The Balboa Chili Dog

At the end of a long long pier sticking out into the Pacific Ocean as though it were trying to escape from America, there's a place called Ruby's. It's a 50's kind of diner where you can get real milkshakes and chili dogs, and the waitresses look like they just stepped out of a time machine. Ruby's is as American as apple pie, and if it's trying to escape anything, it's probably the fast pace of the electronic 90's. There's no other reason to be out on that pier, except maybe to fish or watch the sunset. The pier is on a sand bar called Balboa off the end of Newport Beach in California. To get there you have to take a ferry which looks more like a barge or a flatboat, holds only three cars and mostly carries pedestrians across the 150 yard channel for 35 cents each. If the motor stopped, you could probably push it there with poles.

To get to Ruby's you have to walk across Balboa, past shops and parks, restaurants and bars, beaches and a carousel with real wooden horses. It's a good place to walk, smell the salt air, and clear your head of those heavy thoughts that crowd your working day. It 's a good place to walk on the beach with friends and tell jokes and stories that you might not want your mother to hear.

Balboa is a metaphore for escape, retreat, rediscovery, renewal, refresh and reformat, far from the digital jet stream that drives us these days. Ruby's is the restaurant at the end of the universe, or maybe at the beginning. In my Balboa, notebook computers and cellular phones are not allowed, only people sharing ideas and experience, and even feelings.

Every business trip has its Balboa events; lunches, dinners, train rides, harbour cruises, winery tours, bars, beaches, and hot tubs. They are the pixie dust that changes professional relationships into friendships. They bring a soft touch of humanity into an often dehumanizing profession. Whenever I see people rush from meetings to get back to the office, missing the Balboa ferry, I wonder what their world must be like.

Take time to smell the salt air.

Gene Ziegler