January 07

The Outside Scoop—

Since I’ve lived in Sacramento for more than 30 years, I don’t always remember what it was like to come upon this place either for the first time or after a lengthy absence. But I really enjoy seeing the region through the eyes of friends and relatives who visit us during The Cozy Season—the period that begins with uncontrolled salivating right before Thanksgiving and concludes with a throbbing headache and empty declarations of “Never again!” on New Year’s Day. Throughout the years, I’ve compiled a brief list of reactions people have had when I first showed them the town, including: (1) “We’re downtown already? We were just at baggage claim”; (2) “What’s the governor like? Do you know him?” This query came from my late mother, who thought of politicos as swindlers and desperadoes but celebrities nonetheless. You should have heard her reaction about 20 years ago when then-Lt. Gov. Merv Dymally shook my hand at the airport. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was only because I’d just run over to hand him the briefcase he’d accidentally left behind in the waiting area when he was called to board his flight; (3) “Look, Betty, they have a Sears!” That was my mother’s second husband addressing her as we checked them into what was then the Red Lion (now DoubleTree) Inn, just across from Arden Fair mall. A former New Yorker (as was my mother and as am I), he apparently thought of Sacramento as a one-horse town with a Main Street general store in which flannel-shirted rubes sat around a cracker barrel playing checkers and dissing the weather. In short, my mother’s second husband thought the presence of a Sears store was an encouraging sign of urbanization. In retrospect, I’ve realized he was the rube.

Now and Zen—
Now, some years ago my wife, Jane, and I did get to feel like newcomers when we stayed here as faux tourists for a weekend so each of us could write a story about El Rancho Hotel and Racquet Resort in West Sacramento. Local PR doyenne Jean Runyon had made the arrangements. My article would be for the Los Angeles Times and Jane’s for Air California magazine. (Neither the airline nor, as you will no doubt surmise, its magazine are around anymore.) The hotel—which later became a Ramada Inn and ultimately morphed into The City of Dharma Realm, a Buddhist monastery—had been purchased and extensively renovated by a former tennis pro, Bob Stahl. Stahl was a sturdy, candid guy who, during the course of our interview, credited vegetarianism for his physique and stamina. But when he took Jane and me to lunch in the hotel restaurant, he ordered a hamburger. Noting the contradiction—my skills of observation took a back seat to no one’s in those days—I asked in the articulate vernacular of the moment, “So what’s the deal with the patty, Bob?” Stahl told me that while he felt his usually meatless regimen improved his health, he also thought it slightly dulled his edge in business settings. “So now, every time I think someone’s out to nail me, I eat a burger,” he said. Meaning, I guess, that he saw Jane and me as two of those someones. She and I ordered salads.

Anyhoo—or, for my English-teacher friends, anywhom—Jane and I sat in our hotel room after lunch and flipped through brochures and fliers that made the Sacramento region sound pretty terrific. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience: finding out that the promotional blather in all those pamphlets is actually accurate. Especially when they mention that Sacramento has a Sears. I wish you a healthy and meaty 2007.