An outrage has been committed against this hotel and we are not going to stand for it! An article just ran in the San Jose Mercury News, listing all the “best” hotel bars in Silicon Valley. We here at The Grand Hotel read eagerly along, wondering if they had been able to find the perfect adjectives to describe Pee Wee, butterflies in our stomachs in anticipation of this little moment of fame. Imagine, then, our shock and disappointment when we discovered that we did not make the list. No funny little anecdotes stolen from our lounge, no charming history of a signature cocktail. (Well, as I recall, Pee Wee’s signature cocktail has an unprintable name anyway, but surely they could have found some appealing little anecdote. Sometimes guests give him things to take home and keep safe, for example. That would be a nice story to tell.
Admittedly, our first reaction was shame. We did not make that list because we were not good enough, we considered. The pity party was short lived, though. Of course we should be on the list, we should be on top of it! One of these places is described as “a ski lodge that’s been frozen,” for goodness’ sake! This same one, they go on to say, is a place where older women go to pick up young men. The author’s credibility, and I am unclear about whether this was written by an older woman or a young man, having been sufficiently shaken, I would like to go on to say that not one of these places seems to offer complimentary drinks to anyone at anytime. Just the opposite, is what it looks like. These are the kinds of places, in fact, where you can pay lots of money for a drink called “recession proof.” Places, the author says, that are great to “see and be seen” in.
Well, actually, it’s true, that’s not us. No one cares who you are or what you look like in our bar. No one here wants to see you spending lots of money, in times of scarcity and poverty, on novelty drinks whose main purpose is to brag about your wealth. We hired a couple of the friendliest guys we could find to pour whatever you most like to relax with after a hard day’s work. We bought a few very comfortable chairs and couches to sit in with those drinks. We put up a couple of big TVs for the following of games and elections and such things. That’s it. The ambition of our bar ends there. If that’s not enough for this Mercury News writer, then we aren’t interested anyway.
One of the understandings that I have with our beloved general manager is that I should try not to use this space to tell you things you’ve already heard a million times before. Fisherman’s Wharf, for example, is a perfectly nice place to be, especially if you like crowds, but we don’t feel a big need to take responsibility for you getting to it. Thousands of people find their way out there everyday without our help and you probably could too.
But I can’t help myself this time, I’m breaking the rule! I am speaking now to those of you who come here on business and have weekends off. Do you understand how very close you are to Yosemite when you’re here with us? Do you know that it’s more beautiful than any photo ever taken of it?
So often the most famous tourist attractions leave me humming Peggy Lee’s classic depressive ditty, “Is that all there is?” Maybe you can relate. Lots and lots of pretty cool things have been so diluted by crowds and merchandise and deep-fried edibles that the only possible experience one can have is generic tourism and the sense that there’s no wonder left in the world. Yosemite is so different! Yosemite is grand enough to swallow all its visitors, to let each individual guest revel in the magnitude and magnificence of its glacier-cut valley, to let every single person have a private experience of nature.
Forgive my exuberance. I’m just back from a week in that shocking valley, having not been in a couple of years. It’s better than anything I could write about it. Better than anything even John Muir could write about it. It’s better than any photo Ansel Adams ever took of it. You must go!
Our beloved general manager’s nepotism is not news. I’ve written to you about it, she brags about it. This hotel is one giant web of family and friends and when you’re around here enough, it makes sense. From her point of view I get it, from the point of view of all the people who went to high school together and are now entering adulthood together, I get it. But from the point of view of Sam, the bellman, I am a little bit awed. Sam, who turned 24 last week, has been with us for 6 years and most weeknights you can find him working the same shift as both his mother and his father, with whom he still lives. And, hard as it is for me to believe, he’s happy about it. In the earlier days of his employment here, they had such different shifts that they never saw each other, at work or at home, and he missed them.
Not that this is a man who will not reach out past his parents grip. He is a licensed electrician who, unfortunately, got that license in these times when starting a new career is not so easy. He dreams of foreign cities and tropical islands and knows he’ll get to them someday. But this is the son of Sammy, the bartender, one of the most relaxed, easygoing men in the world. Sam Jr. is his father’s son, enjoying the comfort of working alongside parents he gets along well with and looking forward to a future that will come when it is time for it to come. And if every now and then Sam Sr. tells Sam Jr. to do something that maybe isn’t Sam Jr.’s job, well this is the kind of son who can laugh about things like that. The best justification for nepotism is that good people will bring in people who are like them and this is the perfect example.
My understanding of Afghanistan is that it is not an easy place to live. The climate and geography define harsh, or so I’ve read in books, seen in photos. You and I would not survive a night in the mountains of Afghanistan without some serious assistance, and even with help it would be difficult. Assuming that you, my reader, are not a highly trained, experienced mountaineer, that is.
People live there, though. Thrive, even. Over time they’ve adapted to their surroundings and know how to take care of themselves in a place where Mother Earth seems more like an angry dictator than a loving provider.
One thing I know, not from a book but from actual experience, is that a part of Afghan culture is a robust and hearty diet. I learned this at Kabul, the neighborhood Afghan restaurant. This is food for mountain men, warriors. Huge portions of meat and rice, no frills. I go there when I feel battered and need to regain my strength. After a long flight, followed by a full workday, for example. Can anyone out there relate? If so, give Kabul a try.
I have never been to the rodeo. So, to write this story I will be drawing from my experience of movies, television and stereotype. I hope this isn’t too offensive. Anyway, based on the movies and TV shows I’ve seen, plus my general preconceived notions about rodeos, I always thought they were the kinds of events where people would drink beer. Coors, Bud, maybe out of cans, maybe out of giant plastic cups. I hope this doesn’t sound elitist or snotty, it’s just the impression I got. I was wrong, is the thing, so it actually doesn’t matter what my old idea was. It turns out that not only are people drinking wine at the rodeo, they’re judging it and giving out prizes too. Awards that winemakers covet and then boast about having received.
What does the bull-riding set value in a bottle of wine? Well, come find out for yourself. The Folie a Deux and Menage a Trois wines that we have right here behind our bar, and will pour out for you each and every night, have received several metals apiece from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I haven’t tried them yet myself, honestly, but I’m curious. Is this the tough version of wine? Gritty and raw, somehow? Or am I just giving free reign to my stereotypes again? Maybe it’s delicate and sophisticated and I’m a jerk for thinking otherwise. I’ll find out soon, maybe you will too.