April 30th, 2013

Have any of you noticed, lately, what appears to be a bizarre fashion trend for cars? That is, an inordinate number of cars are suddenly wearing pink mustaches. I had been passively noticing it for a while, weeks, but maybe even months, without paying much attention. I thought it was a trend, and that I would eventually walk into some dumb boutique where I could turn my nose up at the chance to buy my very own.

The other night, though, I met a guy who was talking about having recently started “driving”. Do you drive a taxi? I asked. Sort of, he responded, and thus I learned about Lyft. Turns out all those mustachioed vehicles are identifying citizen taxi drivers, accessible via an app. Anyone can sign up to be a driver and anyone can sign up to get a lyft.

The driver I met talked about this being a great service because taxis around here won’t go to certain neighborhoods, which is true, and because so often the drivers are unfriendly bordering on hostile, which has not actually been my experience. The city is concerned about loss of revenue, of course, but claims also to be concerned that Lyft drivers don’t have any anti-discrimination policies to be beholden to, which kind of rings false in my ears. Personally, I don’t care so much about this debate. I’m just glad to know what those stupid mustaches are all about and I thought there might be one or two of you out there who would feel the same.

April 25th, 2013

A week ago I went out, finally, after months and months of intention, and bought myself a bike. It’s perfect. It’s a hybrid, so I get just the right amounts of lightness, quickness and durability for the way I like to ride around the city. It’s green, black and silver, which somehow makes me feel very cool. It, basically, is exactly the bike I was dreaming of going out and buying and now I actually have it.

I did it at just the right time, too. The weather has been perfect; warm, with just enough of a breeze to make doing a little work feel good. Everything is green and blooming and sparkling with new life and riding through it all feels, for lack of less dorky word, kind of wondrous.

And with that preface, I have a rumor to share with you. I’ve heard that someone at this hotel has been shopping around for bikes. That is, the way I hear it, sometime in the not-so-distant future, this hotel is going to have a cache of bicycles for guests to borrow. Now, this is still just in the whispering phase, so there’s no timeline that I’m aware of and it’s entirely possible that someone, somewhere is going to show our general manager a liability clause that’ll irrevocably turn her away. Then again, it just might be the case that by summer’s end you all will be cruising around in the warm California air, just like I’ve been doing lately. And if it doesn’t come together until winter, well, don’t worry. It’s warm then too.

April 20th, 2013

Life has been pretty good at this hotel lately. Our rooms have a steady stream of guests, our bar is full of laughter and life almost every night, and mornings see who-knows-what kinds of important business decisions being made around our little breakfast tables. Spring is quickly turning to summer, after work swims will soon be an enticing option, as will taking your evening cocktail out to watch the swimmers. The internet is working. We’re in one of those sweet spots that you get every now and then, everything’s kind of going well.

And yet, even now, insecurity creeps in. Yes, our rooms are full, and, yes, that makes it seem as if you all want to stay here with us. But Silicon Valley has the number one economy in the nation right now, so it’s possible that our little hotel is full because hotels in general are full, and not because anyone’s choosing us in particular. And, yes, our bar is full and bustling every night and that makes it look like it’s fun and cool to come here for a drink at night. But, then, we’re giving away free alcohol, which is not unlike paying the cool kids to hang out with us at lunch and, ultimately, it’s equally alienating.

What am I asking for? What will pacify these nagging insecurities and give us our Sally Field moment, that is, a chance to think you really like us? It’s so simple, really. Just like us on Facebook. A moment of your time and this hotel will drop its shoulders, puff out its chest and stand proudly in the world. Please?

April 19th, 2013

Failing to find my own words today, I’m going to quote Gandhi, via George Takei: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty the ocean does not become dirty.”

Watching the interview with Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the bombing suspects, I could not help but think of my own great grandparents who found refuge here in America from their own hostile homeland and were as grateful for the lives they were able to make here as this man so clearly is.

