Friends, the holidays are upon us. And whether that sentence fills you with tingles of eager anticipation or a dark foreboding, we’ve got a treat for you: Our annual holiday canned food drive.
If you’re the type for whom the holidays bring the joy of family reunion, if you rejoice in the sacred act of giving thanks for all the blessings the world has bestowed on you and those you love, then a bring a can or two in to our drive. It’s another chance to spread the love and bounty that this time of year reminds you of. We’re only too happy to be the intermediary in this small act of generosity that can have such a big impact.
If, on the other hand, you’re more the bah humbug type, this drive will help your holiday cheer in a different way. As you all know, drinks in our bar are free for our guests from 5-7pm every night and after that we make you pay. However, at this time of year, there’s a little caveat. For every can you bring in, you get a free drink. Whether it’s a 99 cent can of beans, a 20 year old mystery can from the back of your pantry, or some fancy Amy’s organic curried something-or-other, you’ll get a ticket for a post-7pm cocktail of your choice.
Please, no frozen items. And please, don’t bring anything that you’ve taken from the mini-bar.
For all that’s good about the weather in California, there is one thing that’s kind of bad, and the season for that one bad thing is upon us. We all know that to use the word winter to describe what happens here at this time of year is kind of a joke, relatively speaking. There’s already a 25-degree temperature difference between here and New York and it’s only the beginning of November. Still, it gets chilly out here. We put on sweaters and jackets, and sometimes even hats and gloves.
The problem is that, because it never gets truly cold, our winters never get the respect given to “real” winters. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in restaurants. In the winter months in California it is typical to go to a restaurant for dinner and never take your coat off. Maybe you’ll remove your hat, out of social considerations or because it’s itchy and you don’t like to eat with an itchy face, but it’s just as likely you’ll keep that on too. We’ve done away with social conventions out here, synthetic fibers almost never itch anymore and taking off your hat very likely means being just a little too cool all through your meal. Restaurants, you see, do not turn on heaters and often they’ll keep their doors open all night long. Can you even imagine such a thing in New York or Chicago? It would be unthinkable; it would be dangerous. Here, though, where on any given night someone could say “it’s not THAT cold” people don’t really bother to change anything.
The truth is that it’s possible to be colder in California in the winter than in Chicago. In Chicago, the inside of everything is heated like a furnace and people have the right clothes and bundle up well. Here, somehow, people can’t quite be bothered. Heaters are neglected. People opt to leave coats at home for fashion reasons, or choose flip-flops out of laziness. We shiver through our winters because it’s not dangerous to do it, but we’re all kind of mildly suffering. It’s silly, but we’re all in on it. See if you don’t fall right in line when you’re out here with us.
I know I’m a little late with this news, but Lou Reed is dead. And so there followed a week of sweet remembrances, well deserved for someone who contributed so much to our culture. There’s something, though, in the story of his death that has me questioning reality as its always been presented to me. I wonder if any of you are feeling the same way.
First I’d like to start with the Velvet Underground song Heroin. It’s not my favorite song that Lou Reed ever sung, but somehow it’s the one that sticks in my head, revisits me when I least expect it. I’ll be walking down the street, minding my own business, and suddenly finding myself humming “heroin, it’s my life, it’s my wife.” The power of pop music is strong. The point, though, is that that was not a work of fiction from Mr. Reed and matrimony is a serious commitment.
Next I’d like to move on to the obituary written by his final wife, the inimitable Laurie Anderson. She writes that he “spent his last days… being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature.” This, of course, was four decades after his first marriage to Miss Heroin.
According to everything I ever learned, one should not be able to have all that Lou Reed had in one lifetime. It would seem that he got to the furthest reaches of both the darkness and the light. I think we can look at his example and know that way more is possible than what we have been allowed to imagine.
Is this the most inappropriate business hotel blog ever written? I apologize.
The Oakland A’s just lost in the first round of the playoffs. Last year the Giants won the World Series, for the second time in three years. The San Jose Sharks go to the playoffs every year; one of these days they may even win. The point is, it’s no secret that the Bay Area is a nice place to be a sports fan. Recently, though, it became official. ESPN put all the cities in the country with pro teams through some kind of convoluted algorithm and came to the conclusion that the Bay Area is the best place for professional sports. I believe it took into account things like how often teams played in the post season, but somehow it also accounted for things like the ineffable insanity of the Raider Nation. (Have you all seen the Raider Nation first hand, by the way? It’s a big experience, highly recommended. And it’s football season right now, so you don’t even have to wait and hope to remember.)
Everyone likes to brag about the place they’re from, especially to an audience of non-natives. Sports fans can, arguably, be the worst on the subject. In England people have been bludgeoned to death for choosing one city’s soccer team over another’s. Mostly it’s subjective grandstanding, completely unverifiable. Here, though, we have ESPN, a brand that, if not universally trusted, at least can’t be accused of having any dog in this particular race, devising the kind of mathematical equation sports junkies love so much and coming up with little old us. Our beloved Bay Area is the best place to be a sports fan. We could have told you so, but it’s so much better this way.
When you’re traveling for work, time can slide by pretty quickly. Trying to get as much out of every day as possible often leads to some pretty tight scheduling. Plus you’re in an unfamiliar place, so all the details of a day take a little bit longer and are just a little bit more of a hassle to do. Running to the store for a bag of chips or a soda, for example, might take five minutes at home, but in an unfamiliar city that simple errand can turn into an hour-long project. Add jet lag into all of this and the time warp is complete; hours dissolve into nothingness before you’ve even registered their arrival. So, although you may intend to take advantage of the access to local gyms that we offer, as often as not that’s the thing that’s easiest to let go of.
But what about your resolve to have a six-pack by Christmas? Well, friends, I’ve got good news for you! We now have an exercise ball and resistance bands waiting for you in your room. With these there, you can roll out of bed just a few minutes earlier for some pre-breakfast calisthenics. Or maybe you prefer waiting until after work, burning off a bit of frustration before meeting your coworkers in the bar at night. This option could save you from the other, less productive ways of diffusing tension that can be found in bars, if that’s useful for you. Another fun choice is to wait until after you’ve had your nightly cocktail(s) and then bring those coworkers up to your room for tests of strength and agility. However you choose to use them, they’ll be there for you. Good luck with those abs.
Now that our wifi is running smoothly, maybe the most prudent course is to just never, ever mention the word wifi ever again. The only thing that’s real, after all, is the present moment and in this present moment we have a rock solid wireless internet connection that you, our guests, can access with very little trouble. We can act like it’s always been that way and maybe someday we’ll all forget and believe that that’s the truth. In the meantime, who cares because you can get online when and how you want to when you’re here and that’s all that really matters.
Still, though, the memory of that unconnected time lingers. For so long we could not figure out how a technology that was fast becoming ubiquitous, stayed unattainable to our little hotel. It was shameful and we hung our heads and apologized to every one of your derisive comments. You accused us of trapping you in the stone age and we wrung our hands and agreed and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. All of us believed that everyone, everywhere else in the world, had a fast easy wireless connection.
Last week I was in Hamburg, Germany. I stayed in a large hotel, directly across the street from the hauptbahnhof. It was nice and also very commercial. I brought my iPhone and my iPad, thinking what a relief it is to not have to lug my laptop around on trips like these anymore, and because of that choice I did not go online once in the week I stayed there. In this large, bustling hotel in the center of one of the major cities in one of the most powerful countries in Europe, the only way to get online was via Ethernet. I brought nothing that would plug into it, so no connection for me. Luckily it was the kind of a trip where that wasn’t such a big deal, luckily I could take it as a vacation from obsessive connectivity. A week without words with friends and facebook was pretty nice, actually. Still, though, I thought it would be nice for all of us, from all sides of the shame of this hotel’s former wireless troubles, to acknowledge what’s going on over in Hamburg.
The new Miss America, and the way she was received by Twitter, has exposed yet another facet of racist ignorance this week, just when we maybe thought we had seen all there was to see about it. Stephen Colbert’s observation is the most astute and succinct description of the illogic of the response to her crowning, so I’ll just quote him and move on. “People saw a woman in a bikini and thought ‘Muslim extremist.’” That’s nuts.
One great thing about the age of social media is that the people who would call an Indian American an Arab, or say that because of the color of our president’s skin, he must be working for Al Qaeda, they expose themselves. It’s not that people weren’t saying things like this in the past, it’s that the rest of the world didn’t know about it, so they all just got to keep on believing they were right. In this new day, where everyone can share whatever they want with whomever will pay attention, people are outing all their craziness, and then they have to deal with the world calling them out on it. All those people who tweeted hateful, and even just geographically false, things about the new Miss America this week, they’ve been publicly shamed. They’ve been taught that India is not the Middle East, and maybe next time will know, when they come across that particular shade of brown skin, that they don’t necessarily have any information about where that person’s ancestors came from. It feels awful to have to look at every new version of racism that the internet digs up, and it can seem like it must be worse now than it’s ever been before because we’ve never seen so much all at once, but maybe this is actually the beginning of the end. First we have to let all the racists show themselves, and, little by little, we can hold them accountable.
As you may have heard, as of yesterday, our new bridge is open! A mere 24 years after its predecessor collapsed in an earthquake, the half that failed has been replaced. And what, you ask, about the other half, the half that was, presumably, engineered in the same way as the part that fell down? Well, we’ve been assured that that side is OK. Only replacing half the bridge, we’re told, may be coincident with a lack of funds, but it’ll also be safe enough. It stayed up last time, after all.
The new half is spectacular, to be sure. It’s wide and open and so it lets you see how wondrously expansive the bay is. Driving on it, there’s a momentary sense of being far out into the remote reaches of the world, even though a couple of seconds later you’re smack in the middle of downtown San Francisco. It’s got a path for bikers and pedestrians too, which I’m guessing will give all the above feelings, magnified about a thousand times. The San Francisco bay is one of the world’s beautiful treasures and this new bridge shows it off very well.
But, that bike path leads only to Treasure Island. Rather than, finally, a way for bikers to access the city from the East Bay, we’ve been given a tourist adventure. We can now ride out to Treasure Island, where there are neither stores nor restaurants, enjoy the (truly) magnificent view, and then turn around and go back to where we came from. And I suppose it’ll continue this way until another earthquake comes around and knocks the old half down and then, 24 years after that, we can have the matched set.
Our new bridge, in conclusion, is beautiful and imperfect.
A layperson’s question for all of you working in the tech industry: Is Elon Musk going to change the world? Or are these promises he makes, these ideas he floats out to the world, actually too good to be true?
I ask that now because I’m in love with the idea of the hyperloop that he’s proposed to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Half an hour to make the trip, he promises, and at a cost of only $20. Travel would be revolutionized. Pretty soon, I guess, we’d be going to New York for dinner, popping up to Seattle for coffee with an old friend. It’ll be just like in all the Phillip K Dick novels I’ve been binge reading lately. And he, Musk, talks about it like it’d be a pretty simple thing to get together. He’s got the design all in order, it’s just a matter of whether he can be bothered to take the time away from his other projects. We should all write to him, I thought, reading about it, beg, plead, send flowers and homemade pies. Please make us a hyperloop, we’d say, and soon enough he’d acquiesce and we’d get to live in the future.
But then I read a little further. He’s a very glamorous man, Mr. Musk, clearly brilliant and bold and visionary, but nothing has QUITE worked yet. Tesla has only made just a few cars. SpaceX launched one rocket. He himself seems to be really actively hoping it all goes well. He’s certainly giving us a vision of what could be, but is it unsafe to get emotionally involved in his vision of the future? Is it wiser to look at his two divorces and use that as an indicator of just how prescient he really is? What are you all thinking about this wild and wondrous man?
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.