November 5th, 2010

I remember those old commercials for the Hair Club for Men. At the end the spokesman would always say, “I’m not only the president, I’m also a member,” as they showed his very own before and after photos. Well, this month I’m saying to you, “I’m not only the newsletter writer, I’m also a guest.” Due to, well, I’d rather not say what, but due to some personal things I recently had the pleasure of spending a night at this hotel. It was so great! I had a thoughtless number of drinks, since the things I normally think of are: How much does it cost, and how will I get home? I ate whatever I wanted for breakfast and someone else did the dishes. It all felt so decadent and I was loving it.

But then I wanted to iron my shirt. At first I thought the iron was just sort of snapped into a little holder on the ironing board. That seemed really clever to me. I couldn’t figure out how to get it out, though. It took a while for me to realize that the iron was actually permanently attached to the board. What a crazy idea! And what an awkward thing it is to manipulate a scalding hot piece of metal that’s constantly trying to return home. As soon as I was finished I called our dear general manager and offered to pay for every single stolen iron, from now on, if only she would detach them.

I learned two things from that conversation. The first is that I am by no means the only one who has made that complaint. Or that same offer. Lots and lots of you are relating to this story and to my frustration.

The second thing I learned is that they are not attached to prevent theft. Of all the things that are not attached in these rooms, those little irons are pretty far down on the value scale and no one was ever stealing them. What people were doing, when iron and board were not mated for life, was being too lazy to set the board up. That’s right, and I know I’m not talking about any of you, my readers, but some people out there thought that, rather than taking 30 seconds to set up one of the lightest, simplest objects that exists in the world, it would be easier to just use the bed, say. Or maybe an armchair. Perhaps the floor. So that the rooms, pre-attachment, were littered with burn marks. But once our general manager figured out how to permanently unite the two, the burning stopped and so the final word is that we are never going back to iron and board as separate objects. A few people ruined it for everyone. I wish we at least knew who they were.

November 4th, 2010

Not so long ago I sat atop the Bay Area’s highest peak with a man with no legs. He’s a great guy who’s done amazing things, but this is not a story about a superhuman physical feat. It’s a story about how you can get to 0.3 miles from the top of the highest mountain in the Bay Area in a car. The man I mentioned was carried up the well maintained and not particularly arduous remaining third of a mile by a smiling friend who didn’t even break a sweat.

Let’s face it, hiking is not for everyone. While some people find the physical work of it energizing, others find that it taxes the little scraps of life force they have left after a hard week’s work. The problem, in a lot of cases, is that to get to see some Mother Nature’s real treasures, you’ve got to take a pretty long walk. Uphill, generally. Sometimes in either extreme cold or heat. And so a lot of people resign themselves to only seeing the world’s spectacular views on TV or in books. It’s all of you that I’m talking to. Go visit Mount Tamalpais! It offers a legendary view of ocean, mountains, bay and more, for the same amount of effort it takes to climb the stairs to the top floor of this hotel. (Regulars will remember that we only have four floors.)

November 3rd, 2010

It’s been 12 years since Anjelica, one of our most senior housekeepers, first came on board with us, and she’s happy. And the reason we know she’s happy is that she’s still here. Seems simple, I know, but think, for a moment, of all the people you know who stay in unhappy situations. It’s one of our most common modern clichés, in fact, to feel trapped and miserable for years, but just keep staying. Our world is full of victims of sociology and psychology and bad decisions and laziness. Anjelica is not one of those people. She was unhappy in her native Guatemala, so she left. She had two young sons, whom she had to leave with her mother, but she left with confidence and was successful and now they’re here with her. When she first arrived 15 years ago, in a foreign land with a foreign language, she had a series of jobs that she did not like. As she did not come to America to continue being unhappy, she left those too, one by one, until she finally landed here with us. It took her three years to find this hotel, and, though she’s careful to say that one never really knows what life’s bringing next, she plans to stay as long as she can. We don’t often recognize the power we have to choose the lives we’re going to live. Anjelica is one of the people who does, and she’s happy.

November 2nd, 2010

I stayed away from Dish Dash for a very long time. It was over a year that my mom tried to convince me to eat there and I resisted, always thinking of some very specific reason why I wanted to go somewhere else instead. I invented so many particular cravings, she must have thought I was pregnant. The problem, for me, was the name. She swore it was the best Mediterranean restaurant she knew of, but I combined what I know of her love for greasy nastiness with that name and did not come up with a pretty picture.

To digress for just a moment, I think I should start alternating, every other month telling you all about awful restaurants to stay away from at all cost. Remembering my mother’s love for a place called The Mini Gourmet, in all its dreadful, oily mediocrity, is sparking this idea. If one of you somehow met my mom, you could end up The Mini Gourmet, and, man, I should do what I can to protect you from that.

Ok, but this time I was wrong. Sure, the name makes it sound like you’ll be eating suspicious gyro meat out of a Styrofoam container, but it’s actually kind of an elegant little place. The food is fresh and delicately spiced. I had a great experience there, made all the sweeter by surprise.

And now, while you all check Dish Dash out, I’m going to start considering my anti-recommendation project. In the mean time, stay away from my mother.

November 1st, 2010

The makers of Educated Guess wine are clearly cool people. And by cool, I mean very current. They’re self-aware and self-mocking. They know that, in today’s world, objective superiority is a fallacy and so they acknowledge that any choices that they make in their own process of wine making will be based not on scientific standards of correct technique that will withstand the test of time, but on a series of “educated guesses”. Hence the name. And though they may personally enjoy their own product, they understand that they are unable to be unbiased.

It all sounds good. It’s so very right, the way they refuse to say that anything they’ve done is better than anything that other people are doing. This is the language of the future. But I’m not sure it’s going to sell lots and lots of wine. I, personally, might chuckle at their label and then buy a bottle made by self-aggrandizing, barbaric fools who unselfconsciously tell me that they are making the best wine the universe allows them to make.

That’s one of the problems, though, with this contemporary self-awareness. Educated Guess is made by very smart, very dedicated people who did a lot of work and made a very good wine. But they’re so afraid to look like Fabio or Rambo or something like that, that they end up telling consumers “we’re pretty good, if you like that sort of thing.” Luckily you can try this damn good wine for free, here with us.