November 28th, 2011

Filling out comment cards can, at least to me, feel like voting. It’s good to express my opinion, but what power, really, do I have to influence the world around me? Well this month, as proof that the people do have the power, I’m introducing you to our brand new linen re-use program. Some of you are wondering what that has to do with democracy, I know, but lots and lots of you are reading this and understanding that we read your comments and changed our hotel at your suggestion.

It’s the right thing to do, of course. A daily washing of every sheet and towel that makes even the briefest of human contact is as wasteful as you all told us it was. Almost none of you are doing this much laundry at home and we are all going to be intrinsically better people for our participation in this new program. Plus it’s going to save us money, which is itself kind of amazing. So often the pressure to “go green” involves adding to one’s cost of living, making it seem more like fashion for the privileged than a genuine bid to save the world. But I digress, as they say. The point is that, in spite of all the evidence of it being the obvious thing to do, this humble little hotel wasn’t making that change until you told us to. Inertia, habit, laziness and preoccupation with the failing economy are not even all the reasons why not. We just hadn’t gotten there yet. So, thank you! And please come back soon to enjoy this hotel that is now slightly better and slightly more your own.

November 27th, 2011

When people are listing the beautiful places to go in the Bay Area, a little town called Sausalito will often be at the top of the list. A lot of you have probably heard of it and some of you have already been there and so you know that there’s a reason it got so famous. It’s just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, right on the bay, with a view that I recently watched nearly paralyze a couple of German friends I took there. Still, the town of Sausalito itself has become generic and over-commercialized, the way beautiful places that people like to go will.

If this is as tiresome to you as it is to me, here’s my suggestion: Drive to Sausalito. There is only one way in and you’ll get stuck in traffic along the water as your fellow tourists dally about, looking for parking, trying to figure out how their rental cars work, etc., which will give you plenty of time to enjoy that spectacular view of San Francisco. When you’ve had enough, cut into the hills behind the main commercial strip and start looking for a staircase. You’ll have to do a bit of weaving, but eventually you’ll find one and, in the meantime, the hills of Sausalito are a bit like an architecture museum. Parking will be easy up there, I swear, so as soon as you find some stairs, leave your wheels behind and start climbing. At the end of each staircase, you’ll have to cross a street and search a bit for the next, but it’s not very hard and it won’t be long before you cross into a wooded trail. Just a little bit further and you’ll have a view of the bay and the ocean at the same time. This is stunning and maybe enough, but if it’s not, you can follow the path down into the Marin Headlands. I don’t know why all the rest of the tourists aren’t doing this, but, thankfully, they’re not.

November 26th, 2011

Here’s something I never thought about before: The graveyard bell shift is one of the most delicate positions at this hotel. When Buddy, who’s worked that shift for the last three years, explained it to me recently, I was reminded of what a sensitive business we’re in. You come to us to take off your clothes, bathe and sleep; I don’t think that we, as people, are ever more vulnerable than when do those things. So, when we, as a hotel, agree to ensure that you feel completely comfortable and safe with us, it’s a pretty big responsibility we’re taking on. And one that I, the newsletter writer, can almost entirely forget about. As can, I would imagine, a lot of the daytime staff.

Not the graveyard bellman, though. It’s Buddy that’s here when things go wrong in the middle of the night. When you’ve got an important meeting in the morning and you should be sleeping, but something’s gone wrong in your room, as, we admit, does happen from time to time, it’s Buddy who knocks on your door to fix it. Even the managers are sleeping when Buddy’s on duty. He’s a problem solver, a forgiver of crankiness, a forgetter of bad hair. He’s a nice guy who moved to the Bay Area from California’s Central Valley because only McDonald’s was hiring. He’s happy to work through the night, happy with the comfort and security of his work here. He only just wishes that people would remember having signed a paper that said they would not throw parties when he has to come a break those parties up.

November 24th, 2011

If someone told you that, starting today, you had to pick one restaurant and this would be the only place you could eat at for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Careful, though, this should not necessarily be your favorite restaurant, at least in my opinion. My most beloved place to eat out, for example, is The Citrus Club, a little pan-Asian spot in San Francisco. But the last time I was there my noodles were overcooked and mushy and every now and then the tofu tastes like they fry up a huge pile one day out of the week and it’s too bad for you if you’re there the day before that day. Plus the spices give me a stomachache that, because I only go once in a while, seems really worth it, but if I were forced to eat there everyday might get tiresome. I still love it, it’s still my favorite, but it needs to stay special. Do you get what I’m saying?

Of course, the reason I’m asking this question is that I have my own answer prepared. I recently went to a place called Café Torre that was ideal. Not exciting, not wondrous, but pristine. I’ve never had everything on my plate cooked so perfectly before, ever, not in any other restaurant, not in anyone’s home including my own, never. Ditto the dishes of everyone else at my table. Each of our plates carried the textbook definition of the food we had ordered. Not only did I enjoy it immensely, but I believe that, if I only get to eat from one source for the rest of my days, it’s going to be just this lack of idiosyncrasy that’s going to get me through it. Go check it out for yourself and see if you agree.

November 23rd, 2011

As you may have noticed, a part of what I do every month is visit winery websites. I’ve seen quite a few by now and they are almost entirely lovely. They tell stories of family and architecture, of tradition and sustainable agriculture. The owners and winemakers are pictured, alongside tales of the wonderfully successful careers of the former that allowed them to afford their own personal wineries, and a list of the degrees and world travels of the latter that qualify them for these idyllic jobs. This is all great, in my opinion. I love wine and, what’s more, I love this culture of boutique wineries that I am so privileged to live in the neighborhood of, so I’m happy for the success of the people who make it happen.

Today, though, I found something on a winery website that I’ve never seen before and, because I’ve now seen it, suddenly I’m aware of its absence on any other winery’s self-profile. The St. Clement winery has, among photos of all its crops and facilities and staff, two photos of the farmworkers who pick their grapes. The transparency and candor of that inclusion, simple though it is, are kind of moving to me. Silly me, maybe, but I feel like if those men are being highlighted as the important part of the winemaking process that they are, perhaps they’re being respected in other ways too. Of course, I know nothing about the farmworkers at any other winery and very little about the ones at St. Clement. Still, I feel like I know a bit now, and a bit more than I know about any other winery, and that bit seems good.