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April 14th, 2014

Traveling for work is pretty much the opposite of working from home. That seems like an obvious truth; rather than stay within the comfort of your home as you complete your daily tasks, you agree to give every one of them up for a period of time, in service of your job. However, on occasion it’s possible to reap a few of the benefits of working from home when your job has brought you here to our hotel. If you book a meeting in one of our meeting rooms when you’re already a guest here, you in fact get a combination of the advantages of working from home, plus the those of staying in a hotel.

On the work from home front we have, first and foremost, no commute. If the meeting is in the morning, that means sleeping longer. It means not sitting in traffic. It means not having to deal with whatever weather is happening that day, be it cold or heat, when you’re not yet fully awake and can’t quite be bothered. If, on the other hand, the meeting is in the afternoon, it means that your day can end as soon as the meeting does. You don’t have to save your energy for an end of day commute. You can finish up last conversations over drinks at the bar and not give half a thought to what that means about how you’ll get home. You are moments away from pajamas and TV and ease. And if the meeting goes all day, all the above is true for you.

On the hotel side, there are the benefits of inviting a whole lot of people over to your place, and not having to deal with cleaning up afterwards. And while you do have to give some thought to what to serve them all, that only has to go as far as browsing our catering menu and pointing to whatever suits you. The rest, we take care of.

So, you see, with us you can have the best of both worlds, if only for a day.

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April 14th, 2014

Because time is on some kind of super-express track, going faster and faster every year, it, somehow, is baseball season again. Are you aware, as you pass through our neighborhood from time to time, that we are home to not one but two MLB teams that pretty regularly do pretty well? More often than not, either the Oakland A’s or the San Francisco Giants find their way into the playoffs. Sometimes they both do. In 1989, when the last big earthquake hit the Bay Area, they were meeting one another in the World Series.

Now is a great moment to get out to a game. It’s the very beginning of a new season. Anything is possible. Maybe you’ve already got a favorite home team and you’ll come out to root for the early demise our local boys. That’s fine with us; we know they don’t go down easy. Or maybe you’ve never paid much attention to baseball before now and have no allegiances. In that case, go with no expectations and just see if you don’t get a little excited when the home team does well. Either way, find your way to a game now, and then, as you come in and out of the Bay Area throughout the summer and into the fall, you’ll have this little outing waiting here for you. You’ll have a team to check in on, as this season’s narrative unfolds.

As for which team you should choose, that’s got to be a personal choice. It’s true that the Giants have more recently won World Series’. It’s true that their stadium has a more beautiful location. The A’s tend to be a little less glamorous. Oakland’s the less polished of the two cities. Should glamour, polish and beauty be considered positive or negative attributes when choosing a baseball team? Your call.

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April 14th, 2014

When Dave, the Grand Hotel’s bartender, left, the bars at both hotels got thrown into a bit of upheaval. Of the shifts that have been made in the wake of that departure, probably the cutest is that, for one night a week at each hotel, the bar will now be filled with Sunshine. You all know Sunshine, of the shy smiles and the glitter infused hair, nametag, fingernails. She’s been working behind our front desk for the past few years, quietly changing from little girls to young woman and now, it seems, she’s even old enough to serve drinks.

Anyone who knows Sunshine knows how apt her name is. She brightens the room, lightens the mood. When she said she wanted to start taking shifts behind the bar, the answer was obviously going to be yes. She’s exactly who you want to run into after a long day at work, or a harrowing flight, and she’ll be nearly as pacifying to your nerves as the drinks she’s serving.

She’s only just begun, she hasn’t gotten in too deep yet, and so there is one question remaining: What kinds of decorating choices will she make for the bar? Where will she sneak her subtle bits of glitter? What stickers will she choose, and where will they turn up? Because this is the one maddening thing about Sunshine: this quiet insistence that everything around her sparkle. If anyone else were glittering the common workspace, it would not be tolerated, and yet, somehow, when she does it, at least for the time she sits there in the midst of it, it seems so natural, and like she’s really improving things. And then when she’s gone, there are these silly shiny things all over the place that no one quite has the heart to do anything about. It remains to be seen how that will be dealt with by the rest of the bar staff.

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April 14th, 2014

When we were kids, my brother and I loved going to Benihana. “Cook right on the table” we called it, and whenever one of our birthdays came up, we’d beg to be taken to “cook right on the table” to celebrate. Now that I’m a grown up, there aren’t very many large corporate chains that I jump up and down at the mention of. I few years ago, longing for that “cook right on the table” experience, I went to a Benihana and found, in place of all the magic I remembered, the telltale signs of mass produced image manufacture. You know, the kind of details that bring you to us, in spite of all those Mariotts and Hiltons in the neighborhood. Alas.

What a pleasure, then, to be taken recently to Kyoto Palace. It’s got all the lively bustle, the seeming flirtation with danger, the smoke and steam and just plain old fun that I so much loved about the “cook right on the table” experiences from my childhood, plus its very own personal intangibles. If the chef wants to start throwing his knives, he may very well do it, there’s no corporate overlord around to keep things antiseptic. (I hope that came off as the ringing endorsement I intended it to be, my point being that a place like this is only fun if it feels kind of wild and unruly, words that corporate chains are allergic to.)

This is a great place to come for a party, a great place to bring a group with nothing serious to discuss. This is a bad place to come if you’re looking for intimacy. It’s also an imperfect place to come if you’re looking for a super high-level culinary experience. They light things on fire in the dining room at the Kyoto Palace, it’s that kind of a joint. Come for that kind of revelry and you’ll be very happy you did.

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April 14th, 2014

This month, instead of introducing you to yet another California wine, I’ve got something even more local for you to try. What could be more local than, say, the wine that sits fermenting in the hills you can see out the window of your room, you ask. Well, how about a little project happening right here in this little hotel? For the last several months, it seems, Ed, the weekend bartender at the Cupertino Inn, and Jerry, our marketing and sales manager, have been practicing a bit of alchemy. Infusing exotic flavors into a few of the bar’s old standards.

As experiments go, they needed a bit of time to sort themselves out. Bacon in whiskey is smoky decadence; sausage is fatty revulsion, it turns out. They haven’t peaked yet, but they have landed on a few winners. The aforementioned bacon whiskey, for example. They’ve also got a juniper cardamom, inspired by an idea of simplifying gin, and a pineapple jalapeno, inspired by pizza. They’re having a lot of fun doing this, so I’d imagine that there are going to be new things to sample for months and months to come. I would even go so far as to imagine that if you had and idea, and could convince them it was even slightly plausible, they could get it going and have it ready by the next time you blew into town.

Of course the good thing, as always, about trying out whatever I recommend here, is that it’s free when you are our guest. Not all of these are going to be to everyone’s taste and there’s nothing worse than paying big for some fancy specialty cocktail, only to find that the idea was better than the execution. The stakes are much lower here. Sure, you might end up with a bad taste in your mouth, but all you’ve got to do to fix that is ask for something else.

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April 11th, 2014

On an international, meaning very, very long, flight sometime last year, I found myself in an awkward situation. Having patiently waited through the takeoff and ascent for the moment when I could marginally ease the ergonomic nightmare of my economy seat by leaning it back those precious few inches, I pressed the button, pushed back, and was tapped on the shoulder by the woman behind me. She wanted me to keep my seat upright.

This is a monstrous request. I’ve heard about the horrors of limited leg room from very tall people. I believe it when I’m told that a leaned back airplane seat presses into their knees and tortures them in ways that may very well miniaturize the discomfort I feel in my back with the seat bolt upright. Had the person I found when I turned around been 6’5”, I may have felt a little more charitable, and considered doing some relative suffering equations.

