For years there was movie house in Oakland called the Parkway Theater that everyone always talked about. It was small, apparently, with screens probably just a little bigger than what some people have got in their living rooms these days. And, actually, it seems it was meant to feel like a living room. There were couches instead of traditional movie theater seats and they sold beer and wine at the concession stand. I think there was pizza too. People loved it and I never went once in all the years I heard my friends raving about it and then it closed. I go by it every now and then, and there it still sits, its marquee calling out, “We love you Oakland,” though Oakland seems to have failed to love it back.
Suddenly now, though, there’s this place downtown Oakland called the New Parkway and it seems to be everything its predecessor ever was, with maybe a slightly cooler, and so hopefully more sustainable, location. It’s both a movie house and a café, and everything from the café can be taken with you into the movie. The selection of movies is pleasantly eccentric. Tonight, for example, you could go see Lincoln, that new zombie movie called Warm Bodies, or one of two documentaries. Oh, and I guess the café is where they’re counting on their money coming from because all movies are $6, except for the one of the documentaries that’s free.
I guess it’s obvious that I’m recommending that you go to someplace I’ve never myself been, but, if it helps at all I feel very foolish for never having gone to the Parkway Theater’s first incarnation and I will very, very shortly be heading out to this new version. I think you should too.
On a recent blustery afternoon, as our plans for outdoor adventuring were being washed away by the rain, a friend and I decided to drive up through the North Bay for a bit. We took Highway 1, passing through Fairfax and San Anselmo and a couple of other absurdly cute little towns, with no particular destination in mind. We got to Point Reyes and talked about stopping. Because Point Reyes is such a destination spot, and because we had accidentally arrived there, it seemed like a fine enough communal idea to fall into. But we weren’t quite ready, so we drove on a little bit further, really just about ten minutes more, and came upon a place called Nick’s Cove.
Maybe we only stopped because after Point Reyes it seemed like stopping was the thing to do, because there was nothing in particular about Nick’s Cove that was so very different from any of the other roadside places we had been seeing. But it was perfect; a lonely little wooden restaurant, surrounded by an inn and a few vacation homes, with windows overlooking the northern end of the bay. It felt like we had gone back in time. It felt like we were on some remote edge of the eastern seaboard, which we both agreed on even though, admittedly, neither of us knows anything about the east coast except what we’ve learned from literature and movies. We ate fish and chips and drank rose and walked out on a rickety old pier and felt like we were standing on a far corner of the earth. All that and we were home before it was dark.
If we’re lucky, which it seems like we might be, it’ll be raining for the next few weeks. April showers and all that. If you find yourself here on a rainy weekend looking for something to do, give Nick’s Cove a try. Come to think of it, it might even be nice without the rain.
Last month our big employee announcement was the return of Sunshine, the little ray of light behind who sits, again, behind our front desk. It wasn’t mentioned last time, though I think it had been mentioned before, that she, who is so genuinely loved and was so happily welcomed back, is also our general manager’s niece. And, as many of you well know, this is not the only case of blatant nepotism here at our little hotel. Our general manager hires her family rampantly, and when she’s employed all the relatives who’ll have her, she moves on to their friends. It’s not just her own family either; the family of nearly every other manager here is, to put it mildly, at least represented on the staff. This hotel is practically tribal.
Occasionally our general manager will get a little slack for this behavior. Nepotism is kind of a dirty word, after all, implying that positions haven’t been earned and that the potential function of an organization is being watered down. She’ll defend herself to the end every time, saying that she’s hiring people she knows she can trust and that there’s greater accountability this way. Still it rankles the modern American sensibilities we’re all carrying around, and besides that it just seems a little unfair.
Today, though, I read a little blurb on nepotism, written by a professor of business ethics, who talked about the argument Max Weber made against nepotism. According to this guy, James Fisher, Weber was anti-nepotism because family ties could “thwart the development of more impersonal social networks essential for modern business organization and practice.” Yikes! Isn’t the impersonal nature of modern business, like, killing our souls? Sorry, that’s a bit strong. At the very least, I know for certain that a hotel shouldn’t be run according to a philosophy of de-personalization. I write this feeling much better about our interwoven, unabashedly familial, tribal, non-modern business.
Arriving at the restaurant a friend had chosen for her birthday dinner a few weeks ago, I was a little perplexed. It was all the way in Palo Alto, which is not so very far, but it does take a little effort to get there and when we finally arrived it looked, well, really average. It was on the kind of street that’s so full of shops and restaurants that I never understand how people choose one over the other. Especially since, once inside, you can so often find yourself choosing between the same steak with mashed potatoes or chicken with roasted potatoes that every place on the block is offering. As there are plenty such places to be found 10 minutes away, I did not know why we had driven 25 to get to just another bistro.
But, to my surprise, Joya is different. Tapas are their thing and we were a big group, so we got to try lots and lots of their things; everything we chose off their menu, which is an eclectic mix of Spanish, Mexican and modern American anything goes, was a delight. I don’t know how my friend ever found this place, because it sits there just as lackluster, from the outside, as all the rest, but the zany rainbow of colors it we got to eat through that night were a wonderful surprise.
I wonder if this should make me wonder about all the other places I am still judging without trying, but that’s a question for another day. Go give Joya a try, we’ll discuss the rest later.
The Blue Rock Vineyards are all about size. Tiny, small, modest, to them, are synonymous with individual, personal and unique, which actually doesn’t sound so foreign or crazy, but it’s just not what we’re typically told by wineries that may be perfectly happy to invest in their small businesses, but would not be so unhappy to see those little ventures grow up and out, either.
Blue Rock is different in that it is the second career of a man who worked in finance and wanted to be, not a winemaker, but an artist. Where others seem to come into this out of an interest in farming, in the land, in the history or tradition of viticulture, Nikitas Magel came in because he got fascinated with the beauty of a single bottle of wine and wanted to learn to do that as intricately and gorgeously as a painter wants to paint on a single canvas. He tells a story about a man he knew once, not a wine maker but a wine collector, who collected because he loved the wine and started selling them because it had become impossible for him to drink them all. I suppose Magel would style himself in the same fashion, only selling his wines because he’s made a few too many for personal consumption. Of course, where he professes admiration for this man he learned from selling his rare wines for $2 a bottle, he sells his own artistic excess for $45-$100 a bottle. Lucky for you, we’re giving it away for free here in our bar, as you know, from 5-7pm every night.
It’s a little late to be passing on this information, I know, but I just right now learned that Downtown Campbell has an art walk. Do you all know about this phenomenon? They’ve been happening for the last few years in San Francisco and Oakland. Once a month, a neighborhood will open its doors for local artists to show their work and for the community to walk through and see what their neighbors are up to. It’s a giant street party, it’s a chance for artists looking for an audience to have their work seen, and it’s a way for a community to coalesce. I don’t know, maybe this has been happening in Campbell for as long as anywhere else and I only just got invited to it today, but to me it’s exciting to see the South Bay, which tends more to suburban isolation, get into some community action.
The thing is, it’s on the third Friday of every month, which means that it’s starting in just a couple of hours. I’m pretty sure that this is not enough notice for most of you. It’s not enough notice for me, in fact. Still, it seemed like a good idea to plant the thought in your minds now, because it happens on the third Friday of every month and because the days, from now on, are just going to get longer and warmer and prettier and some third Friday, maybe, you’ll be here in town and you’ll remember about this street party you heard about and there it will be, this lovely little treat waiting for you.
My favorite thing that ever happened to me while traveling happened in Berlin. It’s strange, in a way, to tell it as a travel story, because it could just has well have happened in San Francisco, but it didn’t and so it’s a story about Berlin.
I was in this great pizza place near the canal in Kreutzberg, run by Italians who deal with the linguistic conflict in Berlin between German and English by running their business in Italian. But the beer they serve is German sized and after a couple of huge steins I found myself in need of the ladies room. I followed some signs and was led through a door into a heavily graffitied hallway. It was hard to pick through the chaos of the walls to understand if this was, in fact, where I was going to find the bathroom, so I poked timidly along. At the end, though, I found a door that said “herren”. The mens room! I turned around and saw that just next to the door I had come in was another door labeled “damen”. Mystery solved! I headed toward it, but just as I got there, the first door was pushed open and I had to jump to avoid being hit. I had been so engrossed in the solitude of my bathroom puzzle that another person coming in shocked me. I screamed and I looked at this man who had just accidentally scared me so badly, and he looked at me and we both started laughing. And then he went into the mens room and I went into the ladies room.
I took my time. There was a ton of graffiti in there too and I was trying to sift through all the languages, seeing what I could understand, what I could at least identify. I held my hands under the warm water for a bit longer than necessary, I remember. And when I came out, that same guy jumped out and screamed at me. I was shocked, again, and I screamed, again and then we both cracked up laughing, again! That man waited for me to come out of the bathroom so that he could scare me. He didn’t know me at all. We didn’t even speak the same language. I could have gotten angry, or just not thought that that was funny. There could have been another woman in there, some third person, and she could have come out first and gotten pounced on. It was a bold action and I love so much that he took that risk and gave me that bizarre little anecdote.
Choosing a hotel can be a tricky endeavor, as I’m sure all of you know. Your business with them is so intimate, you want someplace to take your clothes off and sleep and shower, and yet there’s no real way of knowing what you’re going to find until you arrive. There have been a few times, now, where I’ve flown into a place, gotten into a taxi, given the driver the address and had him turn around and say to me, “Are you sure you want to go there?” But at that point, what’s the option? So I’ve only ever said yes and just nervously moved forward with the plan I made online.
