Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys 10 Year Anniversary

Quest for urban blight, local history and Zen hits double digits
THAT GUY: Gary Singh added published author to his rambling resume in 2015.

With Metro's 30th anniversary issue coming up soon, it makes sense to reflect on the 10th anniversary of this column.

In April of 2005, Metro gave me some weekly space to ruminate on the San Jose condition. At the time, I had no idea what it would become. The only goal—if there was even a goal—was to provide something different every single week, so readers would never have any idea what to expect. One week, a local barbershop; the next, the use of esoteric gnosticism to analyze the intersection of Kiely and Stevens Creek. Subject-wise, nothing was out of reach: pro soccer, Zen, punk, travel, local history, union stagehands, or Manson Family members from the Cambrian District. In fact, the cover kicker on the issue containing the first Silicon Alleys said, "No one is safe from Gary Singh's new column."

A few belligerent suburban rednecks on San Jose Inside, a political blog now owned by Metro, immediately made fun of it. But an overwhelming majority of readers who gave feedback over the first few years said they enjoyed the column because they never knew what to expect.

As the column evolved, I began to find multiple literary appreciations for San Jose that I never knew I had. That is, a few different narrator-identities began to emerge, one being the Urban Blight Exploration Junkie. Since San Jose is essentially one gigantic off-the-radar swath of geography, just about everything here can be understood as "off the beaten path." And no previous writer had taken to the streets, literally on foot, to explore the guts of the city. I decided to do just that. The blight junkie thus became addicted to glorifying the industrial wastelands, seedy neighborhoods, rundown shopping centers, weed-infested vacant lots or any form of abandonment in San Jose. In some cases, I simply walked down Stockton Avenue, 24th Street, or Auzerais and simply wrote down whatever was there.

And here's the craziest thing: I thought I was the only one. Turns out that wasn't the case at all. I had no idea what I was tapping into with those particular columns. But readers ate it up and, in ways I never predicted, those columns became the most popular ones I've ever written. To this day, the urban blight stories contemplating the guts of San Jose, walking around and exploring the overall garbage of this town, are the ones I get the most requests to write more of. At the time, some readers even tore the column out of the newspaper and took it with them to explore the geography on their own. Some even sent me videos they made. One left me a voicemail that said, "Dude, there's this shithole over on Santa Teresa, some building, you gotta check it out. It's fucking hideous. You gotta write about it." All in all, I discovered that many San Joseans, those still here and especially those who've long since left, have a thriving connection to the seedier aspects of this landscape.

Over time, Silicon Alleys evolved and twisted and reformed itself in multiple ways. I can't write about blight every week—that would get boring. And I just don't feel the abandonment every week. So, if anything, the experiences and perspectives on San Jose tend to be deeper and more cosmic these days. The key word here is "experience," as this column reflects my own. Synchronicities, for example, have played a huge role in dozens of manifestations of this column. They can be a wonderful source of creativity. Over time, I became a love slave to the muses of synchronicity.

Finally, since my identity is half eastern, half western; half urban, half suburban; half academic, half street; and half punk, half easy listening, this is the lens through which I view San Jose. I am always prone to ridicule any ethnic category around here—Asian-American? Half-Asian-Pacific-American? Blecccchhh!

Which brings us to a final reduction of the perspectives behind this column. My dad was from India and my mom is Anglo, meaning, I'm "Half-Indian, Half Anglo-Willow-Glen," so the acronym is HI HAWG. The author, to his knowledge, is the only HI HAWG in San Jose. And that is why I write this column.