And then the ubiquitous Mr. Rogers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I hesitate to repeat that because I’m so clearly just copying everyone on the internet, but, still, watching a video, this morning, of an ER doctor in Boston talking about how, when the city got put on lockdown, he understood it was time for him to go to work, there was that quote in my mind.

Weeks like these make it easy to turn against people in general, or against groups of people that are not our own. It’s easy to let fear and paranoia invade us. I’m going to try to do something harder and just keep believing.

April 19th, 2013

The weather, lately, has turned almost sickeningly beautiful. The hills are green and kind of glowing, the sky is a perfect, uninterrupted blue, any flower planted anywhere is practically jumping up and down, screaming for attention. California is, at this moment, a cliché of itself. It is time, friends, to get outside.

But what if you’re not the outdoorsy type? I know there are those of you who would not dream of a hike and yet feel guilty for staying inside when all of nature is flaunting herself so wildly. Sure, there’s the pool, but what if you want a little adventure? Where is your middle ground?

I’m not sure, but it’s possible that what you’re looking for can be found at the Pruneridge Golf Course. California is known for its spectacular, world-class golf courses and this is not one of them, but it’s nearby and everyone is welcome. It’s only nine holes, so you won’t be stuck forever and ever out there, but, still, you’ll have a guided walk through a well-manicured park, with a semi-interesting project to occupy yourself with along the way. And drinking beer as you go seems to be not just permitted but encouraged.

Obviously, this could be mildly offensive to any serious golfers and I apologize if I’ve just casually degraded something you love. Golf, I know, can be an intricate game of precision and balance. But it can also be a relaxing way for laypeople to traipse through an afternoon of sunshine and, if I may, the Pruneridge Golf Course is more for those of us who fall into the latter category.

April 18th, 2013

When Olivia, who now works behind our front desk, graduated from high school, she was confused about what she wanted to do with her life. Surprised? I’m guessing no. This is the story of nearly every one of my under-30 coworkers, our little hotel serving as a nice, warm incubator for those who know they are headed somewhere, but just need a little more time to find the starting line. Olivia, though, 18 and unsure, did something you have not yet read about in this little newsletter: She moved to Sierra Leone for a year to work on a farm.

She says that being there taught her about simplicity and that coming back to life in the American suburbs was a little confusing. She’s 20 now and she’s been with us for a little over a year, meaning that she came to us just a couple of months after leaving Africa. This hotel, she says, has been great for her because she loves to be connected to all the travelers. She sees more travel in her future and, in the mean time, values the connections to an international life that she can make through you, our guests.

In the mean time, as she was transitioning from African field work to Silicon Valley hotel work and found herself still confused about a larger pathway, her mother persuaded her to go through a dental hygienist course, so that she would have a career. She now cleans people’s mouths during the week, learning from that that there are things that she most certainly will not be choosing to do with her life long term, and comes here on the weekends. Her dream is to move back to Africa. She says she will live there permanently as soon as she can figure out how. Until then, we’ve got her and she’s got us.

April 17th, 2013

As mentioned previously, what we’re experiencing right now is get your butt outside kind of weather and, in that spirit, this month I’m not giving you a restaurant to go sit inside of but, rather, another local farmer’s market to check out. This one is on Sunday mornings and it can be found in San Jose’s Japantown, which is a nice little cultural enclave to explore all by itself.

It’s a whole Sunday that I’m proposing, actually. You sleep in a little then get up and have a leisurely breakfast with us. Around noon, you meander over to Japantown where you lunch on hummus, maybe dipped with organic carrots from the next stand over. (I know. I’m recommending that you go to Japantown for Middle Eastern food, but, listen, this is really good hummus.) After your farmer’s market needs have been sated, you’ve got an afternoon in “one of the last three remaining authentic, historic Japantowns left in the United States”. There’s a beautiful, old Buddhist church, as well as a brand new mural project. And, of course, there are shops full of cute stuff. There should be enough to keep you occupied until it’s time for the big decision: Come back to the warm embrace of our open bar, or stay in Japantown for a glass of cold sake? In this I can’t guide you.

