March 29th, 2013

I recently caught myself in yet another iteration of using technology to tear apart the moral fabric of society. It took me a couple of times, because each individual time seemed just fun and innocent, to realize how evil this new practice of mine really is. I’m going to tell you about it, even though I’m a little ashamed, just because I think that maybe it’s not just me who’s using their smart phone in this way and I think that we should all just agree to knock it off.

The first time I was with my stepmother. Her daughter had passed a handbag along to her that she, my stepmother, didn’t want. She wanted to know if I wanted it, but she also wanted to let me know that she felt a little crazy about just handing it off because her daughter, who had received it as a gift, had told her that the thing was worth $1,500. We both just sat there, then, looking at the thing in awe, neither of us having ever owned a bag that cost $1,500. But then I got suspicious. How could such a costly bag be getting handed around like this? Granted, my stepmother’s daughter runs in an excess-cash kind of a crowd, but still it seemed like too big an item to just be handed around. Plus, the thing was just really ugly. So, I did a simple, easy little thing. I looked at the tag and googled it. A few seconds later, we knew it had cost $250.

That time didn’t feel so bad, and maybe still doesn’t. Yeah, a little of the magic got stolen away, but at least we stopped treating an ugly zebra striped purse with undue reverence. This second time that I’m going to tell you about, this is the one where I realized that I was crossing a line I would do well to stay clear of. I was, again, with my stepmother and she had gotten a fancy box of chocolates from a neighbor. She was really excited and flattered to have a gift that, to her, was so exotic and decadent, and a part of that excitement was speculating on how much the neighbor had spent on the box. And it was so easy. Again I typed in the brand and looked for the quantity and a moment later we knew that it was a $45 box of candy. Sucking away that magic was a little sadder. We both just sat there, feeling like the thing was a little less special, not because it hadn’t cost enough, but because it had suddenly become so known and so attainable.

I’m not googling the cost anything I get from anyone, no matter what, ever again.

March 25th, 2013

Today I have some news that’s almost exciting, but then kind of fails. Prince, the real live elfin genius, is coming to play at a little tiny club in San Francisco. It’s called the DNA Lounge and, as any of you who’ve ever been there can attest to, it’s possible that 400 people can fit in the place. Maybe. But it’s also possible that it’s not even that big. He’s doing 4 shows, though, so a fair number of people are going to be able to be a part of this. I like Prince, but I’m not the kind of fan who’s going to pay $250 to go see him, which is what the tickets cost. I immediately thought of my mother, though, who got really excited and tried to jump on it. It was 3pm when I found out and told her. Tickets had gone on sale at 1pm. All four shows were sold out. Which is, I suppose, the way it should have gone. This is a big opportunity, seeing him play such a small venue, and the only people who’re going to get to be there are the ones who’re tapped in enough to Prince’s comings and goings that they knew they needed to be on the phone, or online, or wherever, at 1pm today. The truest of the true die hard fans, in other words.

But then I thought I might mention it here. Maybe one or another of you is a crazy Prince superfan. And we all know that there’s a big difference between a show selling out and not being able to find tickets to it. Just to let you know, then, if any of your ears are pricked up, the shows are at the end of April. Who knows what StubHub or craigslist might turn up over the next few weeks? Happy hunting.

March 20th, 2013

Here’s a funny little thought that our general manager was rolling around the other day: How much of the technology that we at the hotel use every day was developed by someone who we feed and house a couple of days out of every month? Without getting specific, I can look around at just what I’m using right this moment and know that the answer is a lot. And much of what I’m using, I’m using because I’ve talked to one or another of you and have been seduced by the particular qualities of a product that you, or your company, has made.

And, as those of you non-tech regulars are protesting to yourselves right now, gadgetry is only the most obvious starting point of this conversation. Through our customers, there are those of us who’ve learned all we ever might want to know about citrus fruits, the superiority of Italian motorcycles, robots performing surgery and much more.

I suppose this is just one of those moments where we get to brag about this business we’re in. The contact that we get to have with such a wide range of worldly ventures is, at the risk of sounding cliché and cheesy, such a great way for each of us as individuals to learn about fields that we have no real right to have access to. At the very least it makes us, if we pay attention, smarter consumers. For some of us it even broadens our ideas about what’s possible in life.

How about you? What have you gone out and bought after talking to someone you met in our bar? If the answer is nothing, I’d say you need to strike up a conversation or two. You never know who you’re sitting next to.

