September 28th, 2008

Well, fall is here again. The wild and lazy months of 2008’s young adulthood have passed and we now must accompany it into middle age. Leaves swirl in gutters like hair in shower drains. The sun just doesn’t feel like staying up as late as it used to be able to. We all begin to understand that years pass, that this one will not last forever and though it is not yet time to let go, still we are looking ahead to a time when this year will no longer be with us. We may even be making plans for the next year. Ooh, this is so existentially morbid! But I know people who go through this metaphorical angst with the passage of every individual day, so I won’t apologize for doing it on this larger scale. It’s a little sad. I’m not wrong, just maybe a little off-key in my announcement of Monday night football. Because that’s what this is, by the way. It’s an invitation to come watch football with us on Monday nights. We’ll have hamburgers and hotdogs and beer and peanuts and anything else you could find at a stadium, without the hassle of actually having to go to a stadium. Plus, the food will stay out and the drinks will stay free a bit longer than normal, so it will feel festive.

But, hey, I suppose if you’re a real football fan, the way my brother is a real football fan, this time of year isn’t a bit sad. He’s full of anticipation and energy. This is just the very beginning, there’s still so much promise and no disappointment yet. He might not lose thousands of dollars this season betting on a team that hasn’t won the Superbowl in my lifetime, this could be their moment. Perhaps I, and any of you who were relating to me in that first paragraph, need to pick a team and get enthusiastic. This could be good for us. If you’re staying with us on a Monday night, it’ll at least be easy to give it a try. Just come downstairs, maybe I’ll be there too.

September 24th, 2008

Over the years, people have loved to question the legitimacy of golf. Is this a real sport? they ask. And truly it’s difficult to see athleticism in the leisurely stroll through a big open meadow, with the occasional pause to tap a little ball with a stick, that golf appears to be. Its champions, traditionally, have been middle-aged men in no discernibly superior physical condition. Which means that the skill looks accessible and the game has no sex appeal. Tiger Woods has been enormously helpful to golf for all of those reasons. He’s a young, handsome superstar with tons of natural talent who the world had to watch struggle for a while as he developed the technique that, it turns out, is actually necessary for the game.

If Tiger Woods is on one end of the spectrum, advancing the public image of golf, let me introduce you to the other end: The Pruneridge Golf Course. This is a nice place to take a walk with your friends on a sunny day. You will have to pay a little money and follow a specific path, but you can bring beer. When my brother was in high school, he would go out on this course with his friends and they would compete to see who could hit a ball the furthest off the course. Meaning the busy street just beside it, or, even better, the grocery store parking lot across that busy street. If one of them ever felt guilty, that would have been the only consequence. The golf course did not object. If you’re serious about golf, this place will probably only make you angry. But if you’re looking for a casual, relaxed place to unwind after a long week, it’s only 15 minutes away from this hotel.

September 18th, 2008

Jose Betancourt has been the maintenance manager of our hotel ever since our current general manager has had the helm. Ten years, that is. He preceded here her by eight years, starting off briefly in the laundry, then shifting over to maintenance. Which is to say that he was professionally fixing things when our dear leader first encountered him and so what she did was merely to recognize the superiority of the skill he was already practicing. Almost immediately she made a manager out of him, believing instinctively that she could rely on him to mend all wounds in and around her new hotel. A few years later, when the second hotel was opened, he was there, this time establishing the maintenance system for a whole new operation. She was right to trust him from the first, but she did not know quite how right until very recently. Earlier this year her oldest daughter moved pretty far away, the first of her children to do any such thing. She was a bit sad and Jose would find her crying, feeling a loss. And so her maintenance manager, the man she had trusted all those years to repair what was broken, stepped up to this problem as well. He asked her to be godmother to his just-arrived baby, offering a brand new child into her life, just as her own was leaving. This fact goes so far beyond any words I could find right now. Love, trust, respect. They’re all so inadequate. Openness like this is not the obvious choice in today’s world and I feel really grateful to Jose. This hotel has become a community, instead of just a workplace, because the people who work here are willing to make it that way. This is one of the best examples I could possibly give.

September 13th, 2008

I can’t, right in this moment, remember whether or not JC’s BBQ has tables. This is slightly problematic, I suppose, because this is meant to be a restaurant recommendation. I could see how an admission like this could even sully my credibility. I’ve been eating these greasy, tender, just-sweet-enough ribs for practically my whole life and I do not know if it is possible to sit and eat them on the premises. These are not the words of an observant reporter, I know, and it feels a little shameful. I will say this, though: Even if you can eat there, it wouldn’t be right! This is classic take-away fare. They offer many different cuts of many different meats smothered in a near-perfect homemade sauce, the only potato salad I’ve ever liked in my life, a few other predictable side-dish options done remarkably well, and nothing else. Meaning no ambiance, no atmosphere, nothing warm or inviting whatsoever. JC, whoever he is, must be a practical man. He knew the value of his product when he set this place up, understood that this is food to take home and be comfortable with. This is food too messy to eat in public, too good to be careful with. You’re going to want to suck the bones, and, really, how many of us can do that in front of strangers? So, let’s just forget about the whole table question all together, ok? Stop by on your way back to the hotel after work, get yourself a bucket of whatever you like best (and it all comes in buckets!), pick up a movie on your way past the front desk, and enjoy a night of quiet indulgence.

And if JC turns out to be a woman, I will feel both apologetic and surprised. Forgive me my horrid Neanderthal ideas, but I don’t see a woman being behind a place like this.

September 10th, 2008

Last night I tried to explain to a friend, whose native language is not English, the difference between muffins and cupcakes. One is more like cake and one is more like bread, turned out to be the most understandable answer, cake and bread being two distinct ideas, recognizable cross-culturally. The first is indulgent dessert and the second is substantial food, we all knew. And now I sit down to write to you about the Cakebread Winery. This is a 30-year-old family operation that has dedicated itself to finding the middle ground between health and enjoyment. The matron of the family, when speaking about her renowned organic garden and kitchen, talks about learning to eat better so that she and her husband could live to enjoy their winery. They created something called the “Good Life Series,” and participate in something else called the “American Harvest Workshop,” two projects that discuss a clean organic diet and the role of wine in such a lifestyle. One son talks about the FDA including wine in its dietary guidelines, and another about the intangible pleasure a good wine adds to a healthy meal. They are, it would seem, trying to make a wine that is both cake and bread, if you’ll allow me, finally, to state the obvious. But the thing is, this neat moniker isn’t a fanciful bit of philosophical poetry; Cakebread, is their family name. Here is the place where somebody out there might be tempted to use words like fate and destiny. I don’t want to, but I would understand.