You never forget your first time.
Many intelligent, accomplished women reading this article might scoff at the idea of spending money at a day spa. I once did. But after the recent birth of my first child, I found myself unable to lose those last ten pounds and still wearing maternity clothes. I could hardly find the time to even brush my teeth and shower, so I have been rethinking my attitude about this popular societal phenomenon.
What I really miss most and will continue to miss until we live closer to the grandparents and I have someone to watch my son from time to time, is me time. You know, time to really look at my eyebrows in the sunlight by the window, time to floss, time to shave my legs. No matter how hippie or punk a lot of us claim to be, most of usually do these things. And after finally being able to bend over and take a look at my feet after 9 months of pregnancy and 2 months of painful recovery from a Caesarean, I realized my soles and heals looked like those of a shoeless nomad and were in dire need of some help.
If you’re gonna do it, do it a co-worker of mine used to say. Having never had a pedicure in my life, I decided I would go to what many consider the best day spa in my region of California, Kelly’s Spa at the Mission Inn. The Mission Inn is an historic landmark and hotel in Riverside, California, and has been hosting presidents and celebrities for over one hundred years. Built in my favorite Mission-Revival style, the hotel and its restaurants look like a resort on the Mediterranean, with Spanish style archways and blooming fushia bougainvillea. They have amazing restaurants with outdoor patios lined by well-kept tropical gardens and intricate tile artwork. If I was to try a pedicure for the first time, I wanted it to be special, and hopefully not inhaling all those fumes you smell when you walk by a typical nail salon crammed with customers at the mall.
I made my reservation for the Signature Pedicure, priced at $65.00. It was supposed to include a eucalyptus tea tree bath, a peppermint exfoliation scrub, a cucumber heal treatment, and a paraffin treatment. When I made the appointment I had no idea what all of these things entailed. They were actually booked for up to two weeks, and the wait only added to my anticipation. The receptionist promised me a foot massage included in the price, which I had not seen advertised on the internet. I had been to the hotel with my mother and husband for the buffet the previous month, and was looking forward to getting away from my dishes and diaper pail, and returning to the luxurious atmosphere.
Upon arriving 30 minutes early to the Spa as they had requested, and having found a close parking spot and been able to avoid the costly valet parking, I was greeted by two young women at the front desk. Both were attractive and perky for a Sunday morning, and very well-groomed. They told me to pick a drink from a menu they provided, with my choice of various fresh squeezed juice and herbal blends or champagne with chocolates. I chose the Energize drink, which had strawberry and some other things I can’t remember. Another woman then took me down a hallway showing me the locker room, restroom, place to change into a thick robe if I wished, showers, and a steam room. It was not your typical locker room by any means, and the lighting and soft music made me feel I had entered the inner sanctum of some ancient Egyptian royal chambers. All plumbing was in gold with tasteful mahogany wood and an earth-tone color scheme. Because I was just getting a pedicure, I opted to not change into the robe.
I was then lead to a waiting room where I was shown a table offering me cucumber ice water, coffee, tea, almonds, dried cranberries, and fresh fruits, all on silver trays. The lights were dim and only one other woman was seated on the plush chairs with her feet up, reading on her Kindle in a robe. A giant Buddha statue was in the middle of the room as if to signify the purpose, and some beauty products seemed to be on display in backlit glass-doored cabinets. The room also had pictures of what seemed to be the Spa’s signature model, whom I had seen on the website frolicking through a meadow, a blond haired woman with blue eyes. Some reviews on Yelp say that this is the owner, but I cannot verify that.
“I’ll be right back with your drink,” the hostess said to me. “And would you also like a chocolate truffle?” How could I refuse? I filled a plate with snacks and drank ice water in the dimly lit room while I waited for her to return. Two other ladies tip toed in with wet hair and robes and picked up glasses of champagne from the fireplace mantle that had been set there for them ahead of time. I was getting excited with all of this hoopla and texted my two best friends about what I was doing. I also was just trying to relax and not think of how my family was fairing at home, or how long until my breasts would start to ache from not nursing for a couple hours.