The woman, however, was short. Her knees were nowhere near the back of my seat. She only just preferred that I not lean back, wanted those few inches for herself, and thought that it was her right to ask that of me. I told her that that felt unreasonable to me and kept the seat where it was. I felt a bit guilty, it’s not easy to put your comfort over someone else’s, especially when they’re going to be two feet away from you for the next ten hours, but pretty soon I relaxed, put it out of my mind.

When the meal was served, though, she tapped again. This time I acquiesced. Some airlines even ask you to do that, or so I remember from a time when meal service was more normal. As soon as the trays were taken away, though, I pushed myself back, and again she tapped. Hadn’t I already answered this question? I looked at the traveling companion to her right, and at my own. His seat was back and her friend hadn’t said a word about it. Why did she think this was an appropriate thing to ask of someone? I stayed where I was, but the rest of the flight was haunted by a sense that I was torturing the woman behind me for the sake of my own pleasure.

In retrospect, this is not right. Those inches belonged to me. In a perfect world we’d all have another foot or two on all sides of us, but in the reality of increasingly stingy airlines who know you’ll use their services no matter how poorly they treat you, space is a scarcity and the priority is for my back muscles to relax, not for this woman to have more free space around her head. It was evil of her to not respect that.

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April 4th, 2014

Standing in a particularly slow moving airport security line yesterday afternoon, I had the leisure to watch a curious thing unfold. As you’ve probably noticed, where there used to be just the massive block of waiting travelers, there are now a couple of different sub-options for getting yourself through the security mess. For a long time now it’s been possible to cut to the front of the line. No matter who’s been waiting, or for how long, you show up and you’re the next one up for full TSA personal space violation. Newer is the option of going through a fully separate line, a line that allows you to keep your shoes on, your laptop in your bag, and to submit yourself to neither radiation nor molestation. I’m sure you all are familiar with these developments; some of you may even be in on them. I, personally, still belong to the group that watches with envy and resentment as the privileged few breeze through the place of my captivity.

What I saw yesterday was a couple of elderly ladies who may very well have been playing the system. The first I saw of them, they were being escorted by a burly police officer out of the line marked for employees’ only. They looked to be somewhere around 80 years old and they tottered out in front of him, not with the shame or humility I would imagine myself feeling, but chatting with each other, presumably about where they maybe needed to go instead. To get to their next choice, they had to walk around the giant line I stood watching them from. There’s no way they missed seeing it. But they headed straight for the other empty line, the one where you get to keep your shoes on. I watched. Maybe they were meant to be in that line and had just gotten a little confused. But when they got to him, the agent looked at their tickets and did not wave them through. They did not walk away. They stood there, saying who knows what to the agent, to one another, looking at the tickets again, looking confused and bewildered, and not budging. The whole thing lasted about one minute, the time it took me to advance maybe five feet in my line, and then the confused, bemused agent decided to wave them through.

Best advertisement I’ve seen for aging in a long time.

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March 29th, 2014

A couple of years ago I had to travel, for a job, with a large group of people. The day before our flight, we met to discuss logistics. One member of the group, who lived a little bit out of town, had arranged to stay the night with a friend, so as to be closer to the airport for the next day’s early departure. She showed up, then, to our meeting with all of her luggage. And all of her luggage turned out to mean two giant suitcases plus a carry-on. The rest of the group was incredulous. We teased her for extravagance, for her willingness to pay all that she was surely going to have to pay for the privilege of keeping access to what must have been every one of her belongings, for one tiny little week away. And we made it very clear that no one would be lifting a finger to help when that burden got overwhelming.

Surprise, surprise, though, the next morning this woman showed up at the airport with only the carry-on sized rolling bag. “I reorganized,” she said, and we all just nodded in appreciation.

