A recent addition to this hotel’s modest but enthusiastic fan club is Cherry Vanilla. No, she’s not an over-exuberant Ben & Jerry’s fan; this was a moniker she chose while protesting the Viet Nam war. She gained fame as a rock & roll groupie and for playing the title-role in Andy Warhol’s only play, PORK, in 1971. From there she moved on to work as David Bowie’s publicist. After that she became a cabaret performer and then formed her own rock band, and often played at the legendary Max’s Kansas City in New York. When she moved to London in 1977, she hired Sting as her bass player and Stewart Copeland as her drummer, before they became famous as the Police. This woman was a mover and shaker throughout the 70’s glam and punk-rock scenes. And though she will never be the household name some of her friends have become, she truly has a place in our cultural history. The last time she was here, I sat watching her, wondering what that feels like.
Thinking about it, though, a lot of you, our guests, do know what that feels like. Or you will. On a day-to-day basis, I think that we here at this hotel take a bit too much for granted that we’re running our little operation in the Silicon Valley. We give you all your breakfast, send you off to a day of abstract “work,” and have a drink waiting for you when you return. But do we really recognize that what many of you are out there doing for eight or more hours a day is changing our modern world? Maybe not. So, this is something I’m really interested in and some of you, my readers, can answer my questions. What does it feel like to have been a part of something that shifted the entire culture? To be a part of what’s changing it now? Does it fill you up with pride everyday, or is it more of an idea to sit peacefully with, just from time to time?
Maybe we humble hotel hands can even get a little bit of vicarious pride for ourselves from this. After all, it’s well documented that a good night’s sleep can affect a day’s productivity. So, it’s maybe just a little bit possible for the providers of said night’s rest to feel that we have our own tiny role in history. And if you want to know more about Cherry Vanilla, she’s got a new book out (Nov. 1), a memoir called LICK ME – How I Became Cherry Vanilla (by way of the Copacabana, Madison Avenue, the Fillmore East, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and the Police).
One of the places that you all are surely going to without my ever having to mention it to you is North Beach, in San Francisco. It’s famous for Italian food, the Beat poets and strip clubs, which I know that you already know. I also know that between all the possibilities that those attractions have to offer, it may seem like you’re not so much in need of another North Beach recommendation. But I recently had such a great experience in North Beach and I feel compelled to share it with you, just in case any of you were ever curious about trying a chocolate stout float and didn’t quite know how to access it. That’s right my friends, beer and ice-cream together in one glass! And while this could very easily go in the direction of a bad frat party stunt, the Rogue Ales Public House uses their own home brewed, thick, dark, rich chocolate stout to make it into a whimsical decadence. It was delicious and my friend and I giggled with every spoonful.
And, just to say, I always get a little squeamish when I recommend a chain to you. I do try, and I think you know this, to be very delicate about the ones I choose. In the interest of full disclosure, though, the Rogue Ales Public House is a chain of micro-breweries. Besides the one in San Francisco, they can be found in Independence and Eugene, Oregon, as well as Issaquah, Washington. Independence is their home base, and if you go there you can visit their barley field and stay at their B&B (beer and breakfast). As for me, I think I can feel pretty ok about not having delivered you into the hands of the corporate devil.
I talked recently to Joe, our night auditor, about riding his motorcycle. He said that the thing, for him, is to move at a speed that feels fast but also controllable. It’s important, he said, to make sure you can react to whatever the road has to give to you. He used the word prudent. Just so we’re clear here, of the seven speeding tickets Joe’s gotten, the highest speed he was ticketed for was 130 miles per hour. Which is, of course, just the fastest he was ever going with a policeman watching. But still, there was this clear idea of finding a comfortable cruising rate, and then letting the bumps and curves come when and how they may.
When he then switches to talking about his life, it feels very much the same. He’s been working the graveyard shift here at the hotel for five years now. It’s given him a strange existence, out of sync with most of the rest of the world, but he’s adjusted, continues to adjust. He speaks of this odd job as something that was given to him by Life, and that he is seeing through to the end. There are other jobs, he knows, that would be more stimulating, but they would also be more stressful. His girlfriend also works a night shift, so there is comfort and ease in that area. He feels content, but stresses the difference between contentment and happiness. He worries that this story about him will be boring. But he waits for Life. Right now, it seems, he’s on a long straightaway. It’s easy; he can relax. There will steep inclines and hairpin turns in the future. In the meantime, he’s finding it best to relax, conserve resources, be ready.
Once, when I was a little girl, someone took my mother to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. Not a subtle woman, she came back with a report that it was like eating out of a baby’s diaper. In the years that followed, it never once occurred to me that that was an experience I needed to have for myself. In college I felt myself softening. There were a few Ethiopian restaurants in the area that my friends were always raving about. It was turning out that quite a few of the things my mother had told me over the years were not quite as absolutely etched-in-stone-true as she had led me to believe, and I was kind of into a bit of truth-seeking. I had gone so far as to make a date to eat at a place called The Blue Nile when a “friend” told me that the soft injera bread that is used in lieu of silverware, is actually tripe. (To digress quickly, it now seems so silly to say a thing like that. With google and iphones and all this access we have to information, a rumor like that could last for a half of a nanosecond in our modern life. But this was back in the days when you could still spread a nice little story.) The point is, I think I was 25 the first time I ate Ethiopian food. 25 long years before I discovered the fun of eating family style, with your hands, cooling your burning mouth with honey wine.
I recently took my sister to a place in San Jose called Zuni. She’s 24 and still entrenched in her process of unraveling our mother’s yarns. I like to help sometimes, when I can, and so, in that spirit, I told her we were going for Italian food. I was nervous because I had never been to this place before, it was a recommendation from a friend, and I knew the stakes were very high. As predicted, she was horrified when we arrived. I begged her to stay and she relented only when I promised we could go somewhere else afterwards if she found she couldn’t eat anything there. This, then, is a note of thanks to Zuni. My sister is a convert. I’ll spare you the details, the faces she made when the giant plate of injera covered with strange brown lumps came out. The way she pretended she wasn’t enjoying it until she realized she wasn’t going to get to keep eating unless she confessed. Beautiful Eithiopian food, done very nicely at Zuni, and she and I are just a little bit more free.
Ironstone wine is pretty good. Not bad. Better than a lot of other wine you can find in the world, even. If you’re curious, we’re pouring it every night in our bar for free.
What Ironstone would like for you to know, however, is that they are “so much more than a winery.” They have a museum, a jewelry shop, cooking demonstrations, a 24-pound crystalline gold leaf specimen, an enormous lakeside garden and an outdoor amphitheatre. This summer Crosby Stills and Nash, ZZ Top and Faith Hill came through. Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow are on their way. “There’s always something interesting happening” at what must still be referred to as the Ironstone Vineyards, if only because those vineyards are kind of sort of the foundation on which all the other fun stuff is built on. But don’t let those ubiquitous alcohol references give you the wrong idea, this is also a kid friendly place. Gold-panning is only one example of the kind of fun that’s in store for your little ones at Ironstone.
Like I said, the wine is good. It’s also good that you and I both can drink it for free at night in this hotel’s bar. Because, actually, I like to drink it, but that was a surprise. At first I was scared by a winery that wanted to be much more than a winery. Maybe I’d go see a show there sometime, I thought, but if their focus isn’t on their wine, why support that part of the project? Well, it turns out that, somehow, the wine is good enough. Good enough to drink for free, good enough to maybe even pick up a bottle every now and then. Pretty good, like I said.