November 23rd, 2008

Obama will be our next president. This is exciting news in many ways, but I think that we also need to acknowledge that all of our lives will be a little harder now that he is running the show. Over the course of his campaign we all got quite familiar with his commitment to change. It’s time for change, he said, and clearly we agreed. Let me remind you, however, of the path he sees toward that change. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” he said sometime in the primary race. Did you get that “we”? This man is not promising to go to Washington and fix our problems, he expects us to participate.

The problem is that we Americans have grown used to being told that we’re fine the way we are. We’ve been coddled with the idea that there are always others behaving worse than we are, and that if they don’t have to change, we shouldn’t have to either. We will not be indulged like this under Obama. We’re going to have to alter our individual lives, I’m afraid.

Well, it’s what we said we wanted, America as a group. Here’s a nice easy first step toward taking on the responsibility we elected Obama to give to us: take the train to San Francisco. A lot of you all come here for work and then rent cars to drive to SF on your days, and even just nights, off. Take CalTrain instead. You can catch it right near this hotel, it’ll cost less than you’d pay for two gallons of gas, never mind the money saved by not renting a car at all. Plus I think I’ll toss the word traffic in here without even feeling like I need to attach it to a proper sentence. It leaves every hour, it’ll take you right to the heart of the city and it’ll decrease the size of your carbon footprint. You will be a better citizen of this new era even before Inauguration Day.

November 22nd, 2008

The holidays are here again! And I have a Silicon Valley holiday recommendation for you that I think I should preface with a little story about last year. It was this newsletter’s first holiday season and our dear general manager and I were talking about what festive things we should send you all out to see or do. Christmas in the Park was her immediate and enthusiastic idea. “But,” I said as gently as I could manage, “our guests are mostly business people, I don’t think we have enough kids coming through for that.” This was trouble, though, and I knew it. “Christmas in the Park isn’t just for kids!”

Now, I think, would be a good time to explain to you, my reader, that Christmas in the Park is a large collection of Santa Claus dolls spinning in motorized circles, set against various painted wooden backdrops, in a park in downtown San Jose. She loves it, though, our beloved leader. It’s almost like a personality glitch. Set against the tough talking lady in charge we all know and love, it’s just completely incongruous. Last year I tried to be delicate, acknowledging that, yes, some adults like it too, but then proposing something a little politically edgy and so, thankfully, distracting her. It was awkward and a little difficult.

Well, it’s that time of year again, and again she proposed Christmas in the Park. This year I’m not fighting it. Go. Please go. And when you come back, instead of feeling like you’ve wasted a night, you can maybe feel like you’ve gotten a glimpse of the unexpectedly soft side of someone we’re all used to respecting and admiring for things like intelligence and strength. You can laugh a little, too. I give you permission.

November 21st, 2008

We have a staff full of people who seem to enjoy and appreciate their jobs, but surprisingly few intentionally chose the hotel industry as the place to spend their working lives. Mostly people came to us because they knew someone else who already worked here and things just sort of worked out. We have a lot of students and quite a few nearly complete family units. One of the exceptions is Roy, formerly night auditor and bartender, currently controller and photographer. Roy studied accounting and was working in hotels long before he came our way a mere ten years ago. Get to know him a little and you’ll understand that he’s someone who would decide to go into the business of taking care of people. For twenty-two years he’s lived here in California, away from his native Manila, away from his wife and kids, working to give a better life to them. He tries to return three times a year, to soak up the familial comforts, but the spaces between those visits are long. It’s a tremendous sacrifice he makes so that his family can live well. On a day-to-day basis we demand nothing so large of him, but to have on staff someone who loves deeply enough to give really all of himself so that others can be well adds to our collective knowledge about how to take care of you, our guests. I suppose that’s nothing you’d ever directly feel, as hidden and foundational as the job of controller itself. If you’d like, you can go out of your way to find him and introduce yourself, or you can just come back to us with a little more knowledge about why this hotel is such a nice place to be. He’s kind of shy anyway.

November 20th, 2008

It’s hard to eat well when you’re traveling. And it’s hard to eat well during the holidays. Now it’s the holiday season and if you’re coming to stay with us it means you’re traveling and I know that the temptation is strong to just throw your hands up and agree to a few extra pounds that you’ll deal with later. I am going to try to support whatever small desire you have to fight that temptation by recommending my favorite little Japanese restaurant to you. Japanese food is notoriously healthy. The oldest people, and the people most robust in their antiquity, are always Japanese. Plus, there are all those way-too-skinny celebrities who, when asked about their troublingly skeletal appearance and the diet that’s supporting it, insist that they just eat a lot of Japanese food. The latter is not what I want for you, please believe me, but if you’re looking for something to balance out extra helpings of stuffing and pumpkin pie, sushi and miso soup are probably a good option.

Kiraku is the name of the place I’m suggesting. It’s miniature, hidden away in a suburban Santa Clara strip mall. It’s family run and the family is nice and makes you feel comfortable. Most importantly, though, the food is fresh. Of course, we would always prefer that our food be fresh, but if you’re looking for sushi, it’s an imperative. So trust me, it’s fresh.

Good luck with the holiday balancing, I hope this was helpful. Akirnd when you come back to us in the new year, all freshly resolved, remember that we offer free passes to a nearby health club.

November 19th, 2008

I wonder if most kids with their Playstations and Wiis and crazy interactive worldwide live cyberspace games have ever even heard of Atari. There was one in my house, but we were just at the cusp of that first technological shift and our Atari was quickly replaced by Nintendo. Atari is grandfather to all these electronic games, though, and to have been one of its originators is to have secured a very comfortable place for oneself in the world. This is a good quality to find in a winemaker, I’ve learned.

Dennis Groth, who founded the Groth Winery with his wife Judy, was one of the leading figures in the original Atari company and when that company was sold in 1984, the Groth family became free to live on principles. For example, the power of Atari money allowed the Groth family to pass on labeling any of their wines “Reserve” for the years 2000-2004. This decision cost them $5,000,000. To them it was worth it not to sully their label with wines they knew to not be of a high enough quality to call “Reserve”. Another family might not have been in the position to keep their bar so high, but the Groth’s can afford this kind of standard bearing.

I know that there are layers and layers of political and philosophical discourse under what I’ve just written. I’ve possibly offended some of you. Why not discuss it over a glass of wine? I hear Groth is pretty good…