August 28th, 2010

I watched a little bit of the World Cup this year. Really just a little, little bit, but it seemed to be on everywhere I went and so sometimes I paid attention. One day I found myself watching the American team. As it turns out, it was the last time the American team won, and watching that moment of victory, those young guys with all their hope and excitement and pride bared for the whole world to look at, was not unemotional for me. What a surprise that was! I’ve been getting more and more ambivalent about sports every year; I thought I had grown out of them. But suddenly here I was, teary eyed over a team I hadn’t even known existed the day before. I couldn’t really understand what was going on.

And then it hit me. These were high-level professional American athletes who were not getting paid more in a year than my immediate family and myself will collectively make in our lifetimes. They looked different to me, fresher. Or maybe it was only me; maybe I could be more receptive to their game and their emotions because looking at them didn’t plunge me into the overpaid-players-supported-by-delirious-fans death spiral I started experiencing around the time my older brother went into near permanent debt paying for an 11 year “personal seat license” that allowed him permission to buy, every one of those 11 years, a new season ticket to go watch the Raiders lose. Before that I used to like sports.

I like to think that if there’s a place to re-find a love for Monday night football, it’s here at the hotel. Here we are free to enjoy the game without in any way contributing to the excruciating amount of money the NFL rolls around in while it’s fans still struggle under the weight of recession. We, as individuals, are not even contributing to their ratings. And, on the contrary, we are being given free food and drinks just for showing up. For me, personally, it’s still difficult. But I come and I try. I like hamburgers a lot, and you really can just eat as many as you like. Plus the room is big, big enough, even, to forget about why the free hot dogs are there at all.

August 24th, 2010

When I was growing up and said that I would like to live by the beach someday I had a very specific picture in my head. A small town, where everything you want is in walking distance. Lots of small shops selling bathing suits, loose linens and brightly colored candies. One story, pastel houses just across the street from the Pacific Ocean, so you can always hear the waves crashing. Waterfront restaurants serving fresh seafood and pizza. Mountains always visible, except in the morning when the fog is too thick.

That description seems like it should fit Santa Cruz. It almost does, maybe it used to. But Santa Cruz is too big. It’s too much the place that everyone who isn’t from around here hears about and goes to. It was too much the quintessential Northern California beach town for too long, I think, to get to stay that way. But just a tiny little step further south is tiny little Capitola, which I have just described to a T. Over the years, while Santa Cruz got bigger and dirtier and Aptos got fancier and smugger, Capitola has managed to stay tranquil and humble. It’s still a little funky, though not the hippie kind of funky that brings ideas of dirty tie-dyes, body odor and patchouli. More like the kind of place where you can be served in a restaurant without shoes, should you happen to have left yours on the beach.

On a more serious note, though, one noticeable change to Capitola in the years since it impressed me as the ideal place to spend eternity, once I’m ready for eternity, is that it’s coastline has receded. The wide, luxurious stretch of beach from my childhood memories has withered into a little fingernail of sand. Still enough to spread a towel and relax in the sun, but not quite enough to keep believing that Capitola will get to exist forever. Not that you have to run to catch it, it’ll certainly last all of our lifetimes. More like just a reminder not to count on eternity.

August 16th, 2010

There’s a little staffing oddity here at our hotel and this month I’d like to try to tell you about it. His name is Kaz, he’s a rapper and he works for our hotel out of his bedroom in Los Angeles. It’s fun to write and it’s even true!

Ok, but while we do have a rapper on our staff, we don’t actually have an on-staff rapper. What Kaz is, is the sole member of our off-site sales team. I spent some time with him on the phone last week. What I wanted was to try to understand how his job works, as he’s not here with us every day and I’m curious. Notice how that curiosity is still in the present tense. Interrupting Kaz is not an easy task, especially when he knows that he is meant to be the subject of a conversation. There’s so much he’d like to share and it’s fun to listen and I know I’m not the best interviewer in the world, but after it was over I found that I had neglected nearly all of my questions and had instead just enjoyed the experience of Kaz.

