The service was impeccable and the food outstanding. It was on the high end of the price range, but worth every penny to me. The famous mahogany bar with its intricate, stained-glass back was carved from a single tree, the walls were covered with maroon Scalamandre silk brocade, magnificent crystal chandeliers hung above the main dining area. The rooms were adorned with antiques procured from some of the greatest mansions in all of San Francisco.
Ernie's had the distinction of receiving 32 consecutive 5 star awards and Alfred Hitchcock chose the restaurant to be featured in his film Vertigo. To say this establishment epitomized fine dining would be an understatement. Ernie's opened around the turn of the 20th century, but sadly closed their doors in September 1995. I was honestly crushed. I have NEVER had a fine dining experience of that caliber since then. In fact I always wanted to own that type of high end dining establishment like Ernie's.
|Screenshot of Ernie's from Alfred Hitchcock’s "Vertigo" 1958|
That night I dined like a king! I deserved it. I worked hard. I began with a bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon. A plate of veal Oscar (sautéed veal on fresh asparagus tips, topped with Dungeness crab legs, and drizzled béarnaise sauce) magically appeared before me. Next to my delight the brandy caught fire, the blue flames shot aloft and an order of boffo crepes Suzette were summoned forth from a thin copper pan. The flames did their work, burned themselves out and vanished. It was theatrical heaven table side! And for the grand finale, a fine Cognac, or perhaps two to celebrate such a wonderful Christmas Eve.
After the $120 dining spectacle I was driving home in my new convertible Corvette. Life just couldn't get any better. I was on top of my game and thought nothing about spending that kind of cash for a meal. I had everything a person could ever want at my beck and call, monetarily speaking.
As I drove through the city making my way back to an overly grandiose home nestled in the foothills of the East Bay, I noticed an unusually large amount of homeless people sleeping under large pieces of cardboard and tattered rags, huddled in doorways trying to sleep on the cold cement stoops of homes and shops. It hit me hard how unfair life can be and how awful a life like that must be. I had everything and more and they had a cardboard box for comfort without a roof over their head.
I stopped the car and stared at one old man as he shivered before me, curled up in a ball, all alone. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing after thinking about the wonderful day I just had shopping and gorging myself on an overly priced meal. It was Christmas Eve and this poor man had nothing! I thought, "That could be me someday." The thought haunted me as I continued to stare in disbelief. I remembered I had a down comforter I just purchased that afternoon for my spare bedroom. A spare room...not even a necessity. There was nothing to think about. I grabbed the bag, got out of the car, and quietly shrouded the old bearded homeless man as he slept. I didn't wake him. I crept away and thought, "I need to do more." It felt good, and for years I told no one about what would become a Christmas tradition.
As I drove home that evening I promised myself I would begin to collect clean, used blankets from any source and every Christmas Eve I would drive into San Francisco and play Secret Santa to the homeless. I usually collected so many blankets that I needed to rent a van to deliver the tidings. It was my way of giving back. I would usually send out a press release for such an event to capitalize on it because I was a media whore in business. But this was personal and it felt so good to do it without anyone’s knowledge. It felt DAMN GOOD!
For years I did this until I became very ill for the first time in 1995. Around the same time Ernie's closed their doors for good. After that it was hit and miss although my company was involved in helping Glide Memorial Church feed the homeless in San Francisco and sponsoring the Easter Seals Telethons. I made sure there was always some charity we were giving to, but nothing has ever felt better than playing Secret Santa.
As I write this, I’m sequestered in bed fighting my second battle with cancer. I wish I had the energy to do more. There will always be someone who is in need of support and they might even be too proud to let anyone know how bad it is for them. Please do me a favor. Do something good in the world this year. Buy a stranger some coffee, leave an extra-large tip for the hard working wait staff, donate toys for a children’s charity, pay for a less than fortunate family’s entire holiday meal, or volunteer at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. If you can’t manage that…keep a smile on your face as you pass others in the street and actually say, “Merry Christmas” or “Have a great day” to strangers.
Make a difference to someone this year. If you have the means to read this story you already know you have more than so many with real need in the world. Someone desperately needs your help. Your heart will be richly rewarded. I guarantee it!
It's time for me to settle in with my hot cocoa, a roaring fire, cuddle up with my little dog and watch “It's A Wonderful Life.” I need my wings! Anybody here a bell? Yes, life is wonderful...tonight let there be peace on Earth.
God bless you all, Merry Christmas!