January 9th, 2011

My first car was a hand-me-down. And, not only was it a hand-me-down, but my mother bought it from a car rental agency, drove it for five or six years and then handed it down to me. It always ran perfectly, for some reason, but superficially it was kind of a mess. A new piece would fall off of something at least once a week and every time I had a new passenger I would have to reassure them that it was not their fault when the center console suddenly plopped down into their lap. There was neither heat nor air-conditioning and the windows didn’t work, so in the summer I would have someone permanently fix them down, then reverse it for winter. I loved that car! Its death was premature and unnatural; a drunk driver smashed into it one night as it sat, innocently parked in front of my house. I know it wouldn’t have lasted forever, but if any car ever deserved to go until its very end, it was that one.

Our old limos, on the other hand, got to drive into their graves. Only five years old, they each had over 200,000 miles on them. And, no, it’s not because other people are special and get to ride in them to San Francisco when you’re told “no”. They racked it all up on trips that averaged around 4 miles each. I wonder if any of you noticed how they had started sputtering around? Certainly you could not have missed that, like my beloved red car, some of the not-so-vital pieces had started to go cockeyed. I guess you probably didn’t know that we had our fingers crossed everyday, hoping it wasn’t yet time for a guest to get stranded en route to the airport. Now that we’ve got our shiny brand new limos and are safe for another five years, I can tell you how close we shaved it: One of the old workhorses died about 25 miles into its drive away from home. The transmission just gave up.

The new ones are great, all sparkly and perfect. Still, I have to confess, I’ll like them better once someone has opened a door into one and a bellman has clipped a pole with the other. You know, once they’ve built a little character.

January 9th, 2011

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for my entire life and what I’m about to tell you, you bunch of tourists, strangers and aliens, you very well might already know. Somehow, this is how the world works. I haven’t read any travel books about the Bay Area, I feel my way around and have learned most things because someone showed them to me. You, on the other hand, are coming to a new place and want to be sure to see whatever’s worth seeing while you’re here, so you buy a book that gives you all the highlights. To me it seems like what I want to tell you about is not really common knowledge, and that makes me want to share it, but I do know that I run the risk of sounding like a big dork getting all excited about something half of you have already been to and the other half just haven’t had enough time for and/or interest in yet. The thing is, I don’t know how I spent the last 30+ years here without knowing that one of the largest Rodin collections outside of Paris, 200 works in all, is just up the street, on the Stanford campus to be precise. The Gates of Hell are there. The Burghers of Calais are there. The Thinker should be there, except it’s on loan until next year. There’s a sculpture garden, open 24 hours a day and lit at night. There are free, guided tours three times a week. I was so happy to learn about this!

I guess even if you’ve known it was there all along, you can at least agree with me that’s, on the list of Bay Area treasures, this is a pretty great one.

January 9th, 2011

Sunshine first turned up around this hotel as a small child. She was six when she moved to the Bay Area with her mother, a tiny, nearly mute girl who you sometimes felt was trying very hard not to smile, no matter how pleased she was. Her official title those days was “boss’ niece” and we saw a lot of her because her mom had come to stay with her sister, our boss, for a bit.

A lot of us that knew her back then are still here, which feels nice to report. Still, I’d say we were all pretty surprised to learn that enough time had passed for her to turn into a beautiful young lady, and a perfect addition to our front desk staff. Bits of childhood shyness have stayed with her; she’s not yet willing to offer lots of herself out to the world. But she’s much more generous with her smile these days. Plus there’s this: When we first met Sunshine, she was called Analise. She says she never liked that name, it never felt good to her, so she found one that made her feel good. This was a bold move. To change her name, a girl would have to have a strong willingness to find her own path in the world, even if she wasn’t so eager to talk about it with everyone who asked. We’re all curious to see where she’ll be in another 10 years. We’re thinking it’ll be pretty interesting, and that we won’t know a thing about it before it happen. As for us, I guess we’ll mostly still be here!

January 9th, 2011

This month I’m going to use this space, normally reserved for talking about restaurants, to tell you about something that’s on the same subject, but a little different: A grocery store! Now, I know that when you’re here with us you are most likely eating all of your meals out. You have no place to prepare food, and, in all likelihood, no time for it anyway. I know. Still, at least for me, when I’m traveling, the thing I end up hating the most is all the garbage I pull out of vending machines or pick up at gas stations, simply for lack of the fresh fruit or carrots or raw (as opposed to soaked in oil, salt and whatever other super trendy flavors) nuts I would have around me if I were in my normal routine. It is with this in mind that I’m telling you about Sprouts. It’s very nearby and it’s a beautiful, healthy grocery store full of organic produce, big, bulk tubs of nuts and sweets, fresh, locally made bread, plus a huge selection of herbal remedies, if that’s your cup of tea.

We’d all like to take better care of ourselves, I think. Travel, especially business travel, can make that really hard. Maybe Sprouts can help a bit.

January 9th, 2011

These days, as they say, green is the new black. I know that this is ultimately good. I know that change on the scale that things need to be changed will not happen unless environmentalism becomes a popular movement and that a popular movement will, inherently, be trendy. But, is it just me or is the word green is starting to sound a bit disingenuous? I even found a website,, purporting to give green marketing advice. It sells its services by telling prospective clients that, “perceptions of environmental, ethical, and social stewardship are the fastest growing contributors to consumer brand value”. Notice the word “perceptions”. Still, I know all of it will lead more to good than to bad, and so I am trying harder to accept it.

But, acceptance on hold for just a moment, I found something just ever so slightly snarky tonight on the Conn Creek Winery website that made me pretty happy. In describing the construction, in 1979, of their Napa Valley winery, they refer to its energy-efficient design as having led to “perhaps the first ‘green’ winery building in Napa Valley”. I love those quotation marks, the acknowledgement that the sensible, cost-reducing choice they made over 30 years ago now makes them seem cool and ahead of their time. A lesser company wouldn’t be self-conscious enough to add that bit of punctuation and while there’s no doubt that this is boastful and pretentious on the part of the Conn Creek Winery, still I love it as a snub to all this green-mania.

The thing is, that little syntactical nose-in-the-air gesture was not a stepping out of character on the part of the Conn Creek Winery. Their wines are kind of over-priced and pretentious. But they’re good too. And you can drink them for free every night, here with us in our bar.