March 20th, 2013

For years there was movie house in Oakland called the Parkway Theater that everyone always talked about. It was small, apparently, with screens probably just a little bigger than what some people have got in their living rooms these days. And, actually, it seems it was meant to feel like a living room. There were couches instead of traditional movie theater seats and they sold beer and wine at the concession stand. I think there was pizza too. People loved it and I never went once in all the years I heard my friends raving about it and then it closed. I go by it every now and then, and there it still sits, its marquee calling out, “We love you Oakland,” though Oakland seems to have failed to love it back.

Suddenly now, though, there’s this place downtown Oakland called the New Parkway and it seems to be everything its predecessor ever was, with maybe a slightly cooler, and so hopefully more sustainable, location. It’s both a movie house and a café, and everything from the café can be taken with you into the movie. The selection of movies is pleasantly eccentric. Tonight, for example, you could go see Lincoln, that new zombie movie called Warm Bodies, or one of two documentaries. Oh, and I guess the café is where they’re counting on their money coming from because all movies are $6, except for the one of the documentaries that’s free.

I guess it’s obvious that I’m recommending that you go to someplace I’ve never myself been, but, if it helps at all I feel very foolish for never having gone to the Parkway Theater’s first incarnation and I will very, very shortly be heading out to this new version. I think you should too.

March 19th, 2013

On a recent blustery afternoon, as our plans for outdoor adventuring were being washed away by the rain, a friend and I decided to drive up through the North Bay for a bit. We took Highway 1, passing through Fairfax and San Anselmo and a couple of other absurdly cute little towns, with no particular destination in mind. We got to Point Reyes and talked about stopping. Because Point Reyes is such a destination spot, and because we had accidentally arrived there, it seemed like a fine enough communal idea to fall into. But we weren’t quite ready, so we drove on a little bit further, really just about ten minutes more, and came upon a place called Nick’s Cove.

Maybe we only stopped because after Point Reyes it seemed like stopping was the thing to do, because there was nothing in particular about Nick’s Cove that was so very different from any of the other roadside places we had been seeing. But it was perfect; a lonely little wooden restaurant, surrounded by an inn and a few vacation homes, with windows overlooking the northern end of the bay. It felt like we had gone back in time. It felt like we were on some remote edge of the eastern seaboard, which we both agreed on even though, admittedly, neither of us knows anything about the east coast except what we’ve learned from literature and movies. We ate fish and chips and drank rose and walked out on a rickety old pier and felt like we were standing on a far corner of the earth. All that and we were home before it was dark.

If we’re lucky, which it seems like we might be, it’ll be raining for the next few weeks. April showers and all that. If you find yourself here on a rainy weekend looking for something to do, give Nick’s Cove a try. Come to think of it, it might even be nice without the rain.

March 18th, 2013

Last month our big employee announcement was the return of Sunshine, the little ray of light behind who sits, again, behind our front desk. It wasn’t mentioned last time, though I think it had been mentioned before, that she, who is so genuinely loved and was so happily welcomed back, is also our general manager’s niece. And, as many of you well know, this is not the only case of blatant nepotism here at our little hotel. Our general manager hires her family rampantly, and when she’s employed all the relatives who’ll have her, she moves on to their friends. It’s not just her own family either; the family of nearly every other manager here is, to put it mildly, at least represented on the staff. This hotel is practically tribal.

Occasionally our general manager will get a little slack for this behavior. Nepotism is kind of a dirty word, after all, implying that positions haven’t been earned and that the potential function of an organization is being watered down. She’ll defend herself to the end every time, saying that she’s hiring people she knows she can trust and that there’s greater accountability this way. Still it rankles the modern American sensibilities we’re all carrying around, and besides that it just seems a little unfair.

Today, though, I read a little blurb on nepotism, written by a professor of business ethics, who talked about the argument Max Weber made against nepotism. According to this guy, James Fisher, Weber was anti-nepotism because family ties could “thwart the development of more impersonal social networks essential for modern business organization and practice.” Yikes! Isn’t the impersonal nature of modern business, like, killing our souls? Sorry, that’s a bit strong. At the very least, I know for certain that a hotel shouldn’t be run according to a philosophy of de-personalization. I write this feeling much better about our interwoven, unabashedly familial, tribal, non-modern business.

March 17th, 2013

Arriving at the restaurant a friend had chosen for her birthday dinner a few weeks ago, I was a little perplexed. It was all the way in Palo Alto, which is not so very far, but it does take a little effort to get there and when we finally arrived it looked, well, really average. It was on the kind of street that’s so full of shops and restaurants that I never understand how people choose one over the other. Especially since, once inside, you can so often find yourself choosing between the same steak with mashed potatoes or chicken with roasted potatoes that every place on the block is offering. As there are plenty such places to be found 10 minutes away, I did not know why we had driven 25 to get to just another bistro.

