Some time ago, our dear general manager did something that seemed completely crazy to me. Does that not shock you? Well, I guess most of you have met her. Still, this, for me, was too big of a risk. She asked one of our regular guests, someone who not only, himself, was one of this little hotel’s fixtures, but whose company represented kind of a lot of our monthly business, to start painting pictures to hang on our walls. He was asked to work with Silicon Valley’s agricultural history, but otherwise given total freedom, and the first piece was to hang, not small and forgivable in a bathroom, as would maybe be safe for an artistic trial like this, but right over the front desk. Both agreed that if she didn’t like it, it would not be hung, but, really, could both of them really stay cool enough to keep their same old friendly relationship if he worked for months on a painting and that she then rejected? I was not so sure. Luckily, no one ever had to find out. Both parties deemed the project a success, and I’m sure none of you have failed to notice the vivid flashback of a rural past that now greets you when you check in.
And that was just the beginning. Mr. Dwayne Holst now has four paintings up on our walls, with more to come. I’ll bet you can figure out for yourself which ones are his. Plus, she’s now commissioning work from the legendary Pete Escovedo, who stayed here for a few nights last year, to hang in our guest rooms. Of course, it’s his music that he’s known for, not his painting, so I was, again, scared when I heard that she was doing this, convinced that our fearless leader had been seduced by his name. Wrong again! You may already have seen for yourself, or else you will very soon. His work is slowly meandering into more and more rooms, a little band here, an abstract there. They’re simple and lovely, and just personal enough to not be random hotel art.
It’s a fun little game our boss is playing here, finding the artists in our midst. Our humble home away from home is getting denser, more complicated, and our community more interwoven. I’m sorry for being scared. She’s completely right on here.
When my dad was growing up, going to the movies was a pretty big experience. It seems to me that they went in on Saturday at dawn and came out after midnight, having seen the week’s news plus cartoons plus eight or nine features. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I think that what’s true is that it was a pretty magical part of the world, not to mention a huge source of cultural information. Even when I was growing up, going to the movies was something special. VCRs were just sneaking into our lives, but a movie wouldn’t show up in a video store until about six months after its theater release, which is a lifetime in kid years, and, anyway, the gap in quality was enormous. Nowadays it feels almost silly to see a movie in a theater. Everything you want can be pirated off the internet while it’s still in the theater and huge HDTVs make even the big screen redundant. But what about the magic?
Well, let me tell you about San Francisco’s Castro Theater! It’s celebrating its 90th birthday this year, which means that it literally is one of those theaters my dad used to go to. It went through a period of corporate ownership, but now it’s back in the hands of the family that owned it at the start. It’s huge, ornately decorated, with a balcony and a capacity of something like 1,400. There’s an organ that’s played as introductory music, the space that other theaters are now filling with ads. And, now that I’ve at least got you believing that this is a beautiful old theater, let me tell you what’s playing just in the few days following this random day that I happen to be writing to you. Tonight will be a sing-along screening of Grease. Tomorrow there will be a “BFF triple feature”: Clueless, Mean Girls and Heavenly Creatures. The following day it’s an indie animated film festival called Scary Cow. The day after it’s a Muppet Movie/Phantom of the Paradise double feature. Lest you think this is a kids place, next week, which I will skip detailing, seems to have more of a narcotic theme. This is a magnificent, historic relic that’s being programmed with eccentricity and a sense of humor. This is the place to come re-find the magic of going to the movies.
For months and months now I’ve wanted to fill this space with the story of Norman, the man responsible for the revolution in our room service menu and the soon-to-be revolution of our nightly hors d’oeuvres selection. I’ve called and left messages for him, I’ve gotten a few brief moments of live talking, where he makes a date to chat that he then ignores. Once he texted to tell me that he couldn’t talk because he was watching Dancing With the Stars, but he’d call right after. He didn’t. I’ve even seen him from time to time, in person, and he’s promised that we could talk soon…he’d call me. Yeah, right. And so now I’m doing something that I’ve never done here before: I’m writing about someone I haven’t talked to. This won’t be his story, of course, but just what I’ve seen of him. Still, I think he’s a fun guy for you all to know about, though he just will not get it together to call me. This is the difference between a journalist and me!
Norman is just about the most easy, laid back guy you could meet. He went to high school with Jerry, our director of sales and marketing, where he is reported to have slept through classes and parties alike. There’s a photo of him from that time in a suit and tie, with sunlight streaming through an open window, asleep with his head on a piano. Norman. After high school he worked here for a bit as a bellman, drifting in and out of his responsibilities the way he drifted through high school. He was so easy to be around, but was he only just going to be on the lookout for the next cozy nook? Still, there was one other little thing going on with Norman. Every now and then, for example, he would show up for a tailgate party with some crazy concoction that he had had marinating for the last two days. And it would be delicious. He played around like that for a few years, then, finally, he went to cooking school. Now he can be found in a corporate cafeteria that I can’t name, but suffice it to say that some of you reading this will have eaten there. But he was ours first and lucky for us he’s willing to come by from time to time and help us out with our food. Though, yeah, you do have to be able to catch his drift.
If you’re in our neighborhood, poking around for nice experiences, eventually someone will tell you to go to the Rutherford Grill. It’s one of the great and glorious wine country establishment restaurants that everyone is told they “must” go to. Not that it isn’t a great place, but it’s all the way up in the Napa Valley, it’s crazily expensive, getting a table isn’t just a simple little task and in the end you’ll eat a piece of meat and drink a bottle of wine that are merely comparable to the other good meat and wine you’ve had before it. Of course, we’ve all been to places that could be described like that and have felt that they were worth it, but what if you could get the Rutherford experience without all the travel, expense and time? Aha! Suddenly it’s a different story!
The Los Altos Grill, sister to the mighty Rutherford, is just around the corner from our little hotel. Well, around a couple of corners maybe, but in the neighborhood anyway, and close enough that our limo will take you to it. How closely related are they? Well, they’re a part of the same chain. That’s right! The mighty Rutherford belongs to a chain, high end though it may be. Knowing that, I think we can all agree that a trip to the Los Altos Grill can suffice for sampling what this particular chain has to offer, and then maybe when you make the oh-so-worth-it trek to the Napa Valley, you can seek out something a little more specifically local. Well, that’s my advice anyway.
Recently, on a trip to Oregon, I said something very bratty. It’s nice, I said, when I was there, to be away from the cult of California wine. Forgive me, but it was so exciting, at first, to see wines from so many other states on menus. Tons from Oregon, but also Washington, Maine and I can’t remember where else. Other places, anyway, not California. How cool, I thought, to be away from the dominant mainstream, because my own thoughtless ideology says that the unknown underdog must be superior. My exuberance lasted a couple of days, and then, let me tell you, I realized that I was not getting anything all that good. So, I hoped that my little outburst would be remembered only by me and quietly switched over to what the Oregonians really do have a lock on: Beer.
Back home sweet home I am grateful not only to be a member of the cult of California wine, but to have my membership fees waved every time I decide to sit in our own little bar with a glass. This month, to truly celebrate superiority, I’m going with Ridge wines. After all, in the 2006 re-enactment of the infamous Judgment of Paris, where French and California wines, originally pitted against one another in 1976, were revisited to test how they had aged, the Ridge Winery’s Monte Bello cabernet not only won, but was 18 points ahead of the second place wine. That’s pretty convincing, when you think about it. Lesson of the month: Not all dominant paradigms must be subverted.