When Olivia, who now works behind our front desk, graduated from high school, she was confused about what she wanted to do with her life. Surprised? I’m guessing no. This is the story of nearly every one of my under-30 coworkers, our little hotel serving as a nice, warm incubator for those who know they are headed somewhere, but just need a little more time to find the starting line. Olivia, though, 18 and unsure, did something you have not yet read about in this little newsletter: She moved to Sierra Leone for a year to work on a farm.
She says that being there taught her about simplicity and that coming back to life in the American suburbs was a little confusing. She’s 20 now and she’s been with us for a little over a year, meaning that she came to us just a couple of months after leaving Africa. This hotel, she says, has been great for her because she loves to be connected to all the travelers. She sees more travel in her future and, in the mean time, values the connections to an international life that she can make through you, our guests.
In the mean time, as she was transitioning from African field work to Silicon Valley hotel work and found herself still confused about a larger pathway, her mother persuaded her to go through a dental hygienist course, so that she would have a career. She now cleans people’s mouths during the week, learning from that that there are things that she most certainly will not be choosing to do with her life long term, and comes here on the weekends. Her dream is to move back to Africa. She says she will live there permanently as soon as she can figure out how. Until then, we’ve got her and she’s got us.
As mentioned previously, what we’re experiencing right now is get your butt outside kind of weather and, in that spirit, this month I’m not giving you a restaurant to go sit inside of but, rather, another local farmer’s market to check out. This one is on Sunday mornings and it can be found in San Jose’s Japantown, which is a nice little cultural enclave to explore all by itself.
It’s a whole Sunday that I’m proposing, actually. You sleep in a little then get up and have a leisurely breakfast with us. Around noon, you meander over to Japantown where you lunch on hummus, maybe dipped with organic carrots from the next stand over. (I know. I’m recommending that you go to Japantown for Middle Eastern food, but, listen, this is really good hummus.) After your farmer’s market needs have been sated, you’ve got an afternoon in “one of the last three remaining authentic, historic Japantowns left in the United States”. There’s a beautiful, old Buddhist church, as well as a brand new mural project. And, of course, there are shops full of cute stuff. There should be enough to keep you occupied until it’s time for the big decision: Come back to the warm embrace of our open bar, or stay in Japantown for a glass of cold sake? In this I can’t guide you.
We’ve recently started, in our bar, serving wines from the Swanson Winery, which seems to be a very interesting operation. There are two winemakers on board, men who represent very different aspects of contemporary winemaking. The first is Chris Phelps, a California native who, early in his life, became a devout Francophile. He studied at the Institute of Enology at the University of Bordeaux and then worked as a winemaker in the Bordeaux. On returning to California, he worked at a few different wineries, but when he came to Swanson it was to dive back into his dedication to merlot, the biggest red variety in Bordeaux. He’s a minimalist who prefers to grow and harvest the grapes perfectly and then do a minimal amount of technical intervention during the winemaking. Old school French, in other words.
Marco Capelli, by contrast, is more of an innovator. Yes, he studied in the old world, crediting the Italians with teaching him that wine is food and an important part of the daily meal. He also, though, went to Australia to study their techniques which, apparently, evolved parallel to, but relatively uninfluenced by, their European counterparts. He was thus able to bring cutting edge innovation to Swanson, an example of which is that in 1992 he started making sweet wines, becoming one of the only, if not the only, sweet wine specialist in the country.
So, there you have it. You have the option of a refined merlot made the ancient way, or the rare experiment of an American dessert wine, both from the same winery. But, then, since it’s free when you’re with us, you might just want to try both!
Around this time of year, when the days are getting longer and longer and the nights are staying warmer and warmer, I start craving all of my favorite summertime coolers. On Friday, for example, I had my first shandy of the year. It was kind of a surprise to want it because the idea of asking for a glass filled half with lemonade and half with beer had not once occurred to me since last summer, as if I had forgotten it existed. Suddenly, though, finding myself baking under a hot sun, it popped right into my head.
Now that I’ve had that shandy, they’re all coming back to me. White wine spritzers are another big love of mine. I know it’s offensive to some people to pour sparkling water into a nice glass of wine, but, then, the good thing about a spritzer is that a nice wine is not necessarily required. And, really, it’s such a nice lunchtime treat on a hot day when the sun is trying to bog you down.
