Well, friends, Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. I, personally, am super excited for it. I’ve got the whole day planned out. First, I think, I’ll go to the grocery store. Maybe I’ll even go to two. Then I’m for sure going to head over to Target. There’re a few things I’ve needed for a while, but I’m always scared away by the chaos of figuring out where to put my car and the lines and the general sense of being an ant in some sadistic kid’s ant farm. I might even get crazy and just drive up and down the 880 for a few hours. Some of you may be familiar with this parking lot that we call, I guess just out of habit, a freeway? It could be nice to make a few loops on when it’s free and clear, maybe I can release some frustration.
Sorry if this is sacrilegious and offensive. I hope it’s at least clear that I love the Super Bowl as much as anyone else. What I get from, it’s meaning in my life, is different from yours, maybe, but we’re all sharing this anticipation together.
That said, something’s been bothering me in the lead up to the game this year. I keep seeing interviews with players talking about the danger of the game. One guy who’s currently playing said that if the NFL doesn’t change, someone’s going to die on the field. Another, retired, detailed the physical and mental difficulties he’s having in his post-NFL life. All this is in keeping with the current conversation about football, I know, but what bothers me is that these interviews are being run, it seems, not to keep people away from the big game, but to sell them on it. Am I being too sensitive? It feels like the Super Bowl is being sold as a snuff film this year.
Of course, the marketing of the Super Bowl can’t touch the great day that’s coming!
I’m choosing a questionable topic today, and I’m sorry for those of you who I’m about to lose. Still, from looking over shoulders in public places over the last year or so, I know that deciding to vent my Words with Friends woes here is surely not going to alienate so very many of you. Or, maybe it’ll be inane drivel to all but one of you, who will totally relate and pass it on, and that person will pass it on, and on and on, until finally it gets to Alec Baldwin, most famous of all Words with Friends players, and then I can have a game with him. Which I know I would win.
The thing is, I’ve been playing this one game against my brother for weeks and weeks now. It’s been neck and neck the whole time. Although, just to say, I have pretty consistently been the one with five or ten more points. Anyway, now we’re at the end. I have three letters left and I’m eight points ahead. This could be the setting for the best kind of victory, the close one. I should be able to find minute gems of words to maintain my skanty little lead, but I can’t do it. I always say that it’s a sign of a weak player to blame your performance on the letters you draw, but, listen, my last three letters in this epic finale are i, i, and u. It’s a catastrophe! Should I have planned better? I suppose. But the points were too close to do anything but go for maximum on every turn. But is that wrong thinking and the reason that my brother is the superior player? Ugh! My brother cannot be the superior player. I’m paralyzed. I’m spending way too much time staring hopelessly at that little screen. Now I’m even writing about it here. I can’t figure out how to win, but I’m unwilling to lose. I hate this!
Thank you for indulging that tantrum. Best of luck in your own games.
I want to name a few facts that have popped up recently. Most of them you’ve probably already heard, but it seemed to me that it would be fun to make a little list.
Santa Clara County, meaning the Silicon Valley, meaning our home, meaning this place you come to visit us in, was just reported to have the strongest economy in the entire country. Not that it hasn’t been clear for some time that our recovery was happening faster than that of our neighbors, but being given that first place prize is always a sweet moment.
The San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin area was named number 36. Not so impressive until you think about how many counties there are in this country.
Last October the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. For the second time in three years.
In two weeks, the San Francisco 49ers will play in the Super Bowl.
Something that you may not have noticed is that our governor is no longer the Terminator. The man in that office today is sitting in it for the second time. His first stint was in 1975 and in the interim he went to Japan to study Buddhism, worked with Mother Theresa and invited his spiritual advisor to share his home. Most recently he did some kind of a mind meld where he actually convinced Californians to vote to raise our own taxes, and he’s just balanced our budget for the first time in who knows how long.
Also, I’m writing this on January 25th and it’s 65 degrees and sunny.
I guess the point of all of this is that I’m having a moment of feeling like I’m living in the country’s sweet spot. And aren’t you lucky that you get to stop by from time to time?
