You won’t need a car. You won’t need a robe, sandals for the shower, shampoo, sun lotion, a razor, hair gel, deodorant, an umbrella (if necessary), a water bottle, or a bag to carry things in because that all will be provided. You won’t need fancy clothing or shoes because that’s not comfortable, and this place is where you will feel most comfortable in a sweat suit, a T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, and hiking boots if you like to walk mountain trails. This place is, in a word, magical.
How do I know this? Because for the past eight years, since I first discovered the place, I go there to chill out, re-energize, eat well, meet interesting people, exercise, get massaged and pampered, and sleep like a baby. Surrounded by a private 3,000 acres, the Ranch utilizes 300 of those acres, all beautifully landscaped, with eighty individual houses and villas that pay attention to the smallest details, like the art on the walls, the newspaper under the firewood all ready to light each night in the fireplace, the cut fruit and bottled water in the small refrigerator, the selection of quality teas and coffee packets in the cabinet, the vial of facial oil left on your pillow, the colorful framed mirrors in the bathrooms, the tiled sinks, even the way the bathroom tissue is displayed in a fan pattern each day.
The women who come outnumber the men five to one, which isn’t surprising, because men don’t quite get the idea of a week at a health spa the way women do. But, like the women, the men who do go there are intelligent, iconoclastic, independent, and interesting. I once sat down at the same dinner table as the brother of John Podesta, who was then President Clinton’s chief of staff. Another time I got to know a composer who wrote music for Madonna. In the dining room, in a stretch class, at the men’s health center, or at one of the evening lectures I’ve met a writer for the New York Daily News, a small-town newspaper publisher, a well-known attorney, a stock market analyst, a university professor, a heart surgeon, and a Canadian oil man.
On this last visit I was walking from the basketball court to a cardio boxing class and passed a man who looked like someone I’ve seen on TV. We exchanged hellos. I saw him again at one of the evening movies in the library and said to my wife, “Doesn’t that guy look like Bill Moyers?” She said, “That is Bill Moyers.” In the men’s health center I saw him getting undressed at his locker and approached him.
“You and I have someone in common,” I said, mentioning the late director John Huston, whom Moyers had interviewed for his Creativity series on public television and about whose family I had written a biography. Moyers said he knew my book, and remarked that he was also aware of a more recent book I had written called The Art of the Interview.
“I bought ten copies of that book,” he told me, “and gave it to members of my staff. I’d really like to get another one for you to sign.”
Bill Moyers—who was the deputy director of the Peace Corps when that program first began under Sergeant Shriver in the early sixties; who went on to be a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson; who became the publisher of Newsday; and wound up becoming an icon of public television, interviewing such people as the philosopher Joseph Campbell, Maya Angelou, Robert Bly, Elie Wiesel, the children’s book writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak; and authoring a half dozen books including A World of Ideas I and II and Healing and the Mind—was standing naked in the health center at Rancho La Puerta asking me for my autograph. Where else in the world would something like this happen?
“Why don’t we have dinner one night?” Moyers suggested.
We did, Moyers and his wife Judith, me and my wife Hiromi, and it was entertaining and stimulating as we traded stories about people we’d known, written about, interviewed, or worked with.
“This is what I like best about this place,” the Canadian oil man said to me as we sat in the outdoor Jacuzzi, “meeting the people who come here.” He then proceeded to tell me two L.A. stories and one New York story that had me making notes later that day to use as future scenes in a novel or movie script I might write. (This is one of the great bonuses of being at the Ranch: stripped down strangers sharing a sauna, steam or Jacuzzi are so willing to tell you their stories!)
His L.A. stories were examples of why he and his wife decided not to move from Vancouver to that city. The first was when he was driving down a street in Los Angeles and saw a gang of five attacking an individual. No one else stopped to help. He pulled over, got out of his car, and asked what was going on. “Me and this other guy wound up in the hospital,” he said. But he was willing to put that out of mind the second time he went to L.A. On that visit he was driving on one of the freeways when a BMW went speeding past him, and then after driving under an overpass the car swerved to the right, then to the left, and crashed. As our Canadian drove past he saw that the windshield of the BMW had been blown away and the driver was slumped over the steering wheel with a bullet hole in his head, a victim of a random shooting. “I called my wife and told her we weren’t moving to L.A.,” he said.
Instead, he considered Manhattan. He and his wife went there and were told about a nightclub to check out in Soho. They got a taxi and gave the driver their destination. The driver was a bit reckless, went through a red light, and wound up with the rear end of his cab stuck in an intersection. An angry New Yorker pulled a Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, smacking the trunk of the cab and shouting, “I’m walking here!” The cabbie got out of his taxi and confronted the guy. Then a woman came running towards them saying the driver had no right to be stuck in the middle of the intersection. The outnumbered driver got back in his car, but the woman was yelling and grabbed hold of the half-opened window on the passenger side. The taxi driver pressed the electric window button and closed the window on her fingers, then started driving away, the woman running alongside. “We were sitting in the back of this cab,” the Canadian oil man related, “watching this incredible scene unfold. Finally, the driver turned a corner, opened the window, and the woman went flying onto the ground. But five people saw this and began to chase the taxi. The driver jumped his car onto the sidewalk and started driving real fast. Then he stopped and told us to get out. He left us stranded, we didn’t know where we were, and took off. That was it for New York for us.”
It seemed obvious to me why this businessman came to the Ranch: to soak away the bad karma that seemed to follow him from city to city.