The new one that I learned last summer in Europe is the Aperol spritz. You all are probably way more worldly than me and, so, may be old friends with this bitter, bubbly beauty, but for those who have yet to make its acquaintance, this is the bitter orange Aperol mixed with a bit of prosecco and a bit of sparkling water to make a light, effervescent cocktail that is the color of sunset and is best enjoyed while watching it.
That’s the list that’ll get me through the summer. What’s on yours?
Here’s something you might want advance warning on if you’re making plans for any Bay Area road tripping: From now on you can no longer pay the toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on site. This is not to say that there is no longer a toll to cross the bridge, there’s just not going to be anyone there to take your money anymore. Instead, you have to either open an account that automatically charges your credit card whenever you cross a Bay Area bridge, or go online and make a one-time payment with each crossing. As I write this, it doesn’t seem so bad. Going online to make the payment is easy; I’m already really appreciative whenever I can do it at a parking meter. No one will have to worry about whether they can scrounge enough change to make it through anymore, which was getting increasingly problematic as we have less and less reason to carry any cash at all.
Plus, I had always heard that taking tolls on a bridge is the worst job there is. They say people will use cigarette lighters to heat coins, so that the coins scald the operators’ hands. There’re stories of bills smeared in feces before being handed over. Whether those are true or not, for sure the people working on bridges marinate in exhaust fumes all day and receive money that people are not pleased to be handing over, none of which sounds great.
Still, though, I can’t help but feel a little sad to hear of yet another segment of the working population being replaced by machines. I hate talking to machines on the phone. I hate checking my own self out at the grocery store. Call me a Luddite, but I miss people, and the way their idiosyncrasies can bounce off of mine and make the details of a day a little more interesting. I guess I’ll find it more convenient, but hollowing out life for the sake of convenience is also a little depressing.
Ok fellow travelers, here’s my declaration for the day: My favorite airport is Amsterdam’s Schiphol. Granted, I do not say this as someone who claims to have been to so very many of the world’s airports. I’m sure lots of you have, in fact, been to lots more than I may ever get to in my lifetime. Still, I’ve gotten myself around a bit and I love Schiphol.
Describing the last time I flew through Amsterdam, I think, is as good a way as any to justify my argument. I had flown from San Francisco, so was getting off something like an 11-hour flight. My destination, Berlin, would only take 1 little hour more in the air, but I had to wait 6 hours to get on that next plane. I was that horrible, cramped, painful, time-confused kind of exhausted that can make international travel seem like masochistic lunacy and all I wanted was a corner to crawl into. In most of the airports I’ve been laid over in, I could have found some little space to cram myself into, trying to get enough room to stretch my poor crunched limbs, without being too greedy and inconsiderate of the hordes around me who also needed a place to sit. At Schiphol, however, I took a little stroll and found a long, empty corridor, with no gates, no shops, no busy-ness. At the end of that corridor were a few lounge chairs, all empty, and windows with a view of the runways. I got myself a coffee with a shot of whiskey in it and lay there, alternating between dozing and watching the planes come and go. It was a peculiar blissed out trance that I fell into that day and it’s hard to believe that all the hustle and bustle and commerce of such a major airport could have afforded me that peace.
That’s only my experience, though. What’s your favorite?
The weather this week has been strange. It’s supposed to rain and then it doesn’t, or it does, but only very early in the morning. The clouds hover, mostly staying clear of the overhead space, but still sitting, waiting, on the horizon. And everyday the week’s forecast changes. Will the next days bring a full, cathartic rainstorm, or will it all just pass through and make way for summer? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
What this weird uncertainty does give us, though, is the perfect chance to visit Muir Woods, the redwood park just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. In ordinary circumstances it’s a well-maintained path through a field of old growth redwood trees, so, in other words, a chance to experience secular magic, and it’s for sure highly recommended. To go, though, when it’s raining is to hear a storm around you, and yet be protected by an ancient canopy. I’m not trying to be overdramatic and sappily poetic, but these trees have been alive for hundreds and hundreds of years, some of them even over a thousand, and when they are sheltering my individual little self from the elements, it makes me feel special.
Too cheesy for you? There are two other reasons to go to Muir Woods when it’s raining. First, the rain will be a deterrent to some people and so will alleviate the one problem with this popular tourist destination, namely, too many other people having the same idea as you on the same day and cramping up your walking space. The second is that if you were already looking for an outdoor adventure for this weekend but the things you were considering become too dangerous when they get wet, Muir Woods stays safe both because of the protective cover and because it’s actually a completely flat path so you will never, ever, ever slip on a wet rock and fall off a cliff.
