Renaissance Long Beach: The Great Escape

A weekend away can be refreshing. A facelift for the spirit.

I peer between the unending lines of cars dragging down the 405 freeway. I glance in my rear view mirror and see similar lines dug into my face. Reflections cause pause, then panic. I'm resigned to traffic, but not to the personal effects of stress from living in Los Angeles: The Big Ego.

I jump at the chance to sprint to Long Beach. I have friends there I rarely see because in my mind that tiny change in area code stretches to a time zone difference. Crazy; it's only half an hour away. Today, I need it to be a world away.

I pull into the Renaissance Hotel -- my restorative home for three days. The property is a good match for me, she's had a recent renovation and is putting a new, better face forward.

My godmother must have whispered to them what she once told me: A woman who will tell her age will tell anything. 

I gasp at the Wonkaland lobby -- they didn't merely slap a coat of makeup on the old lady, they tore down walls and knocked the stuffiness out of her. The "surgeon" sewed her up beautifully.

The front desk clerk asks if I need help with my bags. Only under my eyes. He smilingly welcomes any questions about the property, or things to do locally. The pool's on Three.

I pass a painting next to the elevators of what I think is a woman in pain. I wonder if I brought anything large enough to throw over it. I hope my harsh, critical attitude fades this weekend and I get less judgey.

An ascension in the glass elevator makes me feel like champagne bubbles rising in a bottle. I pop out on the 12th floor and float into my room with a view of the ocean and the Queen Mary. It's calming.

The ideal facelift achieves a rested look. The result shouldn't look bizarre, like your face is racing 100 MPH down a twisted road, contorted by the pressure. Lie down on a bed, hold up a mirror and gently regard. That's the desired result.

A blue chair in the corner might soothe my blues away. Funny how sinking in a comfy chair can raise one's spirits. And appetite. I order room service.

Within minutes there's a knock on my door. I open it to find a little bespeckled room service waiter holding a tray. While normally I'd be wary of a geek bearing gifts -- I spy chocolate-laced Rice Krispy treats.

I paw at the tray and close the door, hoping I wasn't rude. I need a moment to be alone with my carbs. When I'm tired I get guttural and mono-syllabic. The lovely cheese and prosciutto loosen my tongue. I crack the crostini, giving my tight attitude a chiropractic adjustment.

I wander down to SIP - their watering hole-in-one of a bar. The room is spacious; I get as chatty as the conversational furniture groupings. I fortuitously meet Pam Ryan, she's kind, athletic, tanned. I like to go after what I don't have. I want to be tan and athletic. I need to be more kind.

She's also the General Manager of the hotel. I raise my glass to her --  a Blood Orange Daiquiri matches not only the sunset, but Pam's fiery attitude about reviving the Long Beach Renaissance. She loves the tourists who swim up to the hotel from all over the world. She also wants to involve the local community and host charitable and profitable events around the pool, perched on the 3rd floor terrace, open to the sky. And possibilities. Pam plans on taking advantage of the newly strengthened property, to then reach out and grab hold of locals and build up the hotel's presence. Raise your glass, raise awareness, raise the roof, raise money. 

All of that activity makes me hungry. Pam tells me that she recruited Chef Janine Falvo to restructure the menus. Part of building a new house is the chance to accessorize. I discover Janine is the brain behind the bran; she made the rice treats. Her secret might be browned butter but you did not hear that from me. Chef's have mad knife skills.

Janine tells me that she's befriended local fishermen "down at the docks".  Thanks to Steinbeck, I'd normally peek through a crack in the metaphor door and imagine sweet Janine turning tricks for sailors. But when she produces a crab-stuffed grilled cheese sandwich --  I know she's on the level.

The crab is so fresh it slaps me in the face, defending its Chef's honor. Falvo's homemade potato chips are crisp, lightly dusted with a special seasoning the sailor gave her (stop!) and gone in sixty seconds.

I return to my room with the view to do the one job I must do when on any vacation: assist the sun in it's attempt to set. We are successful. We are pleased.

The room darkening shades are a giant version of the eye mask worn by a bitchy Joan Crawford. (Like Joan, the hotel features Pepsi.) I drift off to sleep on the puffy-but-supportive cloud of a bed.

I wake up refreshed. I pop up like toast -- this faraway, nearby getaway has renewed my spirit. And my desire for toast. I dance down to breakfast, my still pokey-up bedhead as the rooster's comb. Oh no, Ive gotten cocky with one night's rest.

Chef Janine saw this coming. She soothes the savage me with sous vide eggs, coddled at 70 degrees.

What the hell kind of woman is up at the crack of dawn to sous vide eggs?! You might as well know that she's also smoking bacon over pecan wood in the back. (Hey, it's California, perfectly legal.) I lean over to hug Chef Janine. She can't realize that I am using the opportunity to see if she'll fit in my suitcase.

The front desk clerk distracts me with a recommendation that I go whale watching. They must really want me gone, they offer me a coupon. The boat launches only steps away from the lobby.

If you invented the internet, painted the statue of David, or negotiated world peace -- but have never been caught in a flash mob of dolphins  -- you have not yet actualized.

Back at the hotel, I take full advantage of the restorative powers of the Renaissance renovation. They shook it up a notch.

I sweat out big-city toxins in their gym. I sit by the pool, where the warm sun hits my stiff desk-chair posture and melts it down into one of their wicker deck lounges. I hop in the new, white subway-tiled shower. I lather, rinse and repeat everything for the next two days. They participate in the Marriott Spirit to Preserve environmental project, so I re-use my towel. (Even if you stay in another hotel that doesn't make this pledge, please re-use your towels. Start something.)

OMG I've been away from LA for two days and I'm acting more kind. I'm my own emotional hero. Who can I hug real fast?

My time away is ending. I began to reflect on my surroundings, wanting to appreciate the new digs one last time. Get Smart star Don Adams referred to aging as looking a little long in the caps. The Renaissance got smart and nipped and tucked that in the nick of time.

Refreshed, restored, I think of the dolphins as I hop on the 405.

I'm running on a full tank of rest. Partially fueled by Chef Janine's potato chips.

I'll be back.

Renaissance Hotel. 111 East Ocean Boulevard. Long Beach, CA 90802. (562) 437-5900

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