s not more romantic, with wine one does want a little romance. But, then, when the wine this good, I guess it’s easier to create your own romance.

July 5th, 2008

I was driving in front of a friend once, sitting in a ghastly traffic jam, and I watched her read a book. Let me say this more clearly, I watched my friend drive a car and read a book at the same time. We were pretty stagnant, it’s true, but still it was insane. That, after all, is the frustration of traffic, I think, sitting almost motionless and yet having to maintain engagement in the act of driving. Feeling a part of your life getting stolen from you as you sit helplessly watching.

Alas, construction continues at the San Jose Airport.