Convinced? Maybe I’ll see you there.
I recently caught myself in yet another iteration of using technology to tear apart the moral fabric of society. It took me a couple of times, because each individual time seemed just fun and innocent, to realize how evil this new practice of mine really is. I’m going to tell you about it, even though I’m a little ashamed, just because I think that maybe it’s not just me who’s using their smart phone in this way and I think that we should all just agree to knock it off.
The first time I was with my stepmother. Her daughter had passed a handbag along to her that she, my stepmother, didn’t want. She wanted to know if I wanted it, but she also wanted to let me know that she felt a little crazy about just handing it off because her daughter, who had received it as a gift, had told her that the thing was worth $1,500. We both just sat there, then, looking at the thing in awe, neither of us having ever owned a bag that cost $1,500. But then I got suspicious. How could such a costly bag be getting handed around like this? Granted, my stepmother’s daughter runs in an excess-cash kind of a crowd, but still it seemed like too big an item to just be handed around. Plus, the thing was just really ugly. So, I did a simple, easy little thing. I looked at the tag and googled it. A few seconds later, we knew it had cost $250.
That time didn’t feel so bad, and maybe still doesn’t. Yeah, a little of the magic got stolen away, but at least we stopped treating an ugly zebra striped purse with undue reverence. This second time that I’m going to tell you about, this is the one where I realized that I was crossing a line I would do well to stay clear of. I was, again, with my stepmother and she had gotten a fancy box of chocolates from a neighbor. She was really excited and flattered to have a gift that, to her, was so exotic and decadent, and a part of that excitement was speculating on how much the neighbor had spent on the box. And it was so easy. Again I typed in the brand and looked for the quantity and a moment later we knew that it was a $45 box of candy. Sucking away that magic was a little sadder. We both just sat there, feeling like the thing was a little less special, not because it hadn’t cost enough, but because it had suddenly become so known and so attainable.
I’m not googling the cost anything I get from anyone, no matter what, ever again.
Today I have some news that’s almost exciting, but then kind of fails. Prince, the real live elfin genius, is coming to play at a little tiny club in San Francisco. It’s called the DNA Lounge and, as any of you who’ve ever been there can attest to, it’s possible that 400 people can fit in the place. Maybe. But it’s also possible that it’s not even that big. He’s doing 4 shows, though, so a fair number of people are going to be able to be a part of this. I like Prince, but I’m not the kind of fan who’s going to pay $250 to go see him, which is what the tickets cost. I immediately thought of my mother, though, who got really excited and tried to jump on it. It was 3pm when I found out and told her. Tickets had gone on sale at 1pm. All four shows were sold out. Which is, I suppose, the way it should have gone. This is a big opportunity, seeing him play such a small venue, and the only people who’re going to get to be there are the ones who’re tapped in enough to Prince’s comings and goings that they knew they needed to be on the phone, or online, or wherever, at 1pm today. The truest of the true die hard fans, in other words.
But then I thought I might mention it here. Maybe one or another of you is a crazy Prince superfan. And we all know that there’s a big difference between a show selling out and not being able to find tickets to it. Just to let you know, then, if any of your ears are pricked up, the shows are at the end of April. Who knows what StubHub or craigslist might turn up over the next few weeks? Happy hunting.
Here’s a funny little thought that our general manager was rolling around the other day: How much of the technology that we at the hotel use every day was developed by someone who we feed and house a couple of days out of every month? Without getting specific, I can look around at just what I’m using right this moment and know that the answer is a lot. And much of what I’m using, I’m using because I’ve talked to one or another of you and have been seduced by the particular qualities of a product that you, or your company, has made.
And, as those of you non-tech regulars are protesting to yourselves right now, gadgetry is only the most obvious starting point of this conversation. Through our customers, there are those of us who’ve learned all we ever might want to know about citrus fruits, the superiority of Italian motorcycles, robots performing surgery and much more.
I suppose this is just one of those moments where we get to brag about this business we’re in. The contact that we get to have with such a wide range of worldly ventures is, at the risk of sounding cliché and cheesy, such a great way for each of us as individuals to learn about fields that we have no real right to have access to. At the very least it makes us, if we pay attention, smarter consumers. For some of us it even broadens our ideas about what’s possible in life.
How about you? What have you gone out and bought after talking to someone you met in our bar? If the answer is nothing, I’d say you need to strike up a conversation or two. You never know who you’re sitting next to.