February 24th, 2011

Not to be a bummer, but isn’t this the worst time of the year? The holidays are gone, New Year’s resolutions have already been broken, it’s cold outside and the days are still short. We’re supposed to get cheered up, I guess, by things like Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but, really, who cares? This time of year, in my opinion, cannot pass fast enough. I’m sick of movies, sick of fires, sick of hot cocoa! What can we do?

Well, ok, maybe it’s not really so desperate. There are always things to do to cheer yourself up. One of the best blues beating choices around here is Rooster T Feathers, friendly neighborhood comedy club. The therapeutic qualities of laughter are pretty undisputed, so it’s kind of like going to a health club. Plus, though the hit-or-miss nature of some comedy clubs can make venturing into one a little scary, I swear to you that Rooster T’s lineup is almost unwavering in its quality. And, to top it all off, as some of you already know, our guests get in free! That’s right, what we’re offering is free therapy! It’s times like this that I can look people in the eye and say that I work for the best hotel on the planet!

January 9th, 2011

My first car was a hand-me-down. And, not only was it a hand-me-down, but my mother bought it from a car rental agency, drove it for five or six years and then handed it down to me. It always ran perfectly, for some reason, but superficially it was kind of a mess. A new piece would fall off of something at least once a week and every time I had a new passenger I would have to reassure them that it was not their fault when the center console suddenly plopped down into their lap. There was neither heat nor air-conditioning and the windows didn’t work, so in the summer I would have someone permanently fix them down, then reverse it for winter. I loved that car! Its death was premature and unnatural; a drunk driver smashed into it one night as it sat, innocently parked in front of my house. I know it wouldn’t have lasted forever, but if any car ever deserved to go until its very end, it was that one.

Our old limos, on the other hand, got to drive into their graves. Only five years old, they each had over 200,000 miles on them. And, no, it’s not because other people are special and get to ride in them to San Francisco when you’re told “no”. They racked it all up on trips that averaged around 4 miles each. I wonder if any of you noticed how they had started sputtering around? Certainly you could not have missed that, like my beloved red car, some of the not-so-vital pieces had started to go cockeyed. I guess you probably didn’t know that we had our fingers crossed everyday, hoping it wasn’t yet time for a guest to get stranded en route to the airport. Now that we’ve got our shiny brand new limos and are safe for another five years, I can tell you how close we shaved it: One of the old workhorses died about 25 miles into its drive away from home. The transmission just gave up.

The new ones are great, all sparkly and perfect. Still, I have to confess, I’ll like them better once someone has opened a door into one and a bellman has clipped a pole with the other. You know, once they’ve built a little character.

December 31st, 2010

It’s the end of the year, the holiday season. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, New Year’s Eve etc. are upon us. It’s the time when wishes get made, and whether that means casting out desires for the new year, asking Santa Claus for the latest video game, or something in between, we’ve gotten used to asking for stuff in the final weeks of every year. And, no, this isn’t an attack on materialism or the commercialization of the holidays or anything like that. In years past, as some of you may remember, this hotel’s holiday newsletter has been a compilation of the wishes of our staff and, really, the wishes for world peace and enough work for all typically far outnumber the longings for PS3s and flat screen TVs. As much as anything else, this is a moment to think about renewal, and checking in with our desires is a great way to do that.

Still, these are some crazy times we’re living in. We’re scratching our way out of a major recession, if you listen to some. Or else we’re sitting in the eye of the storm, if you believe the others. One in ten are jobless, and they say that’s a deflated number because it doesn’t acknowledge all those who aren’t looking anymore. We’re still at war. Driving through a town in California’s Central Valley last week I saw a village of tents set up on the grounds of a church, and less than a mile away was a huge development of vacant homes. But the bankers will get their multimillion dollar bonuses right on schedule. And, whatever your political sway, it’s hard to think that Washington is doing anything but preparing for the 2012 elections. It’s a hard year to believe, even in Santa Claus.

So, this year, rather than thinking about what we want the world to give us, we here at this little hotel are trying to think of what it is that we can give to the world. How can we, individually and as a little team, nurture our community? All of us want things, as, I’m sure, you also want things. Fine, that’s easy to acknowledge. But it seems like it’s a better time to think about what we have in excess, what we can give away. We’re not quite sure yet how this is going to manifest, maybe just a few extra smiles. To start with, we’ve decided not to make a year-end wish list. And to talk to all of you about it.

