Most of us who work here at this little hotel are more or less always glad that we have no giant corporate overlords. There are no brand standards to adhere to, no weird rules that stink of bureaucracy and hang like lead weights around real life. Plus it just feels better, you know, philosophically. Maybe we don’t think of it everyday, but it’s a general feeling that we all carry around with us.
Every now and then, though, we get a shining, glorious example of just how sweet our freedom is. Now is one of those times.
It started a few years ago with a harebrained idea from our general manager. As these things usually do. “I want our keys to be like baseball cards,” she said. “Yeah, whatever,” we said, no knowing what that meant and thinking, anyway, that it would pass. Well, it didn’t pass and eventually someone had to figure out what she meant and how to get it done and now, finally, we have what turns out to be the most fun new addition to our business in a long time: Employee key cards. From now on, when you check in, your key will feature the smiling face of someone on our staff. The first round is all front desk, bell staff and bartenders, but soon enough everyone who works here will be on a card. The full vision will be complete when you, our guests, start collecting them and trading amongst yourselves for favorites. Why she thinks it’s a good idea to make key cards that no one wants to turn in is a little unclear, but, really, they are kind of amazing. Come see for yourself.
My mom grew up before video games and texting and the internet. Before cable TV and reality TV and endless reruns of everything. Plus she was somewhere out in the Midwest. She had nothing. And so, she says, she and her brothers and sister would go to the airport to watch people come and go. Needless to say this was also before 9/11 and they could actually just sit at gates and stare at the passengers getting on and off the planes. Fun times, I’m sure. They were especially transfixed, she remembers, by the Californians, all “weirdos” as she recalls, though this was still the 50s and I wonder what that even meant. Were the men were waiting an extra week to trim their hair? Were the ladies not wearing gloves on the planes?
Still, people watching is kind of a time-honored practice and if it’s something you enjoy, there’s no better place for it than Dolores Park on a sunny weekend. Since my mom was watching the Californians who could afford air travel back in the 50s, San Francisco has been through the cultural revolution of the 60s, allowed the infamous Castro district to rise from its loins, let the dot com-ers redefine professional standards and spawned Burning Man. It is, today, a unique haven for people who want the freedom to look, act and be exactly what they choose, and think it’s possible that the choices they make might scare their families. And all those people go to Dolores Park when the sun comes out. It’s a beautiful, eclectic parade of fashion and culture and these few weeks, spring, are kind of a sweet spot for it. The sun is sparkling and the air is warm and San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the whole world, until the chill of the summer fog rolls in and everyone goes back inside and gets depressed.
At this hotel, our employees come to us, as you may have noticed, from lots of different places and for lots of different reasons. It’s a great transitional job and most people working here sought it out because it gave them something that they needed on their path to or from someplace else. Not so for Guadalupe! Miss Guadalupe started working here because she was bored. That’s right. As it happens, Lily, our front desk manager, is also her cousin and so when Guadalupe was complaining of boredom a year ago, Lily said something like, “Hey, if you’re bored, I’ve got something you can do.”
Don’t get me wrong, we’re super lucky to be taking advantage of Guadalupe’s ennui. She’s studying to be a nurse, she says, because she feels called to help people and is unafraid of the more gruesome aspects of that job. So when you come to check in and it’s Guadalupe who greets you, you’ve got someone who both loves service and will never see the problems that arise at a hotel as more than what she can handle. Plus she laughs easily. It’s great for us that she got bored.
It’s fine, too, if once she becomes a nurse she still finds herself bored on the weekends. If we fill a void in her, we’ll be very happy to continue on into the future.
Everybody likes a bit of truth in advertising, no? Well, here’s a moment of it from me to you. Normally I get to choose the things I write about here. I go out and about in the world and when I go someplace I like, I write about it. Yes, sometimes I get suggestions from the boss lady, things that she’s liked and would like for me to write about, but I’ve never been asked to write about a place I didn’t like. Until now.
El Pollo Loco is a fast food chain. Worse, it’s a fast food chain that purports to be healthy. And while, ok, it may be healthiER, going there everyday for lunch does not give you all the benefits of eating well, without the hassle of going to the grocery store and preparing your own food. But, unfortunately, I think this is how at least one person, who happens to be in a position of power over me, treats it.
You, our guests, are not our general manager, though. When you are home, I’m sure that all of you do your best to eat nutritious, balanced meals, preferably organic and local, and always home cooked. When you’re with us, you’re in an inconvenient position. No kitchen, no easy way to go shopping. You need a way to try to maintain your good, healthy standards, but realistically. It’s ok with me if El Pollo Loco gets on your list of possible solutions. It’s even ok if you go there everyday while you’re here, since there are so many more days when you’re not here. But, please, if you’re talking to my boss and it happens to come up, please just remind her that things that seem to be too good to be true, mostly are.
The Freemark Abbey Winery has such an austere name. It feels ancient. It conjures ideas of monks brewing beer in the Middle Ages. It makes us think of the grand simplicity of the old world. Why hadn’t I heard of monks who were making wine, I wondered. And I had never known about anything of the sort happening in California’s wine country. These are the things that I expected to be learning about when I went to look into the Freemark Abbey Winery.
Instead I discovered that when this winery was re-opened after prohibition, its owners were Charles Freeman, Markquand Foster and Abbey Ahem, who put their names together and found that it sounded good. In answer to this they say, today, that, “many consider (their) library wines a religious experience.” I love this. This is the spirit of the new world, American upstart-ism at its finest. Less than 40 years later the Freemark Abbey Winery was the only California winery selected to send both a red and a white wine to compete in the infamous Judgment of Paris tasting of 1976. In which, of course, there was not a single French victor.
My patriotism now in a rare state of arousal, I think I’ll celebrate with a glass of their famous Cabernet Sauvignon. Will you join me?