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Bogart slept here

A night spent in downtown Benicia
by admin on June 24, 2013


I was signing in last weekend for an overnight stay at the Union Hotel when I saw a sign on the front desk:


“Union Hotel – the hotel of choice in Benicia for:

Grant, Sherman, Bogart, Reagan.”

            I looked over the names. “So Bogey really stayed here, eh?”

“He did,” said the young woman behind the counter. As I was toured around to see my various room choices, the Humphrey Bogart room was pointed out to me, though the room was actually named after a flower, like all the rooms in the hotel were. Bogey’s room had a big window that looked down D Street to the water and the Carquinez bridge. “He didn’t ‘Bogart’ that view, did he?” I wanted to ask, but decided instead to act like a mature person.

I was here to scout a unique place for Melody and me to stay in town for one night because our daughter was up from UCLA on a weekend singing tour with twelve of her a-cappella singing mates and we agreed to surrender our entire house to them for Friday night. Happily, it also happened to be Melody’s birthday, giving me an excuse to surprise her with the whole B&B experience. It would let us be tourists in our own town.

Back at home we got ready by packing little overnight kits. When the girls arrived we pointed out all the extra bedding and food that we had arranged for them. After they sang happy birthday (with much harmony) to Melody, we bid them adieu and drove off to our downtown nest.

By now night had fallen and First Street was aglow with every tree wrapped tightly in little white lights. The elevator up to our room was sort of old and creaky, which was fine by me because it added something I like to call “atmosphere.” It’s how I remember hotel elevators in far-off places like Amsterdam or Prague. Maybe we won’t be touring Europe this summer, but by golly at least we’d have a downtown Benicia adventure this weekend.

Our bedroom on the corner of the third floor had views down both D and First Streets. There was a four post bed and other pieces of mostly antique furniture. We sat down and took it all in. Somewhere down on D Street there was the sound of someone laughing. We looked at each other and declared it time to start our evening.

First stop was Bookshop Benicia. We had the store to ourselves except for the young dude behind the counter. I told him how I do my part to keep a bookstore alive in our community by ordering all my books through Bookshop even if I first shop for them online. As usual, I paused at the table with the handwritten reviews poking from the tops of various books. Can I write a review? Customers have done that, he said. I told him I would do that someday, but only for a really deserving book.

After that came Lucca’s and then Sailor Jacks where clam chowder was procured. Then we walked to the First Street pier in the chilly air, looked at the dark cold water reflected so choppy in the light of a street lamp. Brrr! When we turned around to walk back, I switched sides with Melody to stay on the upwind side in order to continue to block the cool breeze from my warmth-seeking wife.

After another elevator ride, we were back in the stillness of our room. I sank back into the couch. Outside one window a tree was aglow with its many little white lights. Its position alongside our window made it seem like one of those neon signs that would buzz outside a nameless hotel room in a noir crime story. Peter Lorre might just walk in and pull a gun, but then Bogart would easily overpower him. You’ll take it and like it when Sam Spade gives you a slapping!

Then my attention turned to the older pieces of furniture in the room and the Maltese Falcon was gone and I was back in the world of old bureaus and wallpaper. The Victorians ruled this roost for decades. Since 1852 this hotel has been here. Many a corset was donned and doffed in this room. That was the actual reality of this place.

As the need for more privacy beckoned I let the heavy drapes swag over each of the three windows. When we turned out the lights I discovered how easy it was to create a mellow night-light effect by letting little slivers of streetlight shine through open slits in the drapes onto the sides of furniture and gave the room a mellow glow like candlelight.

At eight the next morning we were downstairs to have our breakfast in the big dining room. We both ordered our eggs scrambled.

Melody looked over a little brochure with a map about Benicia History that I had picked up at the front desk. She described the two massive train barges that ran offshore for decades. “Thirty trains a day on average.” We both thought it over.

“That can’t be just thirty cars,” she said. “They really do mean thirty whole trains.”

“More than one per hour,” I said, imagining the near constant activity and the loud rumbling train sounds that must have always emanated from the foot of First Street.

I watched as she took a knife and rubbed cold butter onto her warm toast.

“Grant and Reagan no doubt stayed here before they became president,” I mused as I stirred my coffee. ” Reagan probably stayed here as Governor. Did you know that he was originally supposed to get the part of Rick in Casablanca? Then the universe intervened and proper order was restored.”

“Let’s get back so we can see the girls before they leave,” said Melody. She offered her unfinished orange juice to me.

“Of all the B&B’s in all the world, you had to walk into mine,” I told her.

We slid our chairs back and I flipped a five dollar bill onto the table as a tip.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” I said before draining the last of the juice.

“So then let’s go home and look at our kid,” said Melody. And with that, we were gone.



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