It’s heavy, this holiday missive. There’s plenty of artificial cheer around, though, if that’s what you want and we kind of think that maybe this can lead to some genuine lightness.

November 5th, 2010

I remember those old commercials for the Hair Club for Men. At the end the spokesman would always say, “I’m not only the president, I’m also a member,” as they showed his very own before and after photos. Well, this month I’m saying to you, “I’m not only the newsletter writer, I’m also a guest.” Due to, well, I’d rather not say what, but due to some personal things I recently had the pleasure of spending a night at this hotel. It was so great! I had a thoughtless number of drinks, since the things I normally think of are: How much does it cost, and how will I get home? I ate whatever I wanted for breakfast and someone else did the dishes. It all felt so decadent and I was loving it.

But then I wanted to iron my shirt. At first I thought the iron was just sort of snapped into a little holder on the ironing board. That seemed really clever to me. I couldn’t figure out how to get it out, though. It took a while for me to realize that the iron was actually permanently attached to the board. What a crazy idea! And what an awkward thing it is to manipulate a scalding hot piece of metal that’s constantly trying to return home. As soon as I was finished I called our dear general manager and offered to pay for every single stolen iron, from now on, if only she would detach them.

I learned two things from that conversation. The first is that I am by no means the only one who has made that complaint. Or that same offer. Lots and lots of you are relating to this story and to my frustration.

The second thing I learned is that they are not attached to prevent theft. Of all the things that are not attached in these rooms, those little irons are pretty far down on the value scale and no one was ever stealing them. What people were doing, when iron and board were not mated for life, was being too lazy to set the board up. That’s right, and I know I’m not talking about any of you, my readers, but some people out there thought that, rather than taking 30 seconds to set up one of the lightest, simplest objects that exists in the world, it would be easier to just use the bed, say. Or maybe an armchair. Perhaps the floor. So that the rooms, pre-attachment, were littered with burn marks. But once our general manager figured out how to permanently unite the two, the burning stopped and so the final word is that we are never going back to iron and board as separate objects. A few people ruined it for everyone. I wish we at least knew who they were.

September 28th, 2010

One of the things I do not understand in this country, and forgive me if this sounds un-American, is Budweiser. And Bud-Lite, and Coors, and Miller’s Hi-Life, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a few others I could think of if it were worth trying. I’m sure you’ve gotten the category I mean to describe. All of that watery, pale-yellow, bitter nothingness that get passed off as beer in our homeland makes up one of the big roadblocks to patriotism for me. I can understand it as the high school kids’ beverage of choice, as it’s cheap and the alcohol content is low enough that young experimenters can drink lots and lots and lots of it and only rarely will someone end up in the hospital. But grown men and women continuing to act as if this were a legitimate beverage choice is just not something that makes sense to me. The world is too big, there are too many interesting things, both complex and simple, to choose to put into your mouth. How is it that Budweiser doesn’t just survive, but thrives?.

If you, my reader, are with me on this, if you don’t get it either, then I have an announcement that may make you happy.

And if you’re not with me, if you are perhaps even offended that I would slander something that’s been a part of your life for so long, I apologize, but I also really believe that what I’m about to share with you will make your life better.

This hotel will, from now on, feature a different micro-brewed beer every month. That means that every month we’ll have a new beer, crafted with the same love and attention as each of the wines we serve, to offer you. No pressure. We’ll still keep the old stuff stocked too. But, just in case you ever wondered if there was something more out there, if somewhere deep in your private fantasies you questioned this choice that you’ve been making for so many years, we’re offering you a chance to look around a little bit. It’s even free.

This is my kind of activism, by the way. In sharing this with you, I feel that I’m doing my part to make our great nation even greater.

August 28th, 2010

I watched a little bit of the World Cup this year. Really just a little, little bit, but it seemed to be on everywhere I went and so sometimes I paid attention. One day I found myself watching the American team. As it turns out, it was the last time the American team won, and watching that moment of victory, those young guys with all their hope and excitement and pride bared for the whole world to look at, was not unemotional for me. What a surprise that was! I’ve been getting more and more ambivalent about sports every year; I thought I had grown out of them. But suddenly here I was, teary eyed over a team I hadn’t even known existed the day before. I couldn’t really understand what was going on.

