I was in Berkeley last Saturday for Big Game — the University of California Golden Bears against Leland Stanford’s Junior College Cardinal. (Don’t criticize my apostrophe placement. It was intentional. And yes, Stanford’s mascot is indeed singular. I know…)
I wasn’t at the football game itself, but I was nearby at the Claremont, finally using a gift certificate thumbtacked to my kitchen bulletin board for the past two years. My college buddy, Joanie had a similar certificate and an even older one from her birthday in 2005. Suffice it to say, we are not habitual spa rats.
Joanie and I met at the start of our freshman year on the steps of a sorority house, commiserated about the pressure of making good impressions on hypercritical women in a short amount of time. We agreed Theta was our favorite and through a grueling weeding out process, somehow ended up as Theta roommates.
Our friendship is now 35 years old (…sorry Shep…) and she remains a consistent piece of sunshine. So a girls’ day out for breakfast, massages, facials, lunch, and complete access to luxurious spa facilities was bound to be memorable.
We began at Rick and Ann’s below the Claremont, sharing buttered cornmeal pancakes, cheesy scrambled eggs, corned beef hash and orange cranberry scones while discussing the recent progress of our weight loss efforts. Then we hiked uphill, knowing that calories expended didn’t put a dent in calories consumed.
Several large Stanford buses sat idling in the parking lot when we arrived. It felt like a hostile takeover. I was reassured by the sight of hotel staff members in blue and gold Cal t-shirts, but there were more red shirts than at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. I shouted a ferocious, “Go Bears! Grrr-ah” to anyone in the right color shirt as we headed down the stairs to the spa.
I needed to relax.
We received a tour, thick soft monogrammed robes, rubber sandals and locker keys. We stripped, stowed our gear in the lockers and retired to the waiting room.
Having had very few massages in more than half a century, it’s a leap of faith to strip down bare naked and let some random stranger rub lotion and oil over all but a few places. And my masseuse was big and burly. I was a little nervous heading into a darkened room.
I tend to chat when I am outside my comfort zone. (Ok, to be fair, I chat any old time.) But I was making random small talk as I lay face down on the table, and when I noticed his French accent I asked where he was from.
He said Texas.
It’s a good thing it was dark, because I blushed all over my body. What a stupid thing to ask, but he turned out to be a great guy so eventually I relaxed and he put me in a trance. (If you ever get to the Claremont, ask for Bruno. Tell him Alice sent you.)
By the time I returned to Joanie in the lounge after my facial, I was a limp noodle. We changed into street clothes and headed upstairs for lunch, leaving everything in the lockers but enough cash for hand-shaken cocktails.
Did you know that Claremont’s Paragon has a drink called the “Alameda cooler?” It sounded good but we chose the “Feng Shui” instead. I didn’t feel disloyal because it’s made with Alameda’s Hangar One Citrus vodka, along with fresh ginger, lime and cucumber.
While the Cal game played on the big screen, we agreed that this was the way to watch — soft skinned and glowing, sipping martinis with a killer view of the Bay on one side and the game on the other. It was a far cry from being smashed into an overcrowded student section on wooden bleachers in the blazing sun. (Ok, those were good days, too, but a different kind of good. And if Cal is going to lose by a big margin, I might as well be comfortable.)
Joanie said something like, “Don’t you love that we were completely naked in a locker room with other women and didn’t say one catty thing, but upstairs in the lobby we were vicious about the color of their shirts?”
I started to tell two little boys wearing Stanford shirts to, “Take off those red shirts!” when their babysitter told me quietly that their father was one of the Stanford coaches. My maternal instinct took over and I told them they should be really proud of their daddy. The five-year-old boy showed me his crayon drawing of a big red Stanford player towering over a scrawny little Cal player with (his words) “a big fat belly and poop on his head.”
The babysitter reminded the boy about good sportsmanship, and Joanie and I paid our bill and headed downstairs to sit by the pool for a few minutes before returning to the real world. The “Cardinal” may have the axe, but there’s always next year.
And if anyone asks what I want for Christmas, I think I’ll say a gift certificate to the Claremont. Or maybe Joanie and I will start a “Kickstarter” site: a fund for bare bears.