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Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE CRANKY DINER / RESPITE FROM THE BACKSIDE SLIDE OF LITERARY SOCIETY


Terrace of Manzanita Restaurant with Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe main lodge in background
ESCAPE TO RITZ-CARLTON’S LAKE TAHOE RESTAURANT PUTS US BACK ON TRACK

Guest Blog by Eric Peterson-The disappearance of sanatoriums, like the decline of rudimentary English grammar skills and formal evening dress on cruise ships, serves as further proof of a society on a downhill slide.

Butterflies flitting in sun-drenched gardens; fountains burbling on a spacious piazza; nurses in starched white uniforms pouring tea—the sanatorium once served as sanctuary to anyone of means and in need of a respite from a condition I’ll call desponderant animos—exasperation with all things human.

My time of want for a mountaintop sanctuary came a few weeks back, when a ribald, lollapalooza of a street orgy invaded my clean, quiet city. I should have known it was coming—Comic-Con comes to San Diego every summer.  

On a lark, thinking I might learn something about several generations of media consumers who’ve made LEGO Batman a top performer at the box office and Harry Potter a billion-dollar book franchise, I set out for a walk among these enthusiastic convention goers.

The people and things I encountered on the streets of San Diego were less than reassuring, if not downright alarming: fat, bearded men gobbling Subway sandwiches and carrying swords, shields, and ray guns; heavyset women wearing bustiers, corsets, and fishnet stockings, striking provocative poses for photographers; and everywhere you looked, impersonators of Superman, Superwoman, Spiderman, and Darth Vader; bald pates and potbellies; bare midriffs (see attached example) and eye patches; bloody knives, bloody spears, and bloody chainsaws. Though I can’t tell you what a druid is, I’m pretty sure I passed several.


Denizen of San Diego’s Comic-Con complete
with armor plated bustier.
Even the buses circulating the perimeter of the gridlock got in on the game—they sported gruesome wraps promising zombies, bloodletting, and intergalactic warfare to come.
As a writer of literary fiction, this year’s Comic-Con hit me particularly hard. In my latest novel, The Dining Car, my characters engage in conversation rather than interplanetary warfare. They travel in a vintage private railroad car and not aboard a hurtling spaceship. They eat oysters Rockefeller and herb-crusted, roasted rack of lamb as opposed to human flesh, and their petty conflicts involve status, power, and acceptance rather than saving planet Earth. I write books that I can’t give away. Comic-Con, meanwhile, routinely outdraws the Super Bowl.

To put it in perspective: San Diego Unified Port District, landlord and crowned head of San Diego’s waterfront, is actively pursuing proposals to expand its convention center, for the express purpose of accommodating the ever-growing Comic-Con crowds. Meanwhile, in the Port District’s own Seaport Village, San Diego’s last downtown bookseller, Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse, recently shuttered its doors.

Feeling extremely sorry for myself—out of fashion as a writer, hopelessly out of step in my chosen literary genre—and in order to silence the howling in my ears, I dashed into a corner liquor store for a fifth of Johnny Walker Black, flagged down a private ambulance, and directed the EMT at the wheel to deliver me to the nearest thing I knew to a modern sanatorium: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe.
One of North America’s premier mountain resorts, The Ritz-Carlton sits perched like a Bavarian castle on the vertical slopes above the town of Truckee, California, which in winter registers some of the lowest temperature readings in the lower 48 states.  

In summer, the views from the giant picture windows are of green meadows, sheer, bare ski runs, and fog-shrouded forests in the valleys below. At twilight, as you stand in the tastefully decorated great room of this exalted hotel, a martini in hand, a roaring fire at your back, and as you contemplate the dramatic, snow-capped mountain peak just beyond the expansive outdoor deck, you half expect to spot Captain Georg von Trapp and his bratty brood of seven meandering up a trail to the summit ahead, fleeing not Georg’s commission in the Third Reich’s navy but a series of unpaid Reno bar tabs.


Sophisticated interior of Manzanita Restaurant with exhibition kitchen, right.
You’ll find the guest rooms in this luxurious resort worthy of the Ritz-Carlton brand: spacious, attractively furnished, and clean. The in-room TVs are big and the glittering bathrooms are exquisite.
The onsite restaurant, Manzanita, with its open kitchen and natural materials of wood, stone, and glass, is as breathtaking as it is welcoming. The items on the dinner menu will pamper your sense of taste throughout your stay: start with the lobster bisque, and when you’re looking for an alternative to the Durham Ranch prime filet mignon, try the short ribs with morel mushroom and bone marrow, or the Niman Ranch pork tomahawk chop (click video link above to view this magnificent chop on the grill).

Breakfast always tastes better in the mountains. Tame your hangover with a classic eggs Benedict or a fulfilling huevos rancheros. And upon your return from Truckee, where you’ve spent the morning in a lawn chair, watching a long line of freight trains descending from Donner Pass, I suggest a late lunch of chicken pappardelle, a Manzanita burger, or a salmon BLT (Applewood bacon and heirloom tomato with Bibb lettuce on a brioche bun).
Manzanita Restaurant’s Niman Ranch pork tomahawk chop.
More than food and trains, this mountain resort is about serenity and quiet, about taking time to ponder life and life’s choices—in other words, a sanatorium boasting the modern conveniences of a world-class hotel.

Gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows, thinking about the crowds of Comic-Con and my journey as a writer, I decided to forgo the traditional writerly handwringing about staying true to my craft and not taking the hemlock of writing for the mass market. A voice chanted in my head: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em … join ’em … join ’em …”

The plot for my new science fiction novel is this: Aliens invade Earth. Studying California, the head-anthropology-alien concludes that Caltrans workers, in their fluorescent orange vests and hardhats, are the high priests of society, and that the endless lines of cars that snake past them on the state’s crumbling freeways are in fact parades in reverse—human beings who come from miles around to pay homage to their exalted leaders. (This alien anthropologist has a high-functioning insect brain and doesn’t always get everything 100% right.)

Assuming human form and dressed in Caltrans garb, the aliens invade Sacramento, where they demand concessions from a legion of smarmy politicians. The governor misconstrues the aliens for a bargaining unit of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Caltrans’s largest union, and quickly accedes to their demands. He hands over the keys to planet Earth, and mankind is soon annihilated.

My manuscript has some rough spots, I’ll grant you, but I’m in the process of smoothing these out.
Publishing houses and literary agents can reach me through my website. The TV and movie rights remain available.
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Eric Peterson is the author of  The Dining Car, a contemporary novel about a former college football player who enlists as bartender and personal valet to a curmudgeonly food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car. Available at popular independent bookstores and online at Amazon.com. 















The Cranky Diner series by Eric Peterson appears exclusively on www.Pillartopost.org

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