Christmas Gawking. No Charge. No Waiting.

By Anita Garner

St. Francis Hotel Doormen

It’s okay to stare in hotel lobbies.  Everybody does it.  At Christmas time, hotels in my favorite city will knock your socks off.

When I’m a guest, some people upstairs are having room service coffee, I’m in the lobby with my cup, because I love it there.  For this list, it’s San Francisco. I’ve stayed in all these places but you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them.  I also don’t need a city in order to have a good long Christmas gawk. If I’m in a tiny town, I find me an inn. If I’m in the country, I take a day to head to the nearest hostelry that sparkles.

In The City By The Bay , if you drive, park it. Repeat – park the car. Don’t even think about moving it. There are plenty of ways to get around without spending the day looking for elusive parking spots. Coming in from the ferries, visitors hop off and walk across the Embarcadero to the Hyatt Regency.

Hyatt Regency San Francisco

The Hyatt anchors a festive complex at Christmas with an ice skating rink  outside and a lobby with a view. There’s music.  There’s plenty to sip.  A couple of steps away are four skyscrapers, Embarcadero Center, each of them outlined top to bottom with lights, forming a unique shopping place.

Ice skating outside the Hyatt, looking across at Ferry Building and Bay Bridge

Over to Union Square and the St. Francis.  You’ll be greeted by their Beefeater doormen, who’ll put on an elegant show finding you a cab. Every year their chefs outdo themselves creating bigger and fancier gingerbread houses – castles even – smack in the middle of the lobby.

St. Francis Hotel San Francisco

Head out and walk around Union Square from there.  This could easily take several days, but do your Christmas best to see it.  Macy’s windows are justifiably famous, a don’t-miss San Francisco tradition.

Union Square looking at Macy’s

Cross over to Neiman Marcus to see their enormous tree. When they bought the old City of Paris store, they promised to preserve its several-stories-tall rotunda and they did.  The tree’s so big you’ll need to look at it from different angles, inside and out.

 

Neiman Marcus Rotunda Tree

 

 

When you can tear yourself away from Union Square, up to Nob Hill you go, cable cars clanging.  There’s not a more Christmassy sound. Top of the hill, across the street from each other are the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont.

When I didn’t live in The City, I stayed at the Mark.  You get started at a place and they say hello like they mean it and as a woman traveling alone, I always appreciated the manager popping out from behind a desk to walk me to the elevator, then to my room.  Pull up in that courtyard, someone whisks your car away and you won’t need to get it out again.  The cable car runs right by. That was my homey place for years, and oh my, the lobby.

Mark Hopkins Hotel San Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street at the Fairmont, the king/queen of gingerbread houses stands two stories tall, and they serve tea inside it.  Oh yes they do. Any time of year the lobby at the Fairmont is festive. It’s a congenial place.

The Fairmont San Francisco

One more stop on the hotel tour – back from Nob Hill to The Palace Hotel.  During carriage days, guests pulled up and were ushered inside to luxury while someone took their horses away for a stay. Today the former carriage entrance is The Garden Court.  It’s indescribable all year and all year you’ll need reservations for brunch, but please don’t miss the gawking opportunity. Christmas at Garden Court is another layer of magic.

Garden Court at The Palace Hotel

Wherever you are, I hope this season you’ll get yourself into a lobby near you and sit a while.  Sip something.  Listen to the music.  Watch the happy people.  Gawk.

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Christmas music for the trip.  Chris Whiteman on guitar.  Right now I’m listening to Chris play “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  Much more from Chris at  his YouTube channel. 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Music – too soon or never too much?

By Anita Garner

Today we get our favorite music everywhere, any time, but not that long ago radio people played the music we listened to.  I spent years on the radio and all of us on the air worked from a playlist which we didn’t get to select.  Just before in-earnest holiday madness began, Christmas songs were slowly merged into the playlist, but no matter when they started, someone on the air staff hated it.

Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with our boss, the Program Director.

PD: So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one each hour?

EVERYONE ELSE: No!

PD: And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME: Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE: Shut up, Anita!

ME: Could I have more Christmas music just on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON: I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON: You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now. I’ll be gone for the whole month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated. I haven’t met many people who like Christmas music as much as I do. For me, Thanksgiving begins the Christmas music marathon. Give me a couple of favorite holiday songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

 

Unexpected Encounter – Michael Buble.

By Anita Garner

Did you think this would be a story about bumping into Michael Buble somewhere? No but it’s equally happy. The Grand and I now go to coffee shops together.  This is a new habit. Her caffeine content is diluted and carries fancy names, but it’s still coffee and there’s music playing and therefore the ritual is equally sophisticated.

During this fall season we’ve been taking our books to a cozy new neighborhood coffee shop which has the best music playing.  One week it was jazz.  Last week it was standards – big ballads and such. We’re reading.  We’re chatting.  We’re sipping.

The Grand, a new teenager, listens mostly to her favorite rock groups at maximum volume.  Primarily Brendon Urie/Panic At The Disco.  She makes everyone in the family follow Brendon on Instagram.

A song came on.  Mellow and swingy with a full orchestra. She put down her book and asked, “Who is THAT?”  That was Michael Buble.  She watched him with James Cordon on Carpool Karaoke and on The Graham Norton Show.  She’s now entered the world of the big-voiced crooners. I give Brendon Urie much of the credit.  His respect for them may have rubbed off on her.

Our family always plays Christmas music during Thanksgiving dinner.  Without mentioning it, my daughter, mother of The Grand,  pushed play on Michael Buble’s Christmas album.  The Grand lit up.  The leaf liked it too.

