Scarlett’s Letter September 22, 2013

My day at home. My only day at home. So, this is my “day off” for the week. I leave tomorrow at the crack of dawn for New Jersey. So today, on my day off, I must unpack from my week in Montana, launder, then pack again. Except I no longer have functional suitcases, so I, too, must obtain new suitcases in which to pack.

I spent my morning at the Napa Premium Outlet Stores. I’ve been suitcase shopping before, knowing this day was not too distant. The suitcases I am replacing came from Kohl’s, my least favorite store on the planet next to, perhaps, Wal Mart. My issue with Kohl’s is you never know what anything is going to cost, it’s kind of like shopping and playing “Let’s Make a Deal” at the same time. The price an item is marked may or may not be what you will be charged. It will never be more, which is good, because the price most things are marked at Kohl’s s far more than I’d ever be willing to pay. Kohl’s prints and sends stuffed in every newspaper and junk mail heap multiple, multiple page ads. I have placed two “current” ads next to each other, side by side, after ten minutes of fervent searching for the suitcase page and the identical suitcase is listed for different prices. Yes. Different prices for the same item on the same day. How is this accomplished? And then, there’s the real deal at the bottom of the page; when you get to the cashier, you get a “scratcher”, like a lottery ticket, and you scratch away the nasty gray shit to reveal an additional percentage off of one advertised price, or the other, I don’t know which. And, if it’s Tuesday it’s more, and if my mom purchases the suitcase on Tuesday between such and such a time and such and such a time, there is an additional savings, and, if she uses her Kohl’s charge card, if I did my math right, they are going to pay me to take the suitcase off their hands. Bullshit. There is something very wrong with their marketing or their merchandise and I’ve decided I’d rather go to the Samsonite store and pay a couple of dollars more and get exactly what I want, in the color I want. I can arrive any day I like, I can use whatever payment means I choose and the price is as marked. I like it. It’s called simplicity. I crave simplicity. So. That’s what I did, I went directly to the Samsonite store, picked two suitcases out, a large and a small. I found an amazing color, more of a wine than a purple, but delicious and uncommon, which is what I strive for in everything in life. The salesperson was super helpful and super knowledgeable. She rung up my purchase as I told her how my last pair finally wore out after three and a half years. She seemed a little shocked. I assured her that I was pleased with the quality and that I just traveled a lot. She asked where I’d purchased my previous Samsonite suitcases. I told her, “Kohl’s”, a little embarrassed. She informed me that the “Samsonites” from Kohl’s are actually made especially for Kohl’s and aren’t quite the same, nor do they offer the ten year warranty. You see? She told me to photocopy my sales receipt and zip in within the lining in each suitcase and if either should fail in any way, just bring it back. You see? Me = super happy customer. I think I spent ten dollars more than if I’d gone to Kohl’s. I think, depending on all those crazy variables and contests. I don’t care, I’ve got the real deal and the real warranty.

It is difficult to be home for only a day. After a week of travel and restaurant food, worse, Montana restaurant food, I really just want good, wholesome, clean food. But it is quite difficult to go to Whole Foods and buy ingredients with which to cook a single breakfast, a single lunch and a single dinner and have no leftovers to deteriorate in the refrigerator during my absence beginning tomorrow. I’m so tired of eating out. So, so tired. But, whatcha gonna do? Mom and I decided to finally try the “pizza” place that occupied the sometimes occupied and often vacant restaurant space in the tiny shopping center by the neighborhood market. Pizza, salads and sandwiches, beer and wine. Sounds good enough. We’ve been by before and it always appears closed. Again, today, it appeared closed. The neon “Pizza” sign in the window adjacent the parking lot was not lit. I walked down the walkway to the “front” door, which is actually on the side. It appeared dark within, but the hours posted in the door stated they should be open. Mom was waiting back by the car. She doesn’t walk unless there is a guarantee of some sort at the end of the journey. I went back to the car and tried the door next to the parking lot by the unlit neon “Pizza” sign. It opened. So, either the place is unlocked or they are in fact open. I toddle, along with Mom, up to the “front” door, open it and we venture inside. The tables are all empty and it is quite dark inside. There are lights on, but it is quite dark. Mom and I exchanged a glance, neither of us is too keen on being the only diners in a restaurant. I don’t mind dining alone, but I only if there are other people around me. Being the only patrons in a restaurant makes me uneasy. I noticed the back door to the patio was open and outside were tables. Occupied tables. We were greeted and seated outside.