Yesterday morning I got an email invitation to a little dinner party that was to happen last night. Something like fifteen people were invited, so it was to be small but not tiny. I was the first to respond, saying that it was going to be my first day out of bed after the flu, and I’d have to see how I was feeling a little later. Within the hour, three quarters of the list had bowed out, each with a description of which stage of the flu he or she was in. Even the host chimed in, saying he was just over it himself, and promising medicinal cocktails to whoever managed to drag themselves out. In the end I think three people showed up. I was not one of them.
My qi gong teacher took this rampaging flu as an opportunity to say that this is why we should all be bowing to each other when we meet, instead of shaking hands or, god forbid, hugging. But she sniffled her way through the practice and finally admitted that she, too, had spent the last few days curled up in bed, so there went her hygienic authority.
And you, poor travelers, how are all of you holding up this flu season? There’s nothing quite like the exhaustion of time zone shifting, plus being removed from the comforts and routines of home, combined with a nice long incubation in the stale air of an airplane cabin, to suck all the power from your immune system just when you need it most, no? Let me tell you, though, if you land here with the flu, stuck in a stupid hotel room, all alone, please don’t be afraid to ask us for a little help. We understand how hard it is to be sick away from home and we’ll support you however we can.
The world has gotten wildly connected in the last years. Every new place we go, the first thing to ask for is the wireless password, and when we’re outside the protective field of one or another wifi network, 4G is there to make sure we never have to wonder about any little bit of trivia that should cross our minds. And yes, it’s a great new time that has given us, for example, the Arab Spring, but there are some downsides too. The expectation that work emails will be seen no matter when they’re sent, for example. Playing Words with Friends instead of paying attention to the real friends you’re actually sitting with, also.
Well, over at the Cupertino Inn, we tried to provide a bit of a safe haven for all of you. We thought that if our internet never worked properly, it would turn your nights with us there into a welcome vacation from connectivity. Sure, you might grumble to your coworkers in the morning, but secretly you would revel in the old-school freedom and thank us for our unwillingness to join the masses. Years of hate mail have convinced us otherwise.
And so, I’m pleased to announce that as of this week, the Cupertino Inn has joined the modern world. Our wireless network should be, from now on, as smooth as it is everywhere else. We apologize for all the many, many inconveniences.
The first news of this new year is that last year’s holiday canned food drive was an unexpectedly huge success! Jerry, our director of sales and marketing, had the idea and it’s the kind of idea that no one can really shoot down without looking like a jerk, but we honestly did not have such high expectations for the project because, really, most non-perishable donation drives end up getting stocked with the dusty, unwanted contents of people’s pantries. A hotel, then, should have a pretty hard time, as none of you have access to your decades-old cans of beets when you’re here with us. Nor would you be at the grocery store anyway and just toss an extra can in while you were there. And yet the barrels filled. And then they spilled over. Even with a certain front desk worker, who shall remain nameless, treating those barrels like a lunch counter, we far exceeded our goal. What this means is that not just some, but lots of you went out of your way to go out and buy a can of soup or a bag of rice to bring to our drive.
Starting off a new year, there’s always so much talk about new beginnings, clean slates, fresh starts. Not that those aren’t really useful metaphors for people stuck in their ruts, but it’s nice, here at this hotel, to feel no need for any of that motivational imagery. We’re doing well. Our barrel runneth over, if you’ll forgive me for finding a cliché that does apply. Thank you all for your donations.
Last October I saw Leonard Cohen in concert for the first time. Having listened to his music for years, pored endlessly over his lyrics and actually cried watching a video of him singing on my little iphone screen, I did know that seeing him live was going to be a big experience. I even treated myself to an expensive ticket, pretty sure it would be worth it. And still I was shocked by how moving he was. 78 years old and I got the feeling that he’s so in love with life, that, now that he knows there’s not so many years left for him, he’s trying to suck as much of the nectar as he can hold. His voice has gotten so low, and he drops to his knees so often, it’s like the earth is fighting to reclaim him and he just won’t go. And the music, and those impossible lyrics, are so deep and rich and full of pragmatic mysticism and to see their source, this little old man, giving them up with so much generosity and love was, well, humbling and energizing past anything I’ve ever gotten from a live performance of anything. I left feeling that if this crazy world, so full of war and destruction, could also produce Leonard Cohen, maybe everything would be ok after all.
I say all that because he’s coming back to the Bay Area. March 2nd and 3rd he’ll be in Oakland at the Paramount Theater. If you already liked him before this awkward little tribute, or if I’ve piqued your interest at all, go. This tour will not last forever.
