January 28th, 2010

Someone recently remarked that our dear general manager runs these hotels more like an innkeeper than a proper general manager. It was said fondly and, I think, it’s kind of apt. I have two favorite pieces of evidence to share with you on the subject, though if you’ve been around I’m sure you have a few of your own as well.

The first is that she has, for some reason, gotten excited about cooking lately. Famous for her declaration that “a bagel and cream cheese is a perfectly good dinner,” this culinary turn is a bit of a surprise, but she’s going at it with gusto, declaring that, until recently, she didn’t even know it was possible to buy fresh herbs and now she can’t stay away from them. But now that she’s finally gotten interested in looking after people’s nourishment, she finds herself with no more children in her house. So, she’s taken to doing her cooking at the Grand Hotel, feeding staff and guests alike. Last week it was balsamic chicken with a Greek rice salad, the week before the chicken was cooked with lemon and parsley and served with traditional Armenian pilaf. If you’ve been lucky enough to share a meal with her, you know that no polite indulgence is necessary either. She’s a pretty good cook for someone who took a 20 break from the practice.

The second is that her boyfriend, Bob, can, of late, be found trolling around the hotels‘ lounges, looking for chess games with computer programmers. Cocktail hour rolls around, all of you tech wizards start rolling in and there’s Bob, sometimes with a martini, sometimes a bottle of water, looking for a little post-retirement mental stimulation. He doesn’t win much. Ok, he doesn’t win, but he’s come to the right place to learn as there aren’t many of you code writers out there who don’t know your way around a chess board.

Do you have a story like this to share? Send it in.

January 23rd, 2010

When I was in high school, sometime around my junior year, the school started offering yoga as a PE option. My Midwestern mother was horrified and forbade me to take it. There was no way, she said, that her daughter was going to turn into one of those “flaky Californians.” After yoga would come tofu, then astrology, and this was a slope she was not going to see me slip down. I laughed, signed up, and found myself being taught, from a book, by the same elderly woman who taught badminton and volleyball. I did not get the point of yoga from her classes, to my mother’s relief.

But this is California, after all, and I eventually found the real thing. Rusty Wells is his name. Tall and lanky, with a sleepy smile and a Southern drawl he teaches a difficult class that anyone, at any level, can be comfortable in. His classes are sweaty and hard and meditative and fun and all of this because of the strength of the guide. He creates an experience, makes the bliss of yoga accessible to anyone who is willing to show up and try. He’s a real San Francisco treasure, as evidenced by the classes that fill to capacity nearly every day of the week.

Now, I’m aware that I might be writing to a few experienced yogis and yoginis out there. I feel your skepticism and to it I say, just give him a try. You’re probably looking for a nice class to take when you’re here with us anyway, so what’s there to lose? Maybe it’ll be the good enough, though not quite authentically perfect, thing you wanted. I kind of think it’ll blow your mind, but who am I?

To everyone else, I say, this is a real California treat to give to yourself. It’s accessible and powerful, a strong experience to break up the dullness of business travel.

He teaches at different places in the city, the best thing to do is visit his website: Maybe I’ll see you there!

January 12th, 2010

Someday, perhaps when we find ourselves on the other side of this recession, our hotel is going to have to consider making a donation to Santa Clara High School. So many of our most loved, and even a few of our least loved, employees passed first through that unassuming little institution. To my knowledge there are no hospitality classes offered there, but they turn out one after another enthusiastic, hard working, loyal people who, thankfully, have felt that our little business hotel cum bed and breakfast is a nice place to pass through the years that will transition them to adulthood.

I didn’t really realize quite how many of us had come out of Santa Clara High until Jesse, our bellman, cited it as one of his favorite things about the job. He works with all the people he was friends with in high school, they still are the people he spends his free time with and, so, coming to work, for him, is fun. This means that he has long standing relationships with more than a few of his coworkers, which creates an investment in the well being of the whole operation. He says that these are connections he intends to keep for the rest of his life. There is in him this open-heartedness, the sensitivity of one who values human connection above everything else, that makes him exactly the kind of person we can feel good about sending to pick you up when you’ve just come off a long flight, or having knock on your door with a tray of food in the middle of the night.

But, as I said, this hotel tends only to be a transition. Someday soon Jesse will be a firefighter, following the example of several family members before him. We’d better make a recording of his laugh before he leaves, I can’t imagine what this place will sound like without it.

January 8th, 2010

I would like to announce a new diet craze. Or, rather, I would like to try to spark a new diet craze. Meaning that I would like to be responsible for a moment of pop-culture hysteria and I have a good idea about something that has not yet been exploited. Ok, ready? Vietnamese food! Specifically those bowls, bun is what they’re called, heaped with cold rice noodles, salad greens, mint, carrots and cucumber with your choice of grilled meat on top. Sauce always served on the side. It’s a healthy, complete meal, low in fat and fun to eat. It’s wheat free, for those that are into the gluten intolerance thing, dairy free for the lactose intolerant. It’s culturally exotic, but simple and non-threatening. I think it has all it needs to become a real trendy item, like when all the super skinny actresses were saying that they weren’t on diets, they just ate a lot of Japanese food. Speaking of which, I do need a celebrity or two to really get this thing going.

However, as I have not yet found my celebrity, I’m starting with you. All you have to do, when you’re here staying with us, is take a little stroll down the street to a place called Pho Saigon. The fluorescent lighting is a bit off-putting, I know, and I’m sorry for that, but the food is the exact example of simple and clean that I think can become a very strong fad. Plus, everyday at lunchtime, the place is packed with Vietnamese people, which is not a bad sign of authenticity and means that I’m actually encouraging you to have a genuine multicultural experience. So, head on over there, eat, enjoy, and then tell all your friends how good it makes you feel. The best, actually, would be if you would go every day for a week or two, and then start reporting your feelings of clear energy and general well-being. And if you were to drop a couple of pounds, well, that, also, would be very good indeed.

Do me a favor, though, if you’re going to be doing this with me, lay off the pizza and French fries and donuts and stuff. You will only do harm to my movement.

January 4th, 2010

Having a conflict with a co-worker is tricky. Unlike people you know only socially, co-workers are non-optional parts of your life. If you are totally disgusted and hurt and feel that the mere sight of a particular fellow employee is like several daggers being plunged into your heart simultaneously, still there they will be tomorrow and the next day and on and on into the future. Resolution, it would seem, behooves you, impossible though it may seem.

Well, if world leaders are like co-workers to one another, and I would argue that they are, then the Cold War could be seen as a very good example of just what I’m talking about. So, while I can offer you no advice about any disputes you might be having, I can pass on a little piece of information that I’ve just obtained. When, after decades of standoff and a generation of children who grew up expecting nuclear holocaust in their lifetimes, Reagan and Gorbachev finally sat down to discuss their differences, the wine they shared was called Iron Horse. Can I really say that this had anything to do with common ground the two men soon found? Of course not. But, then again, no one can say that small details don’t matter. A particularly smooth, easy, calming wine could very easily have shifted the mood in the room, I think.

A lot of you come to us on business, perhaps some of you come here with people you don’t like very much. We do serve Iron Horse wines here. You may as well give it a try!