 

Thanksgiving – Before and After

real-simple1As soon as Halloween is over, I look forward to Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. No shopping.  No wrapping.  No costumes.  Good mood. Good food. Great leftovers.  We eat early and eat too much, then return to eat again. There’ll be a neighborhood stroll between snacks, but there will be more eating. 

 

We’ll have delicious late-in-the-day sandwiches.  We bring in special rolls (some of us love sourdough, others prefer wheat.) There’s nothing exotic about our Thanksgiving planned-over sandwiches, but there’s no other sandwich all year that tastes this good. Frank Bruni writes about his family’s similar sandwich tradition in Real Simple Magazine.   

By dessert time, music starts. Christmas begins with Thanksgiving pie. Some years Johnny Mathis kicks off the season.  Sometimes it’s Burl Ives, or Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown soundtrack. 

 

Meanwhile, I’m already humming a chorus of “Count Your Blessings.” Some years there’s a need to start the humming earlier, a reminder to myself that no matter what else happened during the year, there are still reasons to be grateful.

 

(photo from Real Simple)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas On The Radio

I’ve spent much of my  life on the radio, playing music.  Every year when the Christmas songs started, the radio station staff revolted.  Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director (in the days before a computer picked the music – and before every city had a radio station that plays continuous holiday music starting at Thanksgiving.) 

PD:  So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one per hour?

EVERYONE ELSE:  No!

PD:  And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME:  Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE:  Shut up!

ME:  Could I have more Christmas music on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON:  I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON:  You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now.  I’ll be gone for a month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated.  I haven’t met many radio people who like Christmas music as much as I do.  For me, it can’t start too soon. Give me a couple of songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

After years of being on the air,  I had the opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show.  Something Special aired on stations around the U.S.  I was also writer and producer for this weekly four-hour radio magazine and we began making our Christmas show while the weather said it was still summer. 

Show prep (a rather unimaginative term that means exactly what it sounds like) included knowing a lot about the music we’d be playing.  No problem here.  I love Christmas music and in addition to the music sent over by the record companies, I also have a big personal collection.  We knew many of the artists who performed the music and had been pre-recording their holiday greetings all year when they were in our studio.

John Schneider was the guest co-host for this Christmas extravaganza.  He’d become a friend through my daily radio show in Los Angeles. Generally the new show featured a celebrity guest for only the first hour of each week, but at Christmas John would be with us for all four hours. 

John arrived with one of his ever-present dogs – maybe it was Smudge or, God rest her soul, Gracie.  Cathleen (my daughter worked on the show) baked Christmas cookies and brought in a small Christmas tree. John contributed warm apple fritters he picked up at that place he knew in Burbank.  We took our positions at the microphones.  

We sailed right along.  I don’t remember any re-takes.  It’s one of my favorite radio shows ever.  I play it again every year by the light of my plug-in-desktop tree with the twinkle lights. Sometimes I play it in the middle of summer, or whenever in the words of a favorite song, I “need a little Christmas.”    

Anita Garner 2008

Christmas On The Radio

I’ve spent much of my  life on the radio, playing music.  When the Christmas songs start, the radio station staff revolts.  Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director,  in the good old days before a computer chose the music you heard.

PD:  So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one per hour?

EVERYONE ELSE:  No!

PD:  And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME:  Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE:  Shut up!

ME:  Could I have more Christmas music on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON:  I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON:  You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now.  I’ll be gone for a month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated.  I haven’t met many radio people who like Christmas music as much as I do.  For me, Thanksgiving starts my own Christmas music marathon.  Give me a couple of songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

After years of local radio, I had the great opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show.  Something Special aired on stations around the U.S.  I was also writer and producer for this weekly four-hour radio magazine and it was more work than I could have imagined.

We began making our Christmas show while the weather said it was still summer.  Show prep (a rather unimaginative term that means exactly what it sounds like) included knowing a lot about the music we’d be playing.  We also knew many of the artists who wrote and performed the music and had been pre-recording their holiday greetings all year when they were in our studio.

For our first annual Christmas Is Something Special, we’d back-timed, to the second, all the music and scripts.  Radio people live by the second hand.  One of our pre-recorded “bits” for this show came from another broadcaster.  My family loved a song called Christmas Isn’t Christmas Without You, found on an album sent to me by a record company years before.  Researching the song for this show, I was surprised to learn it was written by a fellow radio person, Allan Hotlen.

Allan and I met when he was Program Director at (then legendary) KSFO in San Francisco, and now here he was, right around the corner at a station in Los Angeles.  I asked him to tell how he came to write this song and he sent over a perfect recorded “talk-up” to his own song.

John Schneider was the guest co-host for this Christmas extravaganza.  He’d appeared on my show and had become a friend.  Generally we featured a celebrity guest for only the first hour of each week, but this time, John would be with us for all four hours. 

John arrived with one of his ever-present dogs – maybe it was Smudge or, God rest her soul, Gracie.  Cathleen (my daughter worked on the show) baked Christmas cookies and brought a small plug-in Christmas tree. John contributed warm apple fritters he picked up at that place he knew in Burbank.  We took our positions at the microphones.  

One of our song-stories was about Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas from the movie, Meet Me In St. Louis,  about how the lyricist had written alternate words that didn’t make it into the movie.  At half-past-early in the morning, John, apple fritter in hand, sang the original lyrics and the mood was complete.  We sailed right along.  I don’t remember any re-takes.

It’s one of my favorite radio shows ever.  I’ll play it again in a few minutes, right after I plug in my desktop tree with the twinkle lights.

Ó By Anita Garner