Finally my pedicurist arrived to take me for my pedicure. Her name was Etsuko, and she was both thin and very beautiful. She took me to a smaller room where I sat in an elevated upholstered chair and placed my feet in a warm swirling bath. She gave me a choice of scents for the water, either ginger or jasmine (not eucalyptus, which is okay with me), and then pointed to the polish colors for me to pick from. I chose a sparkly pale pink, something I thought I wouldn’t get tired of too soon. I then tried to small talk in a nervous way, being completely unused to having a stranger sit on her knees and attend to my feet.
Let me backtrack; I had had a couple Chinese reflexology massages before in the International District in Seattle. Those were divine, so I did have high expectations for the massage portion of my pedicure.
After soaking my feet, Etsuko completed the scrub portion and filed my heals (which made me laugh because it tickled), applied some cream to my feet and something else to my cuticles, filed the nails, then slathered on another cream and put me in these hot plastic booties for a few minutes, which felt so relaxing I, couldn’t move my feet. This part, I believe, was the paraffin treatment. While Etsuko attended to me, I asked her about her family, her children, and if there were any good authentic Japanese restaurants in town. She was friendly but professional. Looking around the room, I noticed the gold embroidery on the sheer curtains, and the marble counter tops. Everything in the establishment seemed to be decorated with the purpose of making you feel wealthy, as if these were the curtains someone stereotypically wealthy should pick, and this the material for the counter tops. I considered whether I liked the dÃ©cor or not, and then something about the curtains reminded me of my grandparents. Outside the curtains was the street, but I didn’t try to see what was out there. Another woman getting her pedicure in the adjacent chair a few feet away was confessing to her pedicurist about how wonderful her room was at the hotel, and what the colors would be for the wedding she was in that weekend, as she grinned ear-to-ear and sipped champagne.
While I sat in the booties waiting for them to work their magic, I was offered tea or coffee again, and opted for jasmine tea. When Etsuko came back she rinsed off my feet and began to apply the polish. I asked her why it didn’t smell like the places at the mall, and she said it was the brand of polish they chose, that it was “organic” and not acrylic. After careful painting she was done, and I was allowed to stand with those spongy things still separating my toes. My toes did look gorgeous, albeit there hadn’t been much of a massage. My guess is that it was not supposed to include a massage and that the receptionist was simply misinformed. However, I was indeed so relaxed I couldn’t remember how to get back to the restroom and Etsuko showed me where it was. I then went into another room called The Ladies Retreat, which was a bit smaller than the first waiting room and had a door that led to the outside and the pool. I stepped out for a minute to try to peak over the solid wood fence surrounding the pool, but could only see the tops of umbrellas and the back gates to some Villas.
At the front desk I tipped $10 on my credit card, and drew out the visit to the Mission Inn by stopping at Casey’s Cupcakes. I had heard about the place and wanted to get a couple to take home. If you haven’t been there, it’s a trendy pink-walled cupcake place owned by a woman who looks like a Playboy Bunny and who appears in all her signage similar to the owner of the spa. I am a cupcake connoisseur, however, and can vouch that the cupcakes are truly moist with delicate frosting.
Before walking to my car, I lingered outside the building and looked around. If I had no children and no imminent milk flow, and more money too, I would have been tempted to check into a room and drink cocktails by the pool all day. Maybe I would purchase a body scrub, maybe sit in a hot tub. The place was truly a retreat, and what I had paid for was not just the pedicure but 50% the establishment and its ambiance. I could easily see pedicures costing only $20 or $30 at other places considering the work they entailed. But this was the Caesar’s Palace of historic hotels, and to sit in those tranquil rooms with other people who valued the feeling that was being sold and were willing to pay for it truly was a treat. I’ll admit that’s what it was, but I’ll almost certainly be back for more, and I’ll feel even better about it because I am supporting an historical landmark. I think the next time I will just get the Reflexology (foot and hand) massage and skip the pedicure, or wait a few more months until I’m done breast feeding and get the $110 and up Sweedish Massage or Healing Massage. There’s just one thing I might suggest to the owner, and that is that she include more of a variety of models in her advertising.
When I got home to my apartment with my husband lying on the couch watching Netflix, I slowly adjusted to the reality of my routine, the cat litter box that sits in our living room, and my lack of servants who bring me drinks on silver trays. We ate the cupcakes, with my husband even commenting, “Were those expensive? They look expensive because of the boxes.” I then took out the trash, heated leftovers for lunch, and we went on with our day. I must point out that a week later my feet are a great deal less rough on the bottoms, and my pink polish still looks amazing.