My favorite of those times was in Podgorica, Montenegro. I found a place online, somehow. Whoever was responding to my emails was kind and welcoming, their website was pleasant and, knowing nothing about Podgorica, I arrived by train and found a taxi to take me to this hotel. “Are you sure?” the driver asked. Which was unusually unnerving because it was my first time in the Balkans and all I really understood about where I was, was that it was different from any other place I had ever been before. “Umm, yes,” I said. And so he drove, and he kept driving, and then he drove some more.
I soon realized that his hesitation was, at least partly, because the place I had found was way outside of the city. We arrived, finally, midway up a craggy little hill, at a small, modern-ish building, with no sign, right on top of a gorge. I wondered if there had been some miscommunication, if this really was even a hotel at all, and the driver was already nervous about bringing me there, so we agreed that he would wait while I went in. But I found very friendly, warm people who had been expecting me, so I took a deep breath and sent my driver away.
And so it was that I accidentally spent a night in the Montenegrin countryside. Meals were served under a tarp, overlooking the river. The only other guests were a group of Turkish day laborers who showed up sometime between lunch and dinner. I had hiked down to the river and was sitting, quietly admiring the place and how I had gotten to it, when around 15 of them showed up and started diving in, yelling and splashing and throwing a ball around. They talked to me, showed me their little bits of English and their sketchy diving tricks and I felt so far away from anything I had known before, and so lucky.
And the next day I got back in a taxi and went to someplace full of people I knew and things that had been chosen for me and I was more comfortable and so grateful for my accidental vacation from that comfort.
I’ve had a request for a funny hotel story. The problem is that the funniest story I know of about staying in a hotel didn’t happen to me and try as I may to think of an experience of my own that matches this one, I feel my fingers being pulled, as if this keyboard were a Ouija board, to tell a story about my brother.
My brother, to set the stage a bit, has been a sleepwalker his whole life. As kids we shared a room and it was one of the great pleasures of my childhood to watch him wander, in his blissful somnambulance, around our room, sometimes out of it. It was an odd little bit of magic in our house.
The differences between a random hotel room somewhere in the Midwest and the cozy safety of a childhood home, however, are vast. And when you’re sharing a room with a buddy, instead of your insomniac older sister, and the two of you have been out drinking, the chances that that guy’s going to be watching lovingly as you get up, in only your underwear, for a slumbering stroll, are smaller. So it was that my little brother awoke, in the middle of the night, to find himself in a generic and unfamiliar stairwell, in his boxers. And once the shock of the awakening had passed and he had re-placed himself in the world, then he had to face the realization that he had passed through not one, but two, doors without a key. He was locked into the stairwell.
Of course, as you know, it’s not actually possible to get locked into a stairwell in a hotel. Fire safety and all. You can always go down to the first floor. I feel bad for how much I love the idea of my little brother showing up at the front desk of this hotel, in only his boxers, asking for a key to his room. I wonder how long it took him to accept that this was what he was going to have to do. Did he hang his head, or hold it high? Did they ask for ID? Poor guy!
Maybe now I can think of my own funny or embarrassing stories, now that I’ve unblocked the valve. How about you? What’s your funniest, or most awkward hotel story?
About two weeks ago my car was broken into. I know what your first question is and, yes, I had a bag on the front seat. I know better, I promise, but I had told myself all the things I always tell myself to excuse the laziness of not wanting to move a heavy bag to the trunk. It was a nice neighborhood, I was only going to be a few minutes, it was dark, but not very late. All the times I tell myself those things and nothing gets stolen, they seem wise and pragmatic. Not this time.
My bag was stolen. It was a nice bag that I had spent a lot of time, though not so much money, stalking and then winning on ebay. I had two very expensive books in it. The funny little lunch bag that a friend had just given me was in there too. I was bummed and I drove home cursing my idiotic, laziness. I know better, I kept thinking.
When I got home, though, I had an email whose subject line read, “Your bag found”. The thief, it turned out, went through my bag, found nothing he (or she) wanted, and threw it under someone else’s car. That person found it and went through it until he found a way to contact me. Every single thing I lost that night is with me now.
In the days that followed, I found myself feeling good about the experience and at first I couldn’t figure out why. I still, after all, had to replace the window. Someone had still violated my personal property. The thing is, though the broken glass was shocking in the moment, it actually only confirmed what I already know about the world. I know better, I kept telling myself. I know people break into cars and steal whatever’s there. What I don’t know as well about the world is that people also will bother themselves to return a bag. I don’t know as well that people will help one another. So when someone helped me that night, it was a genuine surprise. In the end, I wound up feeling better about people than I had before.
This has nothing to do with hotels. It has to do with travel only because I use my car to travel from place to place. But I found myself, today, needing to remember about how people can be good, too, and I thought I’d share.