Not to be a bummer, but isn’t this the worst time of the year? The holidays are gone, New Year’s resolutions have already been broken, it’s cold outside and the days are still short. We’re supposed to get cheered up, I guess, by things like Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but, really, who cares? This time of year, in my opinion, cannot pass fast enough. I’m sick of movies, sick of fires, sick of hot cocoa! What can we do?
Well, ok, maybe it’s not really so desperate. There are always things to do to cheer yourself up. One of the best blues beating choices around here is Rooster T Feathers, friendly neighborhood comedy club. The therapeutic qualities of laughter are pretty undisputed, so it’s kind of like going to a health club. Plus, though the hit-or-miss nature of some comedy clubs can make venturing into one a little scary, I swear to you that Rooster T’s lineup is almost unwavering in its quality. And, to top it all off, as some of you already know, our guests get in free! That’s right, what we’re offering is free therapy! It’s times like this that I can look people in the eye and say that I work for the best hotel on the planet!
California’s wineries were built in the days of martini lunches. Men, and the occasional lucky lady, going out to lunch at, well, lunchtime, having multiple martinis and then returning to finish their workday. And may I remind us all that this was long before the advent of the designer martini and whereas today yours might be softened with a splash of this or that fruit juice, the old-school style meant you were just drinking a glass or two of gin. Scary to think of the “work” that followed, for sure, but how about just the simple fact that all of those people were driving to and from those lunches!
But, so, the famed Napa Valley wineries, and the idea of day long wine tastings, were born in this same era. It’s a beautiful valley and really super lovely to drive from one to the next, sampling a few things at each. Except after a while you start to realize that that stuff’s alcoholic! Which even might seem ok-ish, until you, our guests, realize that you and your rental car need to be thinking about the two hour drive from the Napa to the Silicon Valley.
My suggestion? Mt. St. Helena! It’s the highest peak in the wine country. It features a wide, very well maintained path all the way up to its not-actually-really-so-high summit, perfect for wobbling your way up with very minimal risk of twisted ankles and the like. Plus views along the way that are (sorry I can’t resist) sobering. It’s the perfect way to round off a round of wine tasting.
One of the scariest parts of this financial crisis, for me, has been thinking of the individuals who, if not made it happen, at least allowed it to happen. Lenders who targeted low-income families, bankers who took risks with abstract interests that were the livelihoods of real people, and all of them thinking only of their own profits. Is this what became of the American dream? Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps at whatever cost, assuming that only a select few will get the privilege of wealth and that it’s each man’s responsibility to either win or lose that race.
It feels good, then, to talk to our bellman, Luis. With the whole world open for him to choose from, and parents encouraging him to find what he needed, he decided to train to be a corrections officer. Having visited prisons since his schooling began, he agrees that he’s heading into a rough life, but his experience has led him to believe that the insides of those institutions need more compassion and that he’s capable of doing the job, so he signed up to learn how. It’s not just that it’s not the most financially rewarding job that makes that such an admirable choice, it’s that he has decided to live, everyday, in a place of emotional stress, because he did some research, then looked at himself, and decided that this was needed and that he could handle it. If more of us Americans exercised our much-touted freedom like Luis, maybe the world wouldn’t be such a big mess today.
For years people have been telling me that I should write to you about Birk’s. So much so that I thought I already had, though I can’t find it anywhere, which makes it kind of seem like I only ever just meant to get around to it someday. The thing is that if I did write about it, it would probably not have been very convincing because I don’t personally get why people like it so much. People love it. My family loves it, my co-workers love it, my friends love it. And I’ve just never really understood why. I have not eaten anything there that can I even remember, and I don’t find the atmosphere to be anything beyond the absolute average large room where people in work clothes can come and pay too much to eat and drink very normal food.
Recently, however, my brother gave me a very impassioned speech about the pepper steak at Birk’s. It’s like a religious experience for him, something he saves for very special occasions when he really deserves the best that life has to offer. And then I understood what’s been so inexplicable all this time. The thing is, I don’t remember the last time I ate a steak, and the last time I enjoyed one was long before that even. Birk’s is a place for steak lovers, of which I am not one. But maybe you are, in which case this is very exciting information that I’ve been accidentally withholding from you for a very very long time. Sorry for that!
After these few years that I’ve spent writing to you about California’s many wineries there is something that I would like to say: To be born into a winemaking family must be among the greatest fates known to man. If I believed in things like karma and reincarnation, I would have to say that the heirs to these operations must have brilliant, shiny, clean souls. As I read about one after the other family owned and operated winery I have to admit, finally, that it makes me crazy with envy.
And, yeah, I’m sure in every case there are the stereotypical complications of working with family. Some form of resistance to following a pre-determined path, maybe, or else the special tensions you can only find when blood is shared. But, come on, then Dad pours out a bottle of something extra special that will never be found in a store, takes the rebellious little brat out onto a patio overlooking one of the world’s most beautiful, bountiful valleys and lets the ideas of natural wonder and eternal job security mingle with ever-so-slight intoxication. Done. And, oh, how I wish that that resistor were me!
Just look at the Bogle Winery, for example. Patty Bogle, owner and winery manager. She seems to be the mother. Warren Bogle, president, vineyard manager and oldest child. Jody Bogle, customer affairs, international sales, wine club manager and middle child, the only girl. And, finally, Ryan Bogle, vice president and the baby of the family. All the children are well-educated, advanced degrees galore, and all of them returned home to let those educations serve the family business. These jobs never were and never will be available to anyone outside the family, the only way in is birth and none of us happened to be lucky enough.
At the end of this tirade I’m glad, at least, to have a job that allows me to drink their wine for free. You can too, whenever you’re here staying with us!