And then it hit me. These were high-level professional American athletes who were not getting paid more in a year than my immediate family and myself will collectively make in our lifetimes. They looked different to me, fresher. Or maybe it was only me; maybe I could be more receptive to their game and their emotions because looking at them didn’t plunge me into the overpaid-players-supported-by-delirious-fans death spiral I started experiencing around the time my older brother went into near permanent debt paying for an 11 year “personal seat license” that allowed him permission to buy, every one of those 11 years, a new season ticket to go watch the Raiders lose. Before that I used to like sports.

I like to think that if there’s a place to re-find a love for Monday night football, it’s here at the hotel. Here we are free to enjoy the game without in any way contributing to the excruciating amount of money the NFL rolls around in while it’s fans still struggle under the weight of recession. We, as individuals, are not even contributing to their ratings. And, on the contrary, we are being given free food and drinks just for showing up. For me, personally, it’s still difficult. But I come and I try. I like hamburgers a lot, and you really can just eat as many as you like. Plus the room is big, big enough, even, to forget about why the free hot dogs are there at all.

July 28th, 2010

A recent addition to this hotel’s modest but enthusiastic fan club is Cherry Vanilla. No, she’s not an over-exuberant Ben & Jerry’s fan; this was a moniker she chose while protesting the Viet Nam war. She gained fame as a rock & roll groupie and for playing the title-role in Andy Warhol’s only play, PORK, in 1971. From there she moved on to work as David Bowie’s publicist. After that she became a cabaret performer and then formed her own rock band, and often played at the legendary Max’s Kansas City in New York. When she moved to London in 1977, she hired Sting as her bass player and Stewart Copeland as her drummer, before they became famous as the Police. This woman was a mover and shaker throughout the 70’s glam and punk-rock scenes. And though she will never be the household name some of her friends have become, she truly has a place in our cultural history. The last time she was here, I sat watching her, wondering what that feels like.

Thinking about it, though, a lot of you, our guests, do know what that feels like. Or you will. On a day-to-day basis, I think that we here at this hotel take a bit too much for granted that we’re running our little operation in the Silicon Valley. We give you all your breakfast, send you off to a day of abstract “work,” and have a drink waiting for you when you return. But do we really recognize that what many of you are out there doing for eight or more hours a day is changing our modern world? Maybe not. So, this is something I’m really interested in and some of you, my readers, can answer my questions. What does it feel like to have been a part of something that shifted the entire culture? To be a part of what’s changing it now? Does it fill you up with pride everyday, or is it more of an idea to sit peacefully with, just from time to time?

Maybe we humble hotel hands can even get a little bit of vicarious pride for ourselves from this. After all, it’s well documented that a good night’s sleep can affect a day’s productivity. So, it’s maybe just a little bit possible for the providers of said night’s rest to feel that we have our own tiny role in history. And if you want to know more about Cherry Vanilla, she’s got a new book out (Nov. 1), a memoir called LICK ME – How I Became Cherry Vanilla (by way of the Copacabana, Madison Avenue, the Fillmore East, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and the Police).

June 21st, 2010

It’s a sad and exciting time here at our little hotel. To be honest, we’re just not so used to turnover. People will move around a little bit, sure. Sammy used to prepare the food at night, now he prepares the drinks. Jerry went from bartender to Director of Sales and Marketing. Adam does something different everyday. Internal movement is fine, it breaks up any potential monotony, lets people broaden their resumes and still stay in the family. I guess we try not to think so much of why they they’ll want those resumes, focusing instead on how cool and multi-skilled our family has become over the years.

But now, suddenly, we’ve been blindsided. This month will see the departure of two managers. Two. How will we even recognize ourselves come August?

Panic, however, is not the solution. And so, with the idea that talking helps in times of crisis, I am going to tell you who is leaving and why, and who will replace who and why. That’s right, in true California style, the next pages will be devoted to processing our losses, coming to terms with impermanence and trying to understand the finite nature of all human connection. But I also promise debaucherous stories of drinking and gambling, so don’t leave me!