Half an hour later we were trudging our way through security. Most of us had been cleared and were looking around for the gate when we realized that this woman was being held up for extra security screening. “Racial profiling,” sneered one of our number, and indeed this is a black woman we’re talking about, but a couple moments later we understood that it was a little more complicated than that. We watched as she pulled off a jacket, only to reveal another underneath. That came off and then she was asked to remove first one and then two sweaters. Next came the three dresses that she had put on over I can’t remember how many blouses. Once the dresses were out of the way, it was possible, too, to get to the first, second and third pairs of pants she had put on over her leggings. Needless to say, there was jewelry in there too. And a hairpiece. If you haven’t guessed it by now, let me tell you what was going on: The solution she found to having too much luggage was to take everything out of those giant suitcases and wear it to the airport!

The moral of this story is that when you travel with people you work with, you get to know them in ways maybe none of you would have expected.

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March 19th, 2014

When you travel a lot for work, as many of you know very well, you need have systems for economizing your stuff. You have to decide what’s really essential, what you can buy wherever you land, what’s maybe not entirely essential, but you’ve decided to prioritize anyway. Me, for example, I learned that using hotel shampoo, conditioner and soap don’t bother me at all, but my very own special lotion is non-negotiable.

Clothes are even trickier. It’s impossible, especially in winter, to pack, into one suitcase, a brand new outfit for every day in a week, and that’s not even taking into account that no one wants to wear the same clothes all night long that they’ve worn at work all day. So we try to figure out how to wear the same things in ways that fool people into thinking they’re different, creatively mixing and matching our way through the days.

What, though, if you’re deep into your mixing and matching routine and you spill something onto one of the key pieces, a t-shirt, say, that you were planning on wearing everyday for the rest of your trip? And, needless to say, there’s no time to find a laundromat. Well, my mother has a great little ploy that perhaps one or two of you might be able to get some use out of. If she spills something on an article of clothing that she was intending to wear for the next several days in a row, she’ll wear it with the stain, not doing anything to try to rinse it out or conceal it. Instead, every time she meets someone new, somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes into the meeting, she’ll look down and exclaim, “Oh, shoot, look what I just did!” She’ll spend a few moments fretting, just enough to seem genuinely surprised and dismayed, and then continue on comfortably in this situation she’s just created, where it’s ok to be wearing dirty clothes.

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March 8th, 2014

I once slept in a hostel type of place at the top of the highest mountain in Germany, the Zug Spitz. Sounds kind of impressive, I know, but the truth is that Germany is pretty flat and its highest mountain isn’t so very high at all. Still, it took 12 hours of not too easy work to get up it all. We started at 5am, in the dark, so as to be sure not to have to finish in the dark. The last 2 hours, meaning 10 hours into the climb, were a via ferrata. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, as I was before that day, it means iron way in Italian and refers to paths that have been built into especially treacherous stretches of mountains to make passage possible. Historically they were for military use, now us tourists do them for fun. You have to wear a harness with a bungee cord to clip into a series of wires laid out in places where falling would be simple and awful. Sometimes there’s an ancient, rusting ladder to help, or the odd metal rod in exactly the right place. It’s terrifying and highly recommended.

At the end of this day I was beat. Beat isn’t strong enough. I was in a stupor of exhaustion, knowing I needed to figure out how to eat and sleep and feeling like the logistics of those needs was almost more than I could bear.

The strange thing about the highest mountain in Germany, though, as I discovered that day, is that it’s also home to the highest beer garden in Germany. Which means that the peak that I had spent this epic day struggling my way to the top of, others had taken a little gondola ride up to. And now here we were, together, having a meal in the same restaurant, me afraid that a beer would lapse me into an unrecoverable stupor, them here mainly for the novelty of a high altitude beer, or two, or whatever the night might bring.

I suppose some version of this happens everyday at our little hotel. Maybe you fly in for a meeting, with the stressors and struggles of work on your shoulders, only to find yourself sharing the breakfast room with a gleeful family reunion, for example. The contrast, that night, for me, was jarring. Maybe sometimes it is for you too. In retrospect, though, I guess it’s nice that there’re different paths to the same place.

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