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Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, the inner child in us want to go to Disneyland, or, a Disneyland, at least.

A couple of weeks ago my parents and I ate brunch at the Meritage at the Claremont – a famous, award-winning  hotel perched in the hills of Berkeley whose history can boast of hosting former presidents and other important people of their ilk. Luckily for me and my family we could experience the same service and comfort of the hotel’s famous predecessors during Sunday brunch.

Two costumed doormen greeted us at the entrance, holding the doors for us as we walked into the grand lobby, which impressed us with its high ceilings, exotic wood furnishings, and a long, deep blue oriental carpet paved over a dark mahogany floor. As I walked through the expanse of the lobby and the wooden corridors, I felt like I was walking through a movie set made for a sequel for another Home Alone series. 

The Meritage dining area looks over the entire San Francisco Bay, and in a clear day one could easily see the Golden Gate span across the water as well as the TransAmerica pyramid peaking above the grey mass of skyscrapers. Although the sweeping view of the Bay was grand, the interior decor matched its grandeur with its arabesque arches, oak bar, and hanging candle lamps.

While the decorations and ambience set the stage, the food, not to be outdone, shined as the main character in this play of luxury. The Sunday brunch menu featured a made-to-order waffle and omelette bar, a carving station of roasted prime rib and honey glazed Virginia ham, and, most impressively, a blanket of fresh shrimp and crab claws sat on a bed of ice on an oak island in the middle of the room. The restaurant also infused their offerings with fresh, steaming dim sum – imported from a local Chinese restaurant (the restaurant knows to stay with its core competencies) – which sat in a giant bamboo basket on top of a hot wok of steaming water. Vigilant waiters dutifully filled our flutes of champagne, or orange juice, or a mix of both.

Through this whole pampering experience I felt genuinely impressed but reluctant to approve. Throughout the whole charade I felt a nagging sense of guilt tempered by a more annoying sense of rationalization – “Why feel guilty? It’s only once!”, or, as one of my students would parry, “YOLO”!

I think working in a lower income neighborhood school has sharpened my awareness of the gaping economic chasm between myself and my impoverished students. I have students who wouldn’t even dream of entering the Claremont, or even know what it is for that matter, except perhaps as a tag-along to their mothers or fathers or uncles working as maids or construction workers there. I know that this rich guilt story has been rehashed over and over again, but I can’t stop thinking about the absurdity of the situation: while some of my students’ families are living off of food stamps, I’m here sucking meat juice out of a crab claw.

I’m reclining on a plush leather chair in the hotel lobby watching the hotel’s patrons walk by. I feel comfortable. I feel rich. Yet, this nagging feeling eats at me, and I suddenly realize that people don’t really grow up, their tastes just change. Since we were children we have yearned for Disneyland – the Mickey Mouse ears, the themed rides, and the overpriced churros – but as we grow older, we lose interest in our childish satisfactions and discover new, more sophisticated tastes – wine, food, electronic gizmos, a place with a nice “view” – and somehow these new yearnings signifies adulthood? Once we accumulate enough tokens, we continue to conceive and build mini Disneylands for ourselves, adorning our figures and our surroundings to satisfy our newfound yearnings.


One Comment

  1. Ambience, grandeur, arabesque; I like the diction, not forced either.

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