April 16th, 2013

We’ve recently started, in our bar, serving wines from the Swanson Winery, which seems to be a very interesting operation. There are two winemakers on board, men who represent very different aspects of contemporary winemaking. The first is Chris Phelps, a California native who, early in his life, became a devout Francophile. He studied at the Institute of Enology at the University of Bordeaux and then worked as a winemaker in the Bordeaux. On returning to California, he worked at a few different wineries, but when he came to Swanson it was to dive back into his dedication to merlot, the biggest red variety in Bordeaux. He’s a minimalist who prefers to grow and harvest the grapes perfectly and then do a minimal amount of technical intervention during the winemaking. Old school French, in other words.

Marco Capelli, by contrast, is more of an innovator. Yes, he studied in the old world, crediting the Italians with teaching him that wine is food and an important part of the daily meal. He also, though, went to Australia to study their techniques which, apparently, evolved parallel to, but relatively uninfluenced by, their European counterparts. He was thus able to bring cutting edge innovation to Swanson, an example of which is that in 1992 he started making sweet wines, becoming one of the only, if not the only, sweet wine specialist in the country.

So, there you have it. You have the option of a refined merlot made the ancient way, or the rare experiment of an American dessert wine, both from the same winery. But, then, since it’s free when you’re with us, you might just want to try both!

April 16th, 2013

Around this time of year, when the days are getting longer and longer and the nights are staying warmer and warmer, I start craving all of my favorite summertime coolers. On Friday, for example, I had my first shandy of the year. It was kind of a surprise to want it because the idea of asking for a glass filled half with lemonade and half with beer had not once occurred to me since last summer, as if I had forgotten it existed. Suddenly, though, finding myself baking under a hot sun, it popped right into my head.

Now that I’ve had that shandy, they’re all coming back to me. White wine spritzers are another big love of mine. I know it’s offensive to some people to pour sparkling water into a nice glass of wine, but, then, the good thing about a spritzer is that a nice wine is not necessarily required. And, really, it’s such a nice lunchtime treat on a hot day when the sun is trying to bog you down.

The new one that I learned last summer in Europe is the Aperol spritz. You all are probably way more worldly than me and, so, may be old friends with this bitter, bubbly beauty, but for those who have yet to make its acquaintance, this is the bitter orange Aperol mixed with a bit of prosecco and a bit of sparkling water to make a light, effervescent cocktail that is the color of sunset and is best enjoyed while watching it.

That’s the list that’ll get me through the summer. What’s on yours?

April 11th, 2013

Here’s something you might want advance warning on if you’re making plans for any Bay Area road tripping: From now on you can no longer pay the toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on site. This is not to say that there is no longer a toll to cross the bridge, there’s just not going to be anyone there to take your money anymore. Instead, you have to either open an account that automatically charges your credit card whenever you cross a Bay Area bridge, or go online and make a one-time payment with each crossing. As I write this, it doesn’t seem so bad. Going online to make the payment is easy; I’m already really appreciative whenever I can do it at a parking meter. No one will have to worry about whether they can scrounge enough change to make it through anymore, which was getting increasingly problematic as we have less and less reason to carry any cash at all.

Plus, I had always heard that taking tolls on a bridge is the worst job there is. They say people will use cigarette lighters to heat coins, so that the coins scald the operators’ hands. There’re stories of bills smeared in feces before being handed over. Whether those are true or not, for sure the people working on bridges marinate in exhaust fumes all day and receive money that people are not pleased to be handing over, none of which sounds great.

Still, though, I can’t help but feel a little sad to hear of yet another segment of the working population being replaced by machines. I hate talking to machines on the phone. I hate checking my own self out at the grocery store. Call me a Luddite, but I miss people, and the way their idiosyncrasies can bounce off of mine and make the details of a day a little more interesting. I guess I’ll find it more convenient, but hollowing out life for the sake of convenience is also a little depressing.