But, to my surprise, Joya is different. Tapas are their thing and we were a big group, so we got to try lots and lots of their things; everything we chose off their menu, which is an eclectic mix of Spanish, Mexican and modern American anything goes, was a delight. I don’t know how my friend ever found this place, because it sits there just as lackluster, from the outside, as all the rest, but the zany rainbow of colors it we got to eat through that night were a wonderful surprise.

I wonder if this should make me wonder about all the other places I am still judging without trying, but that’s a question for another day. Go give Joya a try, we’ll discuss the rest later.

March 16th, 2013

The Blue Rock Vineyards are all about size. Tiny, small, modest, to them, are synonymous with individual, personal and unique, which actually doesn’t sound so foreign or crazy, but it’s just not what we’re typically told by wineries that may be perfectly happy to invest in their small businesses, but would not be so unhappy to see those little ventures grow up and out, either.

Blue Rock is different in that it is the second career of a man who worked in finance and wanted to be, not a winemaker, but an artist. Where others seem to come into this out of an interest in farming, in the land, in the history or tradition of viticulture, Nikitas Magel came in because he got fascinated with the beauty of a single bottle of wine and wanted to learn to do that as intricately and gorgeously as a painter wants to paint on a single canvas. He tells a story about a man he knew once, not a wine maker but a wine collector, who collected because he loved the wine and started selling them because it had become impossible for him to drink them all. I suppose Magel would style himself in the same fashion, only selling his wines because he’s made a few too many for personal consumption. Of course, where he professes admiration for this man he learned from selling his rare wines for $2 a bottle, he sells his own artistic excess for $45-$100 a bottle. Lucky for you, we’re giving it away for free here in our bar, as you know, from 5-7pm every night.

March 15th, 2013

It’s a little late to be passing on this information, I know, but I just right now learned that Downtown Campbell has an art walk. Do you all know about this phenomenon? They’ve been happening for the last few years in San Francisco and Oakland. Once a month, a neighborhood will open its doors for local artists to show their work and for the community to walk through and see what their neighbors are up to. It’s a giant street party, it’s a chance for artists looking for an audience to have their work seen, and it’s a way for a community to coalesce. I don’t know, maybe this has been happening in Campbell for as long as anywhere else and I only just got invited to it today, but to me it’s exciting to see the South Bay, which tends more to suburban isolation, get into some community action.

The thing is, it’s on the third Friday of every month, which means that it’s starting in just a couple of hours. I’m pretty sure that this is not enough notice for most of you. It’s not enough notice for me, in fact. Still, it seemed like a good idea to plant the thought in your minds now, because it happens on the third Friday of every month and because the days, from now on, are just going to get longer and warmer and prettier and some third Friday, maybe, you’ll be here in town and you’ll remember about this street party you heard about and there it will be, this lovely little treat waiting for you.

March 12th, 2013

My favorite thing that ever happened to me while traveling happened in Berlin. It’s strange, in a way, to tell it as a travel story, because it could just has well have happened in San Francisco, but it didn’t and so it’s a story about Berlin.

I was in this great pizza place near the canal in Kreutzberg, run by Italians who deal with the linguistic conflict in Berlin between German and English by running their business in Italian. But the beer they serve is German sized and after a couple of huge steins I found myself in need of the ladies room. I followed some signs and was led through a door into a heavily graffitied hallway. It was hard to pick through the chaos of the walls to understand if this was, in fact, where I was going to find the bathroom, so I poked timidly along. At the end, though, I found a door that said “herren”. The mens room! I turned around and saw that just next to the door I had come in was another door labeled “damen”. Mystery solved! I headed toward it, but just as I got there, the first door was pushed open and I had to jump to avoid being hit. I had been so engrossed in the solitude of my bathroom puzzle that another person coming in shocked me. I screamed and I looked at this man who had just accidentally scared me so badly, and he looked at me and we both started laughing. And then he went into the mens room and I went into the ladies room.

I took my time. There was a ton of graffiti in there too and I was trying to sift through all the languages, seeing what I could understand, what I could at least identify. I held my hands under the warm water for a bit longer than necessary, I remember. And when I came out, that same guy jumped out and screamed at me. I was shocked, again, and I screamed, again and then we both cracked up laughing, again! That man waited for me to come out of the bathroom so that he could scare me. He didn’t know me at all. We didn’t even speak the same language. I could have gotten angry, or just not thought that that was funny. There could have been another woman in there, some third person, and she could have come out first and gotten pounced on. It was a bold action and I love so much that he took that risk and gave me that bizarre little anecdote.