January 28th, 2009

I’m about to do something with this space that feels, even to me, a bit strange, especially now. I hate even to write the words economic crisis here, but it is the context for the oddity of this proposal. In this time of turmoil and fiscal panic, I’m going to try to convince you to go to another hotel. It’s really a lovely place. You’ll like it very much, I just know. It’s called the Mendocino Inn and it’s right on the coast, with a spectacular view, a five star restaurant and a really sweet discount just waiting to be taken advantage of. And it’ll only take you about four hours to drive there, three if you push.

There, of course, is the trick. What I am suggesting is not a replacement hotel, but a weekend getaway for those of you who spend enough time in Silicon Valley to need to get away from it every now and then. The discount I mentioned isn’t even good unless you have, in some way, already proven your loyalty to us.

Actually, though, it’s kind of an amazing little deal that our dear general manager struck up with this rather extraordinary little establishment. She charmed its owner into a serious price reduction on a seriously luxurious experience. Certainly it was some kind of exchange between them, the terms of which one can only wonder about. I do hope it was a fair deal, though, because now she’s turned it over to Jerry, our Director of Sales and Marketing, and he will never let go of it. Talk to him if you’re interested, he’ll arrange the whole thing.

January 23rd, 2009

This month I’m going to tell you about one of our employees who has no long term plans to stay with us. Arnulfo came on board by chance and hopes for as speedy a departure as possible. We hope for the same, actually, the faster he can leave the better.

It was Arnulfo’s brother who was originally hired to work at this hotel, in maintenance. Isidoro was always a hard worker and a valued employee, but a couple of years ago he was in a fairly serious car accident that left him partially paralyzed. Arnulfo learned of the accident by chance, calling his sister on Cinco de Mayo and finding her in tears. He was on the next bus to the Bay Area, with no plan except to see how he could help. In his brother’s hospital room he met Jose, our maintenance manager, and was offered Isidoro’s job. Saying yes would mean both supporting his brother in time of crisis and also continuing the support his sister had been getting from Isidoro. But it also meant leaving his own job, his own house, his own life. Arnulfo had, in fact, already spent some time living in the Bay Area in the past and had decided it wasn’t right for him. He stayed, though, and here he still is.

Isidoro gets stronger and stronger. He’s back at work, more and more able to take responsibilities. Arnulfo will leave as soon as he’s no longer needed. We hope, then, in spite of our admiration and respect for Arnulfo and in spite of what an asset it is to have such a generous, dedicated person on staff, that his stay with us is as brief as it can be.

January 15th, 2009

One of the oddest things I remember from my time as a student at UC Berkeley were the protests. This is a political school, a place where political activism has proven that it can work. And so people come there to be politically active and there is a protest, attended by at least five people, on Sproul Plaza, everyday. To be fair, at least one or two times a year something big happens and thousands show up. But the daily protests, to me, were always baffling: all that organization and passion just getting dispersed out into the general atmosphere.

Another Sproul Plaza staple is Eddie the Preacher, an elderly man with a baseball cap, backpack and Bible who speaks daily about the joys of life and Jesus Christ. There is a gray-haired man in white sailor pants and a crisp blue t-shirt called Yahweh after the name on said shirt. He speaks more to the mortal danger that the student population is in, being that it is comprised entirely of hedonsitic sinners who will burn and suffer forever in Hell, according to him. And then there is Rick Starr, crooning Sinatra into a microphone that he keeps plugged into a Nestle Quick can.

But what’s great about the University itself begins with the experience you can have just visiting the campus: it can be whatever your want it to be. Walk just a short distance to the northwest and you’ll find yourself in the serenity of rolling hills and a gently tricking creek. Just a few steps further and you’re in a real redwood forest.

OK, we’ve covered hyper-urban chaos and perfect pastoral tranquility, now let’s go east for random historical trivia. Here you’ll find the house used to film the chimney song and dance in the Mary Poppins movie. I can’t remember what department the building belongs to, so you’ll have to ask someone passing by, but you’ll recognize it for sure.

To me, this has always been a magical place. I could say more and more and more, but I would eventually have to stop short anyway. So I’ll end here by simply promising you that it’s worth a visit.

January 10th, 2009

This is the space that’s usually reserved for telling you all about a local restaurant you should check out while you’re in town. This month I’m going to use it, instead, to tell you about something you might want to go watch. I will still write about a restaurant, something of a staff favorite, in fact, which is where the spectacle begins. You see, the boys on our team, kind of a competitive lot, have recently discovered all-you-can-eat sushi, in the form of a place called, simply, Sushi 85. I was taken there a couple of weeks ago by a certain sales manager who spent the duration of our lunch encouraging me to “get tough” and “stick it to the man.” Maybe I ate one or two pieces past my natural stopping place, but I’m not the most receptive to that kind of goading. Slightly disappointed, he regaled me with stories of the true heroes of Sushi 85. Men whose eating knows no limits, men for whom the little ginger slices seem to clean more than just the palate. They’ll spend hours, so the stories go, eating steadily, watching and encouraging one another with the same dedication and force I’ve seen them use to egg on the lifting of heavier and heavier weights in the gym. Mike Silva, in reservations is reputedly very, very good. The champion, however, without question, is said to be front desk manager Mike Pinsil. It is with awe and pride that tales of his gastronomical feats are told.

This also is a story about a good sushi restaurant, by the way. Really good, even. But, if I were you, I’d wait for day when I could follow the boys, take a table nearby and enjoy a little dinner theater.

January 4th, 2009

I am aware that Americans have traditionally been against British rule-making. I understand that our great nation could even be said to have come about because of this opposition. I get it. But I just found something on the website of the first British winemaker I’ve seen so far in the Napa Valley that was so comforting to me: Lists of wine rules and instructions. On the Sterling Vineyards website you can learn not only which glasses to serve which wines in, but precisely to what point on the glass you should fill them. There are instructions for carrying your wine home from the winery. There is a formula for calculating how much wine to buy for a party. And, in the terminology section, I learned, finally, what it means when a person talks about a wine’s “body”. (It’s the experience of the weight of the wine in your mouth, although I have to admit that I considered making you go find out for yourself.)

It’s so great in America that we get to do things as we like. If a tradition doesn’t suit our personal comfort and immediate happiness, we just let go of it and do what feels good. Sometimes, though, I have to admit to wanting to know a little more about the rules and traditions that I’m letting go of. Maybe I will always prefer to drink wine out of the plastic Ringling Bros. cup I’ve had since I was ten, but at least now I know that big, bowl-like glasses are designed to let a maximal amount of oxygen interact with the wine and thus enhance its flavor.

Next time you’re with us, try a glass of Sterling. Maybe it’ll be stiff and unimaginative, but just maybe it’ll be solidly, reliably good.