It’s the holiday season. My nights have been filled with cozy parties and I’m looking forward to many sweet reunions in the coming weeks. As I write this, the dough of the pastries that I will send off to my grandfather and pass around to my friends is rising in my oven. But I made it while listening to one after another radio host and his or her expert guests try to make some kind of sense out of last week’s shooting. As I kneaded my dough, clips played of my president crying.
We, as a nation, will spend the rest of this holiday season in mourning. Simple sadness, though, is not enough. People want to know why this happened, what could have been done to prevent it, what action can be taken to make sure it never happens again. On that subject, there is one thing that I’ve read in the last days that gave me an actual moment of solace, as opposed to stoking my grief for one or another pre-existing political purpose.
To give you this quote I have to confess to following a Chinese astrologer on facebook. It’s fun, you know, and he’s kind of a cool, quirky guy. And a couple of days ago he posted this little paragraph that made me feel like I could go on with my preparations for a happy holiday, that I didn’t have to feel guilty for the joy I was trying to cultivate. I’d like to pass it on to all of you, in the hopes that it will help you the way it helped me. I copied it as I found it, so forgive the grammar.
“People asked me about the incident shooting in my country and I said on the same day many many kindnesses were made … Great numbers of basically good actions … But they do not reach news media so we should celebrate every good act with joy n gratitude bec it is true we are all doing the best we can … To obsess with wrong or dark action will only bring that darkness into your heart … Thank you to everyone who has not killed anyone today in action, thought and energy … I feel fortunate to live in the world you are helping to create”
Reading that quote gives me the courage to try to be happy in such a broken world. And sending it to you on behalf of this little hotel feels even better because, as only just a little blip in the operations around here, I can say to you in good faith that this is the kind of place that’s helping the world become better.
This is a strange and beautiful moment to live and work in Silicon Valley. Maybe some of you feel this too. As the country struggles to get itself out of recession, with unemployment numbers making grudging micro-shifts and foreclosures still on a rampage, somehow we, here, are back to living in the land of opportunity. A storm named Sandy just tried to do away with the east coast, but in the Bay Area it’s 70 degrees and sunny. This is a comfortable place to be in an uncomfortable time. Whatever combination of good choices and dumb luck got each of us here, we sure have landed well.
With that in mind, and with the holidays upon us, we’ve decided to have a canned food drive. This is your invitation to participate. Bring us any non-perishable item between now and the end of the year, and we will give you, in exchange, a ticket for a free drink after happy hour. Not that “after happy hour” is a rule, it’s just that all drinks are free from 5-7, so using drink tickets during that time is probably unwise. The one and only rule, actually, is in the word “non-perishable”. This means that you may not take an apple out of the bowl that’s sitting near the front desk and exchange it for a drink ticket. I’m not naming names here, but let’s just say I didn’t invent that idea. Aside from that, though, you can play this however you’d like. If you want to bring in 100 cans of soup, we’ll be happy to give you 100 free drinks. We probably won’t be quite so happy to give them to you all on one night, but the tickets won’t expire either. We’re looking forward to both the generosity and the merriment of this project, so let’s all have fun with it!
Friends, a big day is upon us! Finally, finally, we are about to be released. The grandstanding hyperbolic pissing contest that has held us captive for so long is at last nearing its legal limit. Yes, the 2012 presidential campaign is about to end! No matter what side you’re on, no matter which offenses have raised your ire, and which have felt justifiable, you must agree that this has not been pretty. We spent weeks talking about the way Romney’s dog travels. A reality television star had the state of Hawaii so overrun with requests for Obama’s birth certificate that they had to change their laws. For goodness sake! We need to be free from this!
Well we’re nearly there! And we here at this little hotel think that a party is in order. Election night 2012, which will mark the end of a long and humiliating stretch of political hopefuls cum reality tv self-exploiters dominating our every waking moment, we’re having a bipartisan celebration of the cessation of the madness. Sure, we’ll be monitoring the results just like everyone else. And, yes, we’ll have champagne on hand for calmly toasting whoever will be our president for the next four years. And, no, we do not expect you to have no emotional attachment to one or another result. We sure have some opinions of our own. Still, this will be a strictly nonpartisan affair and when the results are in, no matter what they are, we’re gonna have a toast to a saner future. We hope you’ll join us.
This year I’m going to admit something to you all: I hate when it’s time to write about the return of Monday Night Football. Not that I’m not announcing a fun little ritual here at our fun little hotel. It is fun. We have hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill starting at 5pm. Peanuts too, just like if you were out at the game, except it’s warmer in here and everything’s free. Speaking of free, the complimentary drinks go an hour later too, til 8pm. It’s a real party, and we do it every Monday night all through football season.
The problem is that if football season is here, it means summer is over. When these games start, daylight will last almost until they finish, but pretty soon it won’t even be light out when they start anymore. Right now it’s still hot outside, and we all feel like it always has been and it always will be hot, but that first Monday night burger builds a link to winter. You know how it is, one Monday rolls into the next and pretty soon it’s dark in the middle of the day and your skin looks like white bread dough for months and months and months.
But I can calm down and enjoy the first few Mondays. No need to get crazy. It is fun. And the room is big enough that you can enjoy the free burgers and booze with or without actually watching the game, which I suppose gives away my own personal preferences. The point is: Live in the now. A warm afternoon BBQ is such a nice thing. And maybe winter won’t come this year.But I can calm down and enjoy the first few Mondays. No need to get crazy. It is fun. And the room is big enough that you can enjoy the free burgers and booze with or without actually watching the game, which I suppose gives away my own personal preferences. The point is: Live in the now. A warm afternoon BBQ is such a nice thing. And maybe winter won’t come this year.
Some time ago, our dear general manager did something that seemed completely crazy to me. Does that not shock you? Well, I guess most of you have met her. Still, this, for me, was too big of a risk. She asked one of our regular guests, someone who not only, himself, was one of this little hotel’s fixtures, but whose company represented kind of a lot of our monthly business, to start painting pictures to hang on our walls. He was asked to work with Silicon Valley’s agricultural history, but otherwise given total freedom, and the first piece was to hang, not small and forgivable in a bathroom, as would maybe be safe for an artistic trial like this, but right over the front desk. Both agreed that if she didn’t like it, it would not be hung, but, really, could both of them really stay cool enough to keep their same old friendly relationship if he worked for months on a painting and that she then rejected? I was not so sure. Luckily, no one ever had to find out. Both parties deemed the project a success, and I’m sure none of you have failed to notice the vivid flashback of a rural past that now greets you when you check in.
And that was just the beginning. Mr. Dwayne Holst now has four paintings up on our walls, with more to come. I’ll bet you can figure out for yourself which ones are his. Plus, she’s now commissioning work from the legendary Pete Escovedo, who stayed here for a few nights last year, to hang in our guest rooms. Of course, it’s his music that he’s known for, not his painting, so I was, again, scared when I heard that she was doing this, convinced that our fearless leader had been seduced by his name. Wrong again! You may already have seen for yourself, or else you will very soon. His work is slowly meandering into more and more rooms, a little band here, an abstract there. They’re simple and lovely, and just personal enough to not be random hotel art.
It’s a fun little game our boss is playing here, finding the artists in our midst. Our humble home away from home is getting denser, more complicated, and our community more interwoven. I’m sorry for being scared. She’s completely right on here.
I don’t know what got into me this year, but somehow, starting somewhere around the day after Christmas, I got obsessed with the coming of summer. I first fixated on daylight savings. March 11th. I looked it up, marked it on my calendar, and then every day I would note that I had gotten one day closer to the light. March 11th came, though, with rain. For the weeks and weeks that followed this expansion of lightness that I had so anticipated, the days stayed gray and dark. I began, then, looking at the seven-day forecast everyday, because everyday it would tell one more day into the future. I need the summer this year.
Well, my wait is finally at an end. No, it isn’t officially summer yet, but the days are long and warm and my favorite thing has started back up again: Our Wednesday night BBQs! These Wednesday BBQs, for me, are one of the big landmarks of the best season of the year. What better way, after all, to spend a long, warm (though never hot, this is California, after all) night than poolside with a cocktail and a steak just off the grill? Or chicken, if that’s how you roll. Either way, it’s right here waiting for you when you get done with your day’s work. Plus we’ve got a variety of salads, baked potatoes, and some beautiful desserts. Just about everything you might stock up at your very own BBQ, except we do it for you. It’s so easy, like a mini-vacation, mid-week. Just the way a summer night should be.
Most of us who work here at this little hotel are more or less always glad that we have no giant corporate overlords. There are no brand standards to adhere to, no weird rules that stink of bureaucracy and hang like lead weights around real life. Plus it just feels better, you know, philosophically. Maybe we don’t think of it everyday, but it’s a general feeling that we all carry around with us.
Every now and then, though, we get a shining, glorious example of just how sweet our freedom is. Now is one of those times.
It started a few years ago with a harebrained idea from our general manager. As these things usually do. “I want our keys to be like baseball cards,” she said. “Yeah, whatever,” we said, no knowing what that meant and thinking, anyway, that it would pass. Well, it didn’t pass and eventually someone had to figure out what she meant and how to get it done and now, finally, we have what turns out to be the most fun new addition to our business in a long time: Employee key cards. From now on, when you check in, your key will feature the smiling face of someone on our staff. The first round is all front desk, bell staff and bartenders, but soon enough everyone who works here will be on a card. The full vision will be complete when you, our guests, start collecting them and trading amongst yourselves for favorites. Why she thinks it’s a good idea to make key cards that no one wants to turn in is a little unclear, but, really, they are kind of amazing. Come see for yourself.
It’s March, which means St. Patrick’s Day, which means the fetishizing of all things Irish, which inevitably reminds me of the time I went to Ireland. Those of you who have been there know that there are parts of Ireland that redefine the word beauty; the ragged cliffs, the endless meadows, the unfathomable variations on the color green. But every place has its idiosyncrasies and in Ireland it’s illegal to serve or sell alcohol after 10 pm. I’m sure the locals have their strategies and maybe there are more house parties and everyone saves lots of money. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t stop very many people from drinking. For tourists, though, it’s just crazy to not be able to go to dinner at, say, 8 pm and then go afterwards to a pub for a drink or two before bed.
But, of course, this is exactly the problem we’ve left you, our guests, with for all these years. Sure, happy hour is great. We have a complimentary drink waiting for you when you come in from work in the evening, even a couple if you want. Clearly we’re coming from a good place and have your best interest at heart, if I do say so myself. Closing the bar at 10 pm, though, and denying you the opportunity for a nightcap, well, it’s been kind of a travesty.
No more! Starting this month the bar will stay open until 11 pm. Not quite nightclub hours, I know, but a bit more civilized. And, as always, our guests drink free from 5-7.
I remember one time, when I was a little girl, arriving very hungry at a hotel. We had been in a car for hours and hours and hours, but this was a business trip for my mom that we kids were tagging along on, so when we finally got there, she had to go straight to a meeting. For this reason, my brother and I were allowed the exquisite, exotic pleasure of ordering room service. Anything we wanted, we were told. That meant pizza, of course! We were so excited, and so hungry, and then came the knock on the door, and pizza was in the room with us, and then we opened the little box… and it had raw carrots on it.
As you can imagine, this quickly became a difficult situation for everyone. We were so hungry, my brother and I, and now there was no prospect of eating in our future. Which is scary and painful, and meant that Mom was stuck with two crying kids and a meeting to get to. I wonder why this memory has stayed with me all these years. I can still see those shredded carrots today.
Well, one thing is certain, we won’t be pulling any tricks like that on you. Our general manager is, well frankly, too Midwestern for that. When she went to update the room service menu this time around, for example, she got very excited, and adamant, about putting popsicles on it. She’s very proud to offer tater tots as an optional side. Don’t get me wrong, our variety of salads, sandwiches, entrees and deserts is well rounded, assembled by a professional chef and will satisfy a wide range of cravings. The thing is, we just won’t be taking any risks, trying to get trendy, or anything like that. When you order off of our room service menu, you’ll always get what you expected.
Here in California, we love the holidays as much as they do anyplace else. Our streets are glittering with lights, our ovens are filled with cookies and we’re bustling from party to party, just like the rest of the country. Sometimes, though, the details get a bit screwy here in the golden state. I guess because all the traditional seasonal activity isn’t necessary in these parts. It means something really different, for example, to light up the cold, dark, otherwise depressing winter days in Chicago, than it does to string lights on a palm tree. To carry a warm bag of freshly roasted chestnuts while walking around the freezing streets of New York City is a comfort that we just can’t relate to with flip-flops on our feet. Still, we too deserve a little romance!
This is the spirit that brings us the likes of snowfall inside downtown San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency. That’s right, no less than three times a day, through December 31st, it’ll snow inside the Hyatt. A white Christmas, after all, seems very important from everything that we’ve seen on TV. Except that in this case, if you want respite from the harsh elements, you’ve got to go outside!
In another twist on the same logic, downtown San Jose offers outdoor ice-skating for the holidays. It’s best not to think about how much energy it’s taking them to keep that water frozen and instead just enjoy skating in a T-shirt, under a clear blue sky, around a little grove of palm trees. With lights on them.
My favorites, though, are the ones that we’ve actually just bent to suit our needs, and the Surfing Santas are my favorite example of that. Every year, just after Thanksgiving, a cadre of Santa Clauses surfs into Santa Cruz. This makes sense; this belongs to us. And, truly, the icy Pacific is one of the few places in this state where the bulk of Santa Claus’ suit is actually justified. Everywhere else, you just end up feeling bad for the poor sweaty guy who’s stuck pretending he’s in Minnesota.
If you’re here with us this holiday, take a tour. There’re lots more little gems that I haven’t mentioned. Scantily clad Mrs. Clauses, iced mulled wine. You get the idea. Christmas in California!