I have some details, though. I’ll share some with you and we’ll see how far it gets us into understanding him and his position. He tells me he has all the parts of a suit except the jacket. He tells me that he buys packages of miniature candy bars, has his girlfriend wrap them in cellophane whose color matches the nearest holiday, and then hands them out to admins. I think he chooses the admins based on a list sent to him from us, rather than at random. He tells me that people are often surprised and delighted when he shows up in their office wearing almost all of a suit and carrying festively wrapped bite-sized treats. He says that he has a phone meeting every morning with Jerry, our director of sales and marketing, and that he is generally in bed for that meeting.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I understand Kaz’s job any better than I did before I talked to him. I do know that I laughed a lot on the phone that day, and that I felt good when I hung up. I’ll say this, then, whatever the structure of his position, if this guy is a part of our sales team, I know we are stronger for it.

August 12th, 2010

Let me start by saying that I feel really unqualified to give a recommendation for a Mexican restaurant, given that so many of my co-workers are Mexican. Surely many of the people who are around to assist you during your stay with us should be able to point you in the direction of the kitchen that most resembles their grandmothers’. I am encouraged in my recommending (though, I must say, discouraged in a bigger-picture, life kind of a way) by the fact when I recently asked a native of Oaxaca who works at this hotel, and who I will not name even if he doesn’t think he needs to be protected, to recommend a good place to get a burrito, he tried to send me to Taco Bell. Really truly. I couldn’t make that up.

Though, thinking about it, Taco Bell is pretty much what I remember eating at my grandmother’s. Maybe he and I just have that in common.

Anyway, the Mexican restaurant that I like is called Pedro’s. And, really, since I may as well be honest, it’s all about the ambience. This is one beautiful restaurant. It’s open and spacious, hacienda style with tiled floors and beautiful wooden furniture. You leave Silicon Valley when you enter Pedro’s, and while my co-workers would be more qualified to tell you whether or not it’s Mexico you go to, for me it’s enough just to leave. So you sit, calmed already by all the unexpected space in the dining room. Then the margaritas start coming and this is even more calming. Plentiful chips and salsa abate your hunger. And then, eventually, the food comes. It’s really fine, this food. It fits exactly the description of “Mexican food” that I recognize. I don’t feel done with my search for the best burrito, but I will go to Pedro’s again and again in the mean time.

August 8th, 2010

The name Sterling is cool and hard; the chill of silver as opposed to the warmth of gold. The Sterling winery is pristine, white and ultra modern. Not a whisper of decorative excess to be seen. It looks like the secret fortress of an operation bent on world domination, the kind you might see in a James Bond movie. Like whoever built it had access to the most money and the best minds, but maybe you shouldn’t expect them to be helping any little old ladies get across the street.

But modern architecture can be like that, right? So, I tried to get in a little further. I clicked on a button called “heritage” on their website. Over and over and over I clicked on this button. And what came up every time? A big, open, white box. Not a blank page, but an empty white box.

But that could just be a temporary glitch, of course. Sure I tried several times over the course of an hour and got the same thing every time, but the internet is still an unstable place. In the meantime, I clicked on a button called “philosophy.” If anything can show me the humanity I’m looking for, surely it’s got to be the philosophy page, I thought. What I got instead was a very technical description of the making of not just white versus red wine, but chardonnay versus sauvignon blanc. I learned, for example, about the malolactic fermentation that select portions of a chardonnay will undergo, where a sauvignon blanc will not. Philosophy, huh?

Is the Sterling wine a cover for a nefarious plot to destroy the world? I’m not sure. But, as I said, they seem to have access to the best minds and their wine reflects it. Personally, I love it all. I love the wine. I want to wear a very straight, tight suit, comb my hair very precisely and speak with a Russian accent (because it’s always the Russians in those movies) while I drink it. And, someday, I want to go visit the Sterling winery and see if I can find that big red button. You know, the one that sits in the cavernous, subterranean, grey room, ready to destroy the world at any moment.