Lots of you live in different cities, states, and even countries, from your where your parents are, I’m sure. You call, go visit when you can, but you’ve made a home somewhere else. Or else they have. Either way, your values, comfort zones, and communities are different. This is more or less the norm these days. Kennedy, our new front desk worker, is basically falling in line with the modern standard, then, choosing to live in California though his mother is in Texas.
It’s a little more complicated, though. Kennedy, you see, was born in Texas, as was his mother. But while she grew up a Texan and moved to California as an adult experiment, Kennedy, who was 4 when they arrived in the Golden State, spent all his formative years becoming a California boy. So that when he was going into his junior year of high school and she couldn’t find work and decided to move to what she considered home, he tried to go with and found that he couldn’t. Home for him was different than it was for his mother and so, after just a few months, the two of them agreed that he could move back to California. He was sixteen. He moved in with a friend, got a job, supported himself in the choice he had made to let his mother go. He’s since graduated from high school and though he applied, and was accepted, to college in Texas, ultimately he couldn’t do it. He’s going to junior college now, planning to transfer to UC Santa Barbara.
And so he’s here with us, the youngest member of our little team. But though he’s full of all the youthful uncertainty about what he’ll do with his life and what he wants from the world, this is a guy who’s made a tough decision and made it work. When the right thing comes, he’ll know how to act. And when you have a problem, he’ll figure out how to solve it.
I was in Chicago not so long ago and had, for the first time in my life, real deep-dish Chicago pizza. It was about 3 inches thick, soft and gooey on the inside, crisp on the outside, with tons of cheese. It was topped with these huge meatballs that would have been ridiculous on its skinny cousin, but were just the right fit for this decadent monstrosity. This pizza was extraordinary and eating it was heaven. But it was also kind of rough. The crust was called “caramelized” and though it tasted great, whatever was done to “caramelize” it made it look uneven, burnt and a little sloppy. And, to be honest, the place we found this magical meal was kind of a dive. Or, rather, it was just some pizza place, with pitchers of cheap beer and different sports being shown on TVs all around us.
Here in the Silicon Valley, if you want a deep-dish pizza, you have two choices. You can go to Uno’s, the big chain where everything is formulaic and has been chosen by polls and committees and is guaranteed to be mildly reminiscent of the average experience of a thing that most people have found pleasant, or you can go to Paxtis. Paxtis serves beautiful deep-dish pizzas. The crusts are made of cornmeal and are perfect every time. The list of toppings is nothing short of gourmet. The restaurant itself is dim, with candles on the tables, and their wine lists are separate from their main menus. It is not just some pizza joint and you do not just go in there on a sloppy Sunday to watch the game.
But before I knew the difference, I loved Paxti’s. It’s not Chicago pizza, it’s the bourgeois, fancy, California bastardization of the brilliant simplicity of Chicago pizza, but it’s pretty great anyway.
Every now and then, when I’m feeling fancy and highbrow, I’ll go see a show at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. All of the big, old names in performance pass through there. Alvin Ailey and the Joffrey Ballet for example. Lots of classical music. Most of the audience has gray hair and wears sensible shoes. That kind of culture, you know.
There’s also a grant named Zellerbach. Every year my artist friends compete for it and are happy when they get it because it’s not insubstantial.
What I’m trying to say is that, around the Bay Area at least, the name Zellerbach carries some weight. James D Zellerbach was a successful businessman, he was instrumental in the administration of the Marshall Plan, he served as ambassador to Italy, he was a big philanthropist and, it turns out, he founded a winery in Sonoma County too. The Hanzell Winery’s name is a combination of Zellerbach’s wife’s first name, Hana, and, well, Zellerbach, and the wines it produces are as respectable, successful and well heeled as everything else Ambassador Zellerbach laid his hands on.
It makes us, here at our humble little hotel, seem kind of cool, pouring Ambassador Zellerbach’s wines out for free every night. It’s like we get to participate in the world of international diplomacy and the kind of snooty, out-of-touch philanthropy that is the reason a company like the Joffrey Ballet gets to stay alive in spite of its cultural irrelevance. The people who made this wine never had to sully their hands with cash and, my friends, when you sip their wares in our bar, neither do you. From 5-7 anyway.