A little backstory. I grew up with a couple of kids from a large, long-time Napa family, an Italian family, in the grocery business. This restaurant site was once their home. When they built the market next door and the surrounding shops, they converted the house into a restaurant site. This neighborhood is a couple of miles from downtown Napa, and so, a bit removed. Until recently, Napa, the city, has sort of been the laughing stock and ugly stepchild of the Napa Valley, world famous wine region. Passing through Napa was just necessary in order to get to the real destination; everything from just north of Napa, onward. In the past few years, downtown Napa has been struggling, and in some respects, succeeding at also becoming a destination. While there are many vacancies and the “mall” has been officially pronounced dead, it is all slated for redevelopment and some big brands are in line to occupy some of the new spaces. Many downtown restaurants and tasting rooms are thriving and the streets are (infuriatingly) lined with slow moving tourists, both on foot and in cars. There are a couple of nice hotels that seem to be doing well, with another one or two planned. I am of the ilk that growth, development and progress is good. Mom is not. She wants it all the way it used to be; complete with cows and sheep and orchards and only a couple of vineyards. It is my hope that as Napa grows and reinvents itself, that some of these little restaurants out of town a wee bit, will have a better chance of success.

Are we unlike towns, shopping centers and restaurants? Don’t we sometimes need a little re-inventing of our own? A bit of creativity, a new look, a new outlook, a new purpose? Sure we do! And we should fight the same resistance to just want to remain “the way it used to be”. Like all things in life, like all things in the world, we need to progress, we need to adapt, to grow, to change. We need to evolve in order to remain relevant and vital.

As Napa reinvents itself and fosters a better chance of success for its businesses and restaurants, it is this little restaurant in particular that I hope thrives. Bene Gusto. What a bright spot in my week. Mom and I sat on the patio with the other guests, sipped a couple of cold beers from their NorCal beer offering. They featured Napa wines, of course, and a great sounding little menu. On their menu was a “Lunch Bite” special. For ten bucks you get a beer or wine from the list, a salad with greens so fresh Whole Foods should pay attention and a personal, ten inch pizza in any variety you choose from either the New York Style menu or the Artisan Menu, probably ten to twelve different pizza varieties in all. We both ordered a “Lunch Bite” and the salad, as I said, was so incredibly fresh I looked around for the garden. I didn’t see one, but I’ve not had greens so good in a long time. And I do shop at Whole Foods, with satisfaction. My pizza was divine, the crust was perfect, the toppings were of superior quality and creative in their combination. Best of all, our waiter was the best, and I gathered, related to the endeavor. A father, sons project, if I put the puzzle pieces together right. And for all of this splendor, it only cost me ten bucks. So happy. So, so happy. After lunch, on our way back through the restaurant, I checked out their little bar area, which was inviting and had a chalkboard ad boasting pizza and a beer for six bucks as a happy hour special. Perfect.

After my salad, pizza and two beers, back home, I did that which I dreaded; I tried to figure out how everything that had special pockets and spaces in my old suitcase would be contained within the new suitcase, which is completely, architecturally different on the inside. As I’ve mentioned, I never totally unpack my suitcase and if I need this or that, I know exactly which corner of what pocket in whichever suitcase to find it. This is major upheaval. I managed to get it all put together, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be thrashing through everything looking for one thing or another, at least for a while. I managed.

And then, the Sunday night ritual, well, actually, to be more precise, the Sunday late afternoon ritual; I set my alarm for 12:30 AM and tried to sleep while it was still daylight outside and kids were still playing in the streets and neighbors still mowed their lawns. And, about the time life in the neighborhood finally quieted down, my alarm went off and it was time for me to go. Once again.

Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
The "Lunch Bite" is a great deal at Bene Gusto. Here, the Potato Pizza from the Artisan Pizza menu.
The “Lunch Bite” is a great deal at Bene Gusto. Here, the Potato Pizza from the Artisan Pizza menu.
An entertaining way to deliver the bill, tucked in some fantastic old book.
An entertaining way to deliver the bill, tucked in some fantastic old book.
Bene Gusto - the bar area.
Bene Gusto – the bar area.
The Bene Gusto "mascot". I think.
The Bene Gusto “mascot”. I think.

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