Not to stereotype, but I went to an event last night that I think a lot of you all may have enjoyed. It was called “Science Neat” and it was held at a bar in San Francisco, so, in spite of the sting of the typecast, I’ve just mentioned a couple of your big interests, no? There were booths set up all around the outdoor space with hands on experiences to try for yourself, all relating to the night’s theme of color. We were invited to mill around for a bit, delighting ourselves with color based optical illusions, a chance to experiment with color combining, and a few other random little treats. Then we gathered around, with our drinks and our friends, to listen first to a PhD candidate in marine biology, who told us why fish are different colors, and then to a doctor of neuroscience/amateur magician, who told us why we can’t observe magic tricks. In short, it was an awesome night out.
The thing about this “Science Neat” is that it’s a copycat of a thing called Nerd Night that’s been happening in cities all around the world. There are two official Nerd Nights that happen in the Bay Area and they sell out, especially the San Francisco one, and there’s enough overflow to support copycats, like the one I went to last night, which, incidentally, was stuffed to the gills.
Next Monday night is the next East Bay Nerd Night and it hasn’t sold out yet. There’ll be presentations on the strength of materials, on platypuses and on oysters. And there will, of course, be beer. I so very highly recommend this.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom to be found lately, war, economic crisis, impending environmental catastrophe, and a dysfunctional congress being only just the first, most obvious points to hit. It’s easy to fall into an idea that humanity is kind of on a dead end trip. Recently, though, there was a tiny little story that carried with it the thought that there may, actually, be infinitely more ahead of us. NASA admitted that they have a tiny little project devoted to warp speed. Warp speed!
Not pretending to understand the first thing about physics, and knowing for certain everyone reading this knows more about it than I do, I can only repeat what I read. What I read, though, is that there is a small team at NASA that understands that new discoveries about the nature of the physical world must be made to achieve this science fictional goal, but that they kind of believe they can do it. That is, they believe that they can demonstrate the possibility of technology that fractionalizes the time it takes to travel between planets and stars.
I apologize for whatever ignorance I’m betraying here, I understand that I’m on shaky ground writing to tech people about science. This is a little bit exhilarating, though, from my humble layman’s point of view. Space travel could become more accessible, meaning that the frontiers could get burst wide open, with unimaginable possibilities lying in waiting. The things that made up the fantasies of my childhood could actually become practical realities. I feel foolish even writing this, and yet as I’m writing it to the people who brought us the weird and magical internet and all its wonders, I get the sense that maybe you understand. There’s a lot more possibility in the world than what we can see.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re someone who travels a lot for work. Being in and out so much means you don’t always get to spend the time with, and give the care to, spouses, friends and family that you would like to, no? And when you are there, it’s easy to feel too tired to make any special efforts. Sure, it’d be nice to do a little something nice for a loved one who misses you when you’re away, but when jet lag is hanging like a ton of bricks taped to your temples, it’s hard to imagine summoning the energy, creativity or, well, the energy for such an endeavor.
And now, instructions for the easiest, most decadent, and very sincerely the most wonderful treat ever invented in the history of the world: Bacon wrapped dates! There are two ingredients and three instructions. Ready? Pre-heat the oven to 450, cut strips of bacon in half, wrap the half strips around dates, put them in the oven for 20 minutes. The end. What comes out of that oven after 20 minutes will make you, and whomever you’re sharing these with, cry tears of joy and gratitude for the beauty and pleasure that the world is capable of delivering. You may be shaming me for hyperbole as you read this, but that’s because you haven’t tried them yet. And so simply and easily you could be responsible for bringing this level of enjoyment to someone you love. You’re welcome.
I’ve got some gendered activity ideas for your next trip to the Bay Area. I know that proposing separate activities for men and women is not really the thing to do in this day and age, but I’m going for it anyway because of a study out of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Bear with me, or at least wait until the end of these few little paragraphs to decide I’m a bigot.
Men, the next time you’re here, take a drive up to San Francisco. Watch the locals running up and down those huge hills, or, even worse, pushing bikes along the same paths. It looks awful, I know, but they’re getting through it. Pay attention, next, to all the dudes eating kale. Kale salad, kale chips, raw, unadulterated leaves of kale. We all know it doesn’t taste good, no matter what you do to it, but they’re eating it like it’s real food. Why am I asking you to do this, you ask? Because San Francisco has the lowest rate of obesity for men in the country. What the guys up there are doing may not look like a ton of fun, but it’s keeping them skinny.
Women, for you the drive will take you a little further up the coast. You’ll be taking a tour of Marin county. Check out a yoga class in Sepastapol, a dharma talk at the Green Gulch meditation center. Maybe take a long stroll along the beach. As you’re making this tour, take a look around at the local ladies. In their long, flowing layers, with their crystals and, really, maybe even a few bindis here and there, you may feel like you’re drowning in new age clichés, but before you dismiss them en masse, listen to this: Women in Marin County have a longer life expectancy than any other group in the nation.
Of course, women can run up hills and men can meditate. I guess the real point of this that sometimes all the California stereotypes work. Why not check a few out the next time you’re in town?
It’s been hot. Which anyone who’s been hanging around here in the last week does not need to be told. Earlier this week a heat advisory was issued for Northern California. It was the first heat advisory I’d ever heard of, though maybe they happen every year and I miss them. It was a little scary, though. What is the difference between beach weather and a dangerous, scalding inferno, and would we be sharp enough to know the difference?
At least we weren’t in Death Valley or Palm Beach where the temperatures hung out in the 120′s.
The wave has passed now, thankfully. Today is cloudy and cool. But it seems that this summer is going to be warm and if you’re scheduled to come through here when it’s hot again, and the thought of 100+ degree weather is making you a little panicky, then now is the perfect time for me to let you in on San Francisco’s dirty little secret: It’s always cold there. Now, I know that the idea of cold is relative. Some of you live through winters that get to something like 20 below zero and San Francisco will never get below 35, but 35 in the summer is really a bummer. Especially when it’s 85 just outside city limits. Normally this is this horrible thing that people find out only when they arrive for a visit with light suitcases full of shorts and dresses, ready for California summer. Right now, though, it’s not a bad escape from a heat wave. Take a hike in the Presidio, walk the length of Golden Gate Park. You will never, ever get sunstroke, but don’t forget to bring a sweater.
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.
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.