Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Road to Ruin

A walk down San Jose's Auzerais Avenue, where new shine meets old rust
RUSTMOBILE: Old, abandoned and dead cars and trucks sit along Auzerais Avenue in contrast to the nearby, legendary Roselli Foreign Car Repair. Photo by Gary Singh

Out beyond the Ferraris and the abandoned Unocal service trucks, there is a prosciutto sandwich. To riff on Rumi, I will meet you there.

Those of us who are native Rumis-about-town already know that Auzerais Avenue, or what's left of it, harmonizes the yin-yang of luxury and garbage. The street feels like an old friend.

At the corner of Lincoln and Auzerais, you have Roselli Foreign Car Repair, a legendary place. The sign out front is old and weathered in all the right ways. During working hours, pristine Ferraris, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos are often parked around the corner waiting to be repaired. More cars jam the inside of the lot. This is a longstanding business with legions of repeat customers. I can't imagine that corner without Roselli Foreign Car Repair.

A polar opposite scenario presents itself at the corner of Bird and Auzerais, where an entire fenced-off parcel at the Interstate 280 onramp is filled up with dead '70s and '80s Chevy pickups, some of which are rusted all the way through. Prickly cactus-like shrubs grow from the bottom of the chainlink fence, giving the whole place a desert-like feel.

A few long-deceased US Navy pickups, old Ford F100s and even some dead Unocal service trucks also sit inside the fencing. All of them have been oxidized with rust for what seems like decades. In a few cