There’s a commercial playing on the radio now involving a guy in a hotel room calling room service and asking them to bring him something from McDonald’s. Have you heard it? Whomever he’s talking to refuses and he protests, saying that they had told him they’d do anything to make him comfortable. With that the employee is defeated and must, presumably, run off to McDonald’s.
The point of this is not to say that we, of course, would have just run straight to McDonald’s for you. I think that that will never, ever happen. There are some limitations. But, short of a McDonald’s run, there’s a lot of service that we’ve got available, and a lot more that we’re capable of improvising.
Here’s a fun example: Without naming any names, a guest arrived, sometime in the last few months, wearing only one shoe. The other he had left somewhere between the airplane he had come from and our front door. And so, as he was checking in, he asked the man behind the front desk if he could help to retrieve the lost shoe. Impossible, right? Well, thanks to a little bit of front desk magic, by the time he turned in for the night, that man once again had a complete pair of shoes.
Most of you check in, come down for breakfast in the morning, and check out. Maybe asking for a drink at the bar is all the asking you do while you’re here and otherwise you take care of yourself. That’s fine with us, and we’re happy to be giving you an easy place from which to take care of your own needs. But, just so you know, there’s a lot we can help you with, if only you’d ask.
It’s the first day of summer! Welcome to the season of pool parties and BBQs and beach days. The season where everyone gets a healthy glow, in spite of the best efforts of the SPF 45 we’re all slathering on these days. This is the time of year when fruity cocktails feel like an acceptable beverage choice, the season when Danielle Steele novels seem like acceptable reading material. Well, almost. But, hey, there’s a new Stephen King novel just out, and, yeah, sitting in the sun with a mai tai and Stephen King is kind of what summer is all about.
I know it sounds like I’m describing some dorky Hollywood cliché, and, well, that’s exactly what I’m doing, but, you know, a cliché gets to be a cliché because it describes something that lots and lots of people over a long period of time have found to be good or real. The deep, simple pleasure of relaxing into a long, hot day is damn near universal truth and we are now entering into the period where it’s possible to do just that, maybe even once a week. I know it’s possible to stay as busy as ever, work through weekends, and just notice that this is the time of year for air conditioning, but, if I may be so bold, don’t do it! Recharge your batteries in this glorious sunlight!
And, I must say, if ever there were a perfect setting for the kind of a day I’m describing, poolside at our little hotel is pretty close. You won’t even have to make your own drinks.
Happy summer everyone!
Around age 19 I had kind of a hard time. I see now that there are certain people, overly sensitive and totally unwise, for whom going off to college to read Neitzsche and Lacan and Kafka will just not go well. And so there I sat, for a bit, with my first bout of existential angst, having just learned that life has no meaning. It wasn’t so fun, but, then, it’s hard to take too seriously now because I see how many people fall into exactly that same hole. This is not a story about unhappiness; it’s a story about its antidote.
I was in Thailand, with someone I really liked. It was New Year’s Day, or morning, really. We were on our way from the huge beach party we’d greeted the new year with, headed back to the little hut we were paying $4 a night to stay in. I was riding on the back of the motorbike he’d rented. We passed a little bay, lined with palm trees, smattered with fishing boats, awash in the pastels of sunrise and as we rode by I felt happy. But not just happy, I felt surprised at this vision of beauty that was so outside of my previous experience, with that particular light and my particular state of mind, and just in that moment, my idea of what existed in the world expanded. After all my months of wondering why I should bother with anything, here I had been shown this bit of magic that I didn’t even know I didn’t know about. And suddenly I had to assume that there was a lot more wonderment in my future.
That was a long time ago, now, and I’ve other moments of beauty and joy since, but that one morning, the snapshot of that bay that I keep in the back of my brain, has come to be my symbol of the wonder and joy that will come, as long as I’m willing to stick out the hard bits.
I’m writing this story here because it’s a story about travel. What a huge privilege it is to live in a time, and to be among the lucky few, that can wander the world like we do.
Well people, after yet another long trip around the sun, we’ve arrived back here, at the best time of the year. The days are long and warm. Your skin, no matter how high an spf you choose, or how many hours a day you spend at your computer, can’t help but take on a rosy glow. Everyone starts cooking dinner outside on a grill. And we here at this little hotel can’t help but join in.
Have all of you out there been looking forward to the return of our Wednesday night BBQs the way we have been? I know it’s been a long year, full of elections and hurricanes and a sequestration and Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy, so let me refresh your memory. Every Wednesday night, from now through the end of summer, we’re going to set up a grill out by our pool. You’ll have your choice of chicken or steak, grilled however you like it (though requests for rare chicken are strongly discouraged) either of which will be served alongside a buffet of fresh salads, piping hot baked potatoes, decadent desserts and more, all for under $15. And remember, this is in combination with our ever present, ever popular unlimited free drink happy hour from 5-7, and our bar now staying open until 11pm. Sounds good, no? It’s like being invited to a friend’s place for a poolside cookout every week, except that when you ask what you can bring the answer is always nothing, no one will ever ask you to take over the grill for a bit and you will never have to worry about having one more drink because there is no drive home.
Here’s hoping your summer travel schedule gives you lots of Wednesdays with us this year!
One of the nicest things to do, if you find yourself in a big city in the summertime, is to find an open-air cinema. In New York it’s at Bryant Park, it’s free and people come hours early to stake their claims, bringing picnic dinners along with them. In Berlin you will most likely pay a few Euros, but there’re several throughout the week, sometimes more than one a night. Paris, I believe, has a free one too. The list goes on and on, but not quite all the way on. Poor San Francisco has failed, again and again, to get a thing like this going. Why? Because San Francisco has a dirty little secret: It’s never, ever warm enough, in the summer in San Francisco, to sit outside and watch a movie.
But never fear! San Jose has got what you’re looking for, if you happen to be looking for an open-air cinema. Starting June 12th, the city of San Jose screens a series of classic family favorites, starting with The Princess Bride and including one of my all time favorites, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, every Wednesday night, for free, outside. Notice I haven’t named a venue? That’s because San Jose’s unique take on this summertime tradition is to rotate it around the city. Every week you have to check to see where it’s going to be, the idea being that this way the different parks, neighborhoods and local businesses all get their turn to show off.
This does, of course, coincide with our Wednesday night BBQ, which is in accordance with Murphy’s Law. Still, an outdoor movie can’t start until it’s dark out, which is not happening very early these days. And, actually, starting with our BBQ and then moving on to sit under the stars and watch Ferris Bueller on his joy ride would not be a bad night at all.
Forgive a bit of bragging, but this month’s employee story will be devoted to how very proud we are of Liliana Francisco. Lily has been with us since she was a teenager, working behind the front desk as soon as she was old enough to have a job. We knew she’d be dependable and solid because her mother was, and still is, the manager of housekeeping, and genetics and accountability are two of the major hiring principles around here. Still, there was no way to know just what a devoted hard worker she’d be, or how much pleasant good humor she’d bring into work with her every day. We have loved her and will continue to love her and she’s been the front desk manager for the last few years and she just absolutely rocks, but this is not a story about Lily’s job here with us.
After high school, Lily spent a couple of years going to community college and then transferred to San Jose State University. Her major was Social Science. Last week she graduated, and when Lily walked down that aisle and accepted that diploma, she became the first member of her entire extended family to hold a college degree. Do I need to talk now about the odds she’s come through, or what a sparkling gem of a person she is? The fact is enough, I think. It holds so much in it. We are both happy to have been a part of the structure that she used to get herself to this place, and humbled by someone doing such big, important work right here in our midst. Please, when you see her in the next weeks, months or year, give her as many congratulations as she’s willing to take.
Listen up friends, this is an important announcement: I have a new candidate for Best Pizza in the South Bay. It’s called Pizza Bocca Lupo, it can be found in the San Pedro Square Market, and it is seriously amazing. It’s obsessively authentic Neapolitan style; they even go so far as to claim that the reason their pizza is so much more truly the real thing is that they’re the only ones in the South Bay who’re making pizza in an oven imported from Naples, which feels just ever so slightly like an empty gesture, done so that it could be written about on their website. Still, who am I to criticize their ways? The pizza I ate there was so good I wanted to cry and if they say they needed to ship an oven across an ocean and a continent in order to make it, fine, it seems to have been worth it.
Traditional Neapolitan means that we’re talking about a very thin crust and it means that you won’t find any groovy California toppings being allowed to interfere. No avocados or sprouts on these pizzas. This is the kind of place where the margarita is going to be heaven in its perfect simplicity, but knowing that, you know that they’re going to be serving up some pretty amazing sausage too. And the good thing, if it feels too hard to choose, is that this is not the heavy, greasy kind of pizza that can only be indulged in every once in a great while. This is a light delight, perfect summer fare, and going back a couple of nights later to try the one you passed up is a perfectly fine choice to make.
The story of the Longoria Winery is the story of Rick Longoria, owner, founder and winemaker. So, let’s start off with by saying that Longoria was a student at UC Berkeley, when the decade was changing from the 60s to the 70s. While there, he developed a fantasy about joining the winemaking business, because he felt that it was in tune with the counterculture principles he was being steeped in. Still, his first impulse was to dismiss the fantasy of winemaking and go to law school. While traveling through South America, though, he discovered that there was no other path for him besides that of winemaker.
And so, returned to America, clear on the path he was to take, Longoria got himself up to the Napa Valley and apprenticed himself to the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. A career had begun, but still there was another shift to make. Longoria found that the winemaking lifestyle in the Napa Valley was too hectic. Which, if you’ve ever been up to the bucolic Napa Valley, speaks volumes about this man. He chose, instead, to take a job at a little place down near Santa Barbara, which was, in the late 70s, not really known as a winemaking region. He stayed there, at the J. Carey Cellars, for a few years, then moved over to the Gainey Vineyards for a bit, always making his own Longoria Wines as a side project.
When, in 1997, he felt that his side project was strong enough, Longoria let it take center stage in his life. Now, as Santa Barbara wines have become known, Rick Longoria is a part of how that happened. His is a story of having found the particular path his life should take. He did it by whittling away the more obvious choices, by choosing less glamour and more patience, and, in the end, that way started winning him awards. If these are the lessons to be had from Berkeley in the 60s, well, they look pretty good on Rick Longoria.
A couple of days ago I found something really offensive on the internet. I know all your mouths are now hanging open in shock. Something offensive on the internet! My goodness, how can that have happened? Still, though, this particular thing hit close to the home that you and I share, that is, it was a blog written by someone who used to work in a hotel and who claimed to be outing all of the dirty little secrets of every hotel in the world. It’s not very likely that many of you read it, but I want to address it here anyway because it definitely carried the potential to make you, our guests a little bit more paranoid and cynical when you’re here with us, which I definitely want to stamp out as quickly as possible.
First, and most disgusting, he claimed that all housekeepers in all hotels clean mirrors, but also drinking glasses, with Pledge. On my honor, I swear to you that you are not drinking from glasses cleaned with Pledge. It’s gross that that’s what was happening in whatever dump he was working in, but it’s not happening here.
Next he tried to make you all feel guilty for not having the bellman bring your little rolling suitcase up to your room, implying that you were denying him his raison d’etre and putting his livelihood at risk. First, I promise you that our bellmen have plenty to do and they will not ever be fired because you take your own bags up. Second, the last thing we want is for you to feel guilty about, or responsible for, the well being of our employees, while you’re here. You’re here for some reason, business, pleasure, whatever, and it’s our job to make that as easy as possible for you. Period.
He went on and on, but I only want to address one more. He asserted that the cost of maintaining a hotel room is $30 and that paying anything over that is extortion. He came up with that number by calculating the cost of paying the front desk staff and the housekeeper, plus laundry. He ignored the rest of the staff necessary to maintain a property, he ignored things like landscaping, all taxes, insurance. He ignored so much, and yet the clear assertion of his ignorant lie could really make guests feel bad about having to pay to stay in a hotel.
Everyone has their dirty little secrets, I suppose, but those are not ours and I hope that the man who wrote that little expose finds some other way to make his way in the world and leaves us alone.
On a recent evening, sitting down in our bar, I accidentally happened to overhear something that horrified me. One of our international guests, a man from India, asked Sammy, our bartender, to recommend an American beer. He likes, he said, to drink the beer that’s native to whatever country he’s in. Fair enough; I hope we’re all doing some version of that whenever we travel. But Sammy, our dear, beloved Sammy, recommended Budweiser!
As we all well know, Sammy is a fantastic bartender. In addition to his charm and that ever-present smile, he’ll mix up anything your heart desires and put a smile on your face to match his own. Ask him to recommend a whisky, a tequila or a wine and he does just fine. But, listen to me now and be warned: Sammy does not drink beer and Sammy, as was proven to that poor, unsuspecting Indian man, should not be trusted to recommend beers!
While I’m on the subject, and forgive a little snootiness, but when you’re here in California, try thinking of beer the way you think about wine. You would never ask for an American wine. Who knows what that’d get you? You ask for a California wine. Beer is the same, start specifying California beer and, I promise, your life will get better.