Let’s start with Mike Pinsel. Leaving after only (three?) years, it would seem as if we had barely enough time to get to know him. But, considering that he was given a room at the hotel when he was first hired, just until he found a place for himself, and then never left, he managed to accumulate hours a little faster than the average employee. Add to that his unquenchable thirst for staff gossip and one can begin to understand how Princess Pencil, as he is every so often referred to, fully knew and was known in such a comparatively brief little wisp of time.

But lest, in the wake of his departure, you should think about a nickname like “Princess,” or maybe stumble on a facebook group called “I hate Pinsel,” I will tell you now that he leaves with all our love and support. Well, support is maybe a strong word, but we are doing our best to understand that he needs to go, finally, and give into his true calling, at least for a while. And so, Mike Pinsel leaves us to become a professional poker player. He’s not going far. If ever you should miss him, he’ll be just down the street at Garden City. The question is, who, now, will step up and give a curious but reticent general manager her daily update on the love lives of her staff?

It’s also true that we lose a little bit of our cool when we say goodbye to the princess. A professional poker player, after all, is pretty hot. But, fear not, we’ve found a way to replenish the cool deficit with his replacement. What hotel do you stay at (sad as it is to think of you in any other but ours) that can boast of mother and daughter managers? Maybe not so many. Perhaps not any. Until now, that is.

Laura has been our housekeeping manager since round about the time when her daughter, Liliana, was learning to write her name. A couple of weeks after little Lili was big enough to not need daycare, she started working at the front desk. Since then she’s graduated high school, been to college. She even left us for a little while; a little youthful rebellion I guess. And now she’ll be our front desk manager. I like to think of mother and daughter managers together in a managers’ meeting. They get along extraordinarily well, is the thing, so they could be like a team, where everyone else is an individual. Subtly threaten the general manager’s authority. Could be good fun ahead!

But looking back for just another moment, we have also to say goodbye to Aaron, our reservations manager. After 13 years. Truly we lose a brick out of our foundation when Aaron goes, and yet he is making the right choice. He’s been here with us since he graduated from high school, working his way in and around just about every position we had to offer him. He has said that this was his college and, as such, he fully completed his course work. He went from the front desk to reservations to manager, was taken on business trips, organized events. He even moved into the hotel for a brief little moment. But he also deferred his graduation for quite a while, knowing that he had come here to prepare himself for something else, but unsure quite what that something was. Earlier this year he took a second job, working something like 12-hour days on the weekends. He was very optimistic at first, but when he started posting on facebook the number of days he’d worked without one off, we knew it was not the solution he was looking for. I think we all started preparing ourselves to say goodbye around then, even though it was the weekend job he let go of in that moment.

This, I guess, is the reality of a young staff. Mostly they are preparing for their lives and, so, will eventually be prepared and leave. I guess we got Aaron for a little longer than we, or he, expected. The work is to appreciate what’s there and not always have to long for more. This is some heavy life stuff here.

His replacement will be Jazz. It’s just fun to write about Jazz, I don’t care what he’s doing. Jazz has already been the sales manager for meetings and events for the last few years, plus he is manager (and sole member) of our IT team, so this is kind of a lateral move for him, probably just our dear general manager trying to stump him a bit because if he stays comfortable too long he gets smug. How could he not? His name is Jazz. Jazz is a slick character and someday he will leave us and make millions of dollars, probably doing something that will improve the general quality of the world, but don’t tell him I said that. Humility is not among his many natural gifts.

Taking over Jazz’s old management position will be Jonathan. The last time I wrote to you about Jonathan, he was en route to becoming a police officer. Had he stuck to that plan, he would have been done and gone long ago. When I talked to him back then he was very idealistic about his future career, full of all the fantasies of being a good cop that had stayed with him since childhood. Little by little, however, he started getting disillusioned. It takes a strong character to really scrutinize an old dream, and then to walk away from it, and this is exactly what Jonathan did. He’s taking business classes now, a little uncertain about how to proceed. Sad to say it, but we’re just the littlest bit happy for his existential crisis. The longer he wavers, the longer we’ve got with him and he is exactly the kind of caring, thoughtful person we rely on to keep the core of our hotel intact.

And now, just to change the subject for one moment, I would like to acknowledge how good it is that we say bellman now, instead of bellboy. I do have two questions though. First, why, given that a moderately strong woman can easily lift more than a moderately weak man, are there never any bellwomen? My spell check won’t even accept that that’s a word! Second, and this is perhaps more immediately pertinent, why is it that, although the head of every other department in the hotel is called “manager,” the head bellman is “captain”? I see nothing significantly militaristic in their duties. It’s true that a captain is many steps below a general, whereas manager seems only a little half step away from general manager. Is that it? Just a way of clearly saying that even though a man may be the boss of all the bellman, still his place is low?

Well, the next man who gets to negotiate that question around here will be Jesse Hicks. Jesse is easygoing, super relaxed and I would imagine that it would never occur to him to feel the imbalance of his title. What’s nice about Jesse is that he makes people laugh; people look forward to him being around and, for his part, he says that the best part of his job is the community. He’s pretty young and hasn’t been manager, or captain, of anything yet. It will be nice to see how the responsibility opens him.

So, that’s it. That’s what’s happening around here. We’re a little emotional, so don’t be shy with your hugs this month. And we promise to try not to cry when you leave, though even the most normal goodbyes are proving kind of challenging just now. Making reservations for your next visit as you check out helps. Just so you know.

May 28th, 2010

In LA the temperature never falls below 80 degrees and the whole purpose of people’s lives is what they look like and who’s seeing them look like that. In LA there are many many restaurants where you can sit outside. In Europe meals take longer. An entire night’s plans will be only to go out for dinner, as opposed to dinner, a movie and drinks afterward. Plus everyone smokes and, though it’s still mostly ok to smoke inside, even the Europeans must have to admit that sitting with cigarette smoke is more tolerable if you’re outside. All over Europe there are lots of places to eat outside as well. Are these the reasons why the open-air restaurants are there, or is it only what I have been able to observe about people because the open-air restaurants are there? I only ask because I want to know why there are not so many places to dine al fresco in Silicon Valley. Our weather is almost as nice as LA’s in the winter, and much nicer in the summer. We’re surrounded by mountains (the “valley” part of the name having not been randomly generated). Even if we don’t have the sprawling European plazas, still it’s beautiful here! What’s missing? If supply follows demand, then why have we, the people of Silicon Valley, not demanded dinner outside?

What I have to offer to you, now, in response to my own questions, is dinner outside every Wednesday night. That’s right, it’s summer BBQ time again! Steak and chicken, grilled to order, baked potatoes, a salad buffet, and dessert. And, of course, drinks are as free on BBQ night as they are on every other night of the year!

April 28th, 2010

I was born in California and have thus far spent my life in California. Without actually exposing my age, plus acknowledging that one doesn’t actually, consciously remember much from before around age 5, let’s say I’ve got a good quarter century of California weather observation in me. Give or take. And so, let me tell you that we have two types of year here. The first is what people will call drought. Most of my years in California have been called drought, which leads to a sense of vicitmization at the hands of Mother Nature. Actually, though, most of California is a desert and deserts don’t get much rain. So, mostly we don’t get much rain and people fret and complain, but we’re in shorts and t-shirts by March, deeply tanned by April, and sort of abstractly concerned about the future in general.

The second type of year is called “El Nino.” I do not know why. The El Nino years don’t come very often, but when they do it rains and rains and rains and all the reservoirs fill up, but so do the streets and the parks and the schools because even though people act like the dry years are abnormal, actually it seems that nothing in California was built to accommodate more rain than what falls in a “drought” year. And people fret and complain and do not understand how to be cold and wet in April. Myself very much included.

This was an El Nino year. It seemed like the rain would never stop. I, personally, gave up on the possibility of sunshine. One doesn’t need the sun for energy, I thought, when there are yoga classes and coffee to be had. It could be ok.

But it came back! The sun came back! It’s here now and it’ll stay until September, at least; and with it comes the kind of heat that makes bones sit easily in joints and ice-cold soda taste like heaven. I love summer! And so, with that, let me recommend our pool. True, it’s open all day long all year long, but now is the time when it turns from a means of getting one’s exercise, into a relaxing destination on a well deserved day off. And, after all, there’s nothing quite like a California glow to take home as a souvenir of your business trip!