January 9th, 2012

I remember one time, when I was a little girl, arriving very hungry at a hotel. We had been in a car for hours and hours and hours, but this was a business trip for my mom that we kids were tagging along on, so when we finally got there, she had to go straight to a meeting. For this reason, my brother and I were allowed the exquisite, exotic pleasure of ordering room service. Anything we wanted, we were told. That meant pizza, of course! We were so excited, and so hungry, and then came the knock on the door, and pizza was in the room with us, and then we opened the little box… and it had raw carrots on it.

As you can imagine, this quickly became a difficult situation for everyone. We were so hungry, my brother and I, and now there was no prospect of eating in our future. Which is scary and painful, and meant that Mom was stuck with two crying kids and a meeting to get to. I wonder why this memory has stayed with me all these years. I can still see those shredded carrots today.

Well, one thing is certain, we won’t be pulling any tricks like that on you. Our general manager is, well frankly, too Midwestern for that. When she went to update the room service menu this time around, for example, she got very excited, and adamant, about putting popsicles on it. She’s very proud to offer tater tots as an optional side. Don’t get me wrong, our variety of salads, sandwiches, entrees and deserts is well rounded, assembled by a professional chef and will satisfy a wide range of cravings. The thing is, we just won’t be taking any risks, trying to get trendy, or anything like that. When you order off of our room service menu, you’ll always get what you expected.

January 8th, 2012

When I was growing up, Oakland was getting a lot of notoriety. It was poverty stricken, the crime rate was high and, as this was the dawn of rap, all of the difficulties of life on its streets were being articulated in this new and exciting way. Oakland’s danger took on a gritty glamour in this music, made it mythological to me. Somehow, in those years, it didn’t occur to me that it was the same Oakland I went to to watch A’s games, that normal place just a short little car ride away.

As you may have noticed, Oakland is back in the news again lately. Why it’s the most violent of all the Occupy camps is a question for a sociologist and not anything I want to speculate on here; what I want to say is that, just like when I was a kid, the real Oakland is so much different from what you see on TV. It’s on my mind because it’s on TV, I admit, but it’s because it’s looking so apocalyptic and scary in the news that I want to tell you all to go.

I was there yesterday with my brother. It was sunny, and warm enough to take our jackets off. We walked around Lake Merritt, watching birds and joggers, trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes Oakland feel so comfortable. We talked about its diversity, which feels, in a way that I’ve never seen anyplace else, complete. It’s also in this very sweet spot between urban and suburban, where you feel like you get the good things of each, without any of that pesky alienation. It’s affordable. It’s warm. There are views of the bay and the hills.

I’m asking you to go because it’s one of the treasures of the Bay Area and well worth an afternoon’s trip. I’m asking you to go now because it’s a treasure whose small businesses will suffer in the next months because it looks like Armageddon on the nightly news.

January 7th, 2012

A few weeks ago I went car shopping with a friend. I learned a few things that day, one of which was that I should not go car shopping with a friend if I myself am so terrified by the idea of buying a new car. The other thing I learned is that selling forty cars in two months is a pretty difficult feat for a car salesman. And yet that is exactly what Brian, our bellman, did, in his brief little moment of car salesmanship. Talking to him, it’s not hard to imagine why. He has a slow, deep voice; you kind of have to wait for his words, but it’s worth it because the things he says are, well, fun to listen to, and it seems like he enjoys talking. Plus he has this Hollywood good looks thing going for him, like he could have had a part in one of those Twilight movies if he had been in the right place at the right time.

Brian has been with us for about a year, though it’s his second tour. He left the first time to go back to school, but then he left school because he thought that he should figure out what he wanted out of his schooling. And so he came back to us. Now he’s considering going back to school so that he can figure out what he wants to do. He’s untroubled by the contradiction. Talking to him, actually, I’m not so bothered by it either.

Here’s another little piece of Brian: In high school, he was a part of a performing arts program, a sort of school-within-the-school. He says he had no interest in theater or being an actor or anything to do with the aims of the program, he just liked the people involved in it. And then Mr. Uninterested put together a final project that was so creative, timely and well executed that not only did it earn him an A+, but he still gets excited reliving the details today. And don’t forget those 40 cars in two months. This boy’s got an interesting future ahead of him. For now, though, he’ll be happy to help you with your bags.

January 6th, 2012

Have you ever been to a Thai restaurant that, for some reason, has a sushi menu? How about a Vietnamese place where you can get a hamburger? I once went to a Chinese restaurant where you could also order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am always suspicious of these places. I just don’t believe that a place can authentically represent two different cultures at the same time, and that opinion is generally supported by the generically greasy fare I am served in them. Normally I forgive places like this for two reasons: They are typically very cheap, first. And, second, I will mostly find myself in one only when there is no real other option.

A couple of years ago a bizarre little restaurant showed up in the neighborhood. Its name was Arya and it purported to serve Persian, Italian and American food. As we are surrounded by good food here and as nothing about this place suggested that it would be inexpensive, I assumed that the only relationship I would ever have to it would be to laugh at it when I passed, and for a long time this was true.

Then, a few months ago, they changed their sign. It now refers to itself as a “bar and grill”. They can’t fool me, I thought, it’s still the same culturally uncertain place it always was. It worked on our general manager, though, and she went even though we laughed at her for it. But she came back with stories of delicately balanced sweet and savory rice dishes and a very talented Persian chef with an unstoppable love for Italian cuisine, and demanded that it be written about here.

I went with my heels dragging, but I’m writing to you as a convert. I am sorry for being a judgemental ass. I’m sorry for all the other ways that I am judgemental in my life. I feel a little bit better because I know that they changed their sign because it was putting everyone, not just me, off, but, still. So, go, please, and help atone for my sins.

January 5th, 2012

The last time I was down in our little bar at cocktail hour, our general manager was raving about a sauvignon blanc from a winery called Flora Springs. She was so excited she gave me a bottle before I had even sipped from the glass in front of me, which, when I pointed that out to her, made no impression on the enthusiastic certainty of her gift. Thankfully I did like it because, clearly, there was no way it was not going to be the wine I wrote about this month.

The first thing to know is that the Flora in Flora Springs is a brand new centarian and the matriarch of this family vineyard. The second thing that stands out to me is that the next generation has just taken over. Two of Flora’s grandsons have recently inherited the family business and seem to be taking all the prescribed steps to bring themselves into the modern age. They’ve made, for example, a series of biographical “webisodes” on their grandmother that feature such things as her talking about her daily domino games. They’ve posted their Twitter feed on a page called “socialize”, and so you can see that someone tweeted that “the ’98 @FloraSprings merlot is bad ass”. Which, to their credit, is for sure the first wine I’ve ever recommended to you that came with that review.

It’s all so endearing. This is a now third generation winery that’s holding its own and making some really very nice wines. How to sell those wines is always the question. I love the earnestness of the Flora Springs’ use of all these tools that all of us are being told to use these days. The simple transparency of it reminds me of, well, the honest enthusiasm our general manager felt about their sauvignon blanc, actually.