March 28th, 2009

So much is made these days of the fates of the big auto companies. They cannot be allowed to fail. These household names must be preserved, and I understand this on all financial as well as emotional levels. But if all the familiar transportation brands are to be saved, surely we’ll be losing some other familiar monikers in these next months. I’ve started lately to wonder about the big hotel chains. Names that are synonymous with status and wealth, names that, in some cases, have even become tabloid staples. Can they withstand this crisis, dependent as they are on travelers associating them with comfort and care?

I feel safe in striking this conversation up with you all, who know that an oversized corporate hotel could never be competition for us. The regulated homogenization of a large chain, the emphasis on maintaining brand standards, these things are exactly what we want if we’re shopping for a new car or a pill for our headaches. For a place to unwind at night, however, a place to stumble groggily about in the morning coffee hunt, that mentality just doesn’t work. The coolness of a branded establishment is far too harsh for these parts of life and I trust that, saying this to you here, I am, as they say, preaching to the choir. Our little hotel is interwoven with extended families and childhood friendships, as a result of a strict pro-nepotism hiring policy, so we get to start with a strong community as a base. What’s been so great over these years, though, is how loyal you all have been to us, and, so, how much you all have entered and enriched this community. We can feel secure in these hard times knowing that, as much as we’re running a business, we’re also maintaining the comfort zone that a lot of you depend on. Thanks for leaning into us like that. It’s nice that we can be here for each other in these hard times.

March 23rd, 2009

I hated the Natural Bridges State Park when I was a little girl. This was where my father always wanted to go when we headed out for a day at the beach and every time I was disappointed to not have a stronger voice in the matter. Going to Natural Bridges meant a tranquil day, with plenty of space away from people. It meant a picnic. At this time of year it meant walking through fields of wild flowers. The natural bridges themselves are rocks just pretty much right there on the beach, but apparently not quite close enough to let one’s little daughter try to get on top of them. And so I would sit there, digging listlessly in the sand, wishing my dad would be cooler, wishing I was at the beach, just a little way down the road, that had loud roller coasters and hordes of people. I wished I was eating a caramel apple and drinking an icy Coke instead of having to suffer down the stupid avocado and cheese sandwich he made on his stupid, coarse, homemade bread.

Yes, I am writing this now knowing that I was, actually, a lucky child. I understand what drew my father to the Natural Bridges. I get that he was trying to escape the crowds and noise and trashy food I was so enthralled by. The value of nature was, I think, more or less successfully installed in me. I even think that this is an excellent place to take a little girl on a sunny summer day. And you all are just visitors to the area, so your little girls won’t necessarily know that they’re having a day in nature in lieu of a day of spinning and sugar and trinket shops. I wouldn’t mention it. I know now that Natural Bridges remains a great place because all the many, many people head for the Boardwalk, but parents need to remember that it takes more than 10 years of living in the world of people to want to find ways to get away from them!

March 18th, 2009

And now, for a story of good and evil, I will tell you about Liliana Francisco and her time behind our front desk. When Lili first came to work with us, seven years ago, she was an eighteen-year-old high school senior. Her mother is the housekeeping manager here and Lili needed a job and so that was that. She worked hard and was well liked and we were all sorry when she quit after a couple of years, but she had found another job and this is the way these things go.

What was this other job, you ask? Well, in fact, Liliana was selling mortgages. And so she had a front row seat for all the greed and corruption that the whole world is feeling the result of now. She went into it eagerly, but soon realized that the way to really do well was to learn to lie and manipulate. She found herself depressed and unable to adapt to these bizarre business ethics. It took her some time to quit, but when she finally did she came straight back to us. Now we have her because she chooses to be here and not by default, which is much nicer on both sides.

The other thing she did, after her little stint with evil, was to go back to school. She’ll get an AA in Communications and is planning on a BA in Political Science. She has thoughts of teaching and some hints of beginnings of thoughts of law school. She’s begun going on sales trips for this hotel, giving presentations to potential clients. He parents worry that she wasted that time that she spent on the wrong side of history. I respectfully disagree.

March 12th, 2009

One of my favorite things to try to do in this job, since I grew up in this area and so am often writing to you about things I’ve known all my life, is justify something that I’ve loved since I was a little girl. There are things that I don’t know if I would start doing today, but that I learned the value of so long ago that the truth of said value is second nature to me. So then, in this space, I am charged with convincing you of that truth, while acknowledging a perhaps less-than-inspiring exterior. Eating at Happi House, for example, our local Japanese fast food chain. I will admit that one of the big draws for me will always be emotional. I can’t ever go to a Happi House without remembering a sword fight my brother and I once had in one, after an aikido class, with the theme song from Karate Kid playing in the background, nor can I expect this to help motivate you to eat lunch there. I will also concede that once, maybe 15 years ago, a different brother could not understand why his Happi House chicken strips looked “sweaty” and that that made us all drift away for a while. But we went back.

What I can say positively is that those chicken strips were grilled and not fried. There are some tempura options on the menu, it’s true, but the majority of what you’ll find at Happi House is just plain grilled meat and comes with simple white rice and a crisp salad. Japanese food is notoriously healthy and the overall longevity of the Japanese people has been the subject of enough study to relieve me of any guilt of stereotyping. Is the fast food version going to give you all the benefits of fresh, careful, artful Japanese cuisine? I guess not. However, I am speaking to the part of you that indulges, from time to time, in little treats that may not lie on the straightest path toward becoming a supercentenarian. Happi House, I am pretty sure, veers closer to that original, true road than, say, a Big Mac. This is what keeps me going there. I have strong memories of eating five or six Dunkin’ Donuts at a time, too, but some things have to just become memories. I do know the difference. I sure hope you believe me!

March 4th, 2009

In our modern world there are a few products so associated with a particular brand that the brand name has become the common name for the thing itself. Kleenex, for instance. Sometimes I buy Puffs, sometimes I buy the Walgreens brand, but whatever the name on the little packet in my purse, I’ll always call it Kleenex. Q-Tips are maybe even a better example. Outside of my own personal usage, I hear some people ask for tissues, some for Kleenex; the two seem interchangeable. On the other hand, and I don’t know what your experience is, I’ve never witnessed a request for a cotton swab. Q-Tip is the only way I have ever heard anyone refer to the little paper sticks with cotton on either end, except to occasionally call them “ear thingies”.

Today another one of these took me by surprise. Maybe this is actually common knowledge, but it’s totally new for me. I wonder if I’m educating you or if you’re rolling your eyes at me, but I’ve just learned that Jacuzzi is the name of the guy who invented the system of pumps that turns a warm bath into therapy. I found this out because I drank a Pinot Grigio called Jacuzzi and thought, in addition to its being very good wine, that it was pretty funny for a winery to name itself after a hot tub. It turns out that the Jacuzzi family came to California from Italy and started making this wine years before their name became a household word. These people are the masters of engineering relaxation! So, here’s my free time plan from now on: A Jacuzzi in the Jacuzzi. I encourage you to join me.