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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scenes from Silicon Valley

I haven't really been in the Bay Area this summer; it's more accurate to say I've been in Silicon Valley. While living here I read What the Doormouse Said, a book about how the 60's counter-culture movement propelled the personal computer revolution. Did you know it could have been otherwise?

We made a pilgrimage to Apple HQ in Cupertino, where an ecclectic group of Apple workers stream in and out. Some are quirky, like the guy in gauchos and neon-green knee socks. Others look pasty and flabby from too many hours in front of a terminal. Most of them look pleased to be working there. We stopped into the "company store," filled with sleek idols of progress. You hear a whisper, "here is the future," and feel optimistic. The future is beautiful, convenient, miraculous.

Then you get into your car and pull immediately onto a freeway. It's nothing but large buildings and expressways from one end of the valley to the next. The future is disaster. This way of life is unsustainable!

Sunday afternoon we drove to Google HQ, in a leafy office park in Mountain View. The building's design is heroic and there are little blue bicycles everywhere for employees' use. "Don't you wish you were smart?" Lane said. "If I worked at Google, I'd want to work in their cafeteria, making healthy, innovative lunches for everyone," I replied. There was a depressing number of cars in the parking lot that Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday we drove to San Jose and visited the Mexican Heritage Plaza. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, certainly not a museum. The gardens are beautiful, though, and there was an exhibit about the outsider artist Martin Ramirez, whose works are currently on view at the San Jose Museum of Art. We couldn't go because the museum is closed on Mondays. I've been here all summer and never got around to seeing this show. We stopped by a Mexican market where I bought cojito cheese (finally!) and toritillas for tonight's quesadillas.

Did you know you can tour the Winchester Mystery House gardens for free? I'm not sure if you're supposed to, but we did. What a tourists' trap.

Across the street we found the much more entertaining Santana Row. After I finished making fun of the Vegas-Euro look I had to admit it's a felicitous example of mixed-use urban planning. They make great use of outdoor space, with tons of open-air restaurants and bars. It all looks so inviting. And there's even a weekly farmer's market! If I had to live in San Jose I'm afraid I'd want to live there. Now all they need is a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's.

We hung out at a little square with a small playground, a patch of lawn (made from this ultra-soft, synthetic stuff you don't have to water), and a fountain. Before long Jasper and another little boy were cavorting in the fountain, Jasper in his undies and the two-year-old in his birthday suit. Nobody stopped us! They had a blast. I felt sorry for the kids whose parents wouldn't let them play in the fountain.

In fact, I'm starting an organization called Consortium of Parents Who Let Their Kids Play in Public Fountains. I've decided these are my people. Other parents can join the Leauge of Parents Who Do Not Let Their Kids Play in Public Fountains, Nor in the Sandbox (Have You Seen What The Cats Do There At Night?).

Today is our last day in California.


liz said...

you rocked the CA scene, you guys did a good job keeping busy and exploring and eating well.

sorry we didn't get to hang out, but next summer I promise I won't be 9 months pregnany with sporatic contractions keeping me tied up at home.

Hevansrich said...

I have loved hearing about your adventures in CA - just as removed from the action as most everyone else because of the "distance" between No Cal and So Cal. Your writing is so much fun to read. And, it probably says something around me that I have always wanted to travel to San Jose - mainly to visit the Winchester Mystery House.

Anonymous said...

For really great fountains to splash in, come to Portland (I know, I know, I sound like a broken record). A huge percentage of the public fountains around town were specifically designed to be kid-friendly and are meant to be played in. Of course, it's only sporadically really hot enough to do so without your lips turning blue (we have had a pretty cool summer this year), but all the same . . .

Sylvia said...

Nah, come to Washington DC and the fountain in downtown Silver Spring MD.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Fountains, schmountains! Seriously, though, it sounds like you guys made the absolute most of your time in California. Now you can say you know how the other half live. I still lament leaving. Stupid. Sigh.

Ah, well. Perhaps you and Lane will return one day for a long bit of tenure? It will be interesting to read all of your compare/contrasts between CA and NY.

Thanks for writing so beautifully about the Golden State. I've loved reading your blog this summer. It almost fills that hole in my heart I left in... yes... I'm going to say it... San Francisco! ;-)

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

That is to say, it will be interesting to read your compare/contrasts between NY and CA, once you're comfortably back in Brooklyn. Oy.

Swizzies said...

Santana Row is cool. It burnt down when they were building it - a HUGE fire, then they had to rebuild it. But I like the place, even though it's a Consumer Mecca. ;-)

Hevans, The Boy LOVES the Winchester House - it's very quirky and weird. And interesting.

Hey A - Loved your CA posts, you made me almost think it's worth living there. But you, that point you made about the awesomeness, and then the contrast when you pull out on the freeway and see what we have wrought? THAT is why I can't live there anymore. You totally nailed it.

I was laughing at the flabby white office spooks...I worked with many of those. Hell, I AM one of those. And no, you silly goose, that doesn't offend me in THE SLIGHTEST.

Happy trails!! XO

ME said...

I went to the Winchester Mystery House on my birthday with Boy on one interesting trip to the Bay Area--back when a bunch of y'all lived there. I love touristy schlock like that.

It's been great fun reading the California edition, even though it makes me long for Trader Joe's and weekly farmers markets. OTOH, I have all the cojito cheese I could ever want or need.

Methinks there needs to be another Scary Fems get together in SF. You know, since we haven't been able to pull off the South of France yet. ;)

shaunamama said...

May I join your consortium? When we were in DC my hubby and I were in the fountain in the outdoor art museum. Well, actually just our feet were and we were also without our children, but doesn't our romp in the water count?

Luisa Perkins said...

We have a good friend who works at Google; he says the cafeterias are a gourmet's dream.

My cousin used to manage the Winchester Mystery House! I'm sure it's even more of a trap than it was 25 years ago.

I just read an amazing article in Orion Magazine by Janisse Ray entitled "Do Environmentalists Walk Their Own Talk?" Hint: not really. It's worth a read: depressing, yet somehow heartening at the same time. Kind of like "Sicko."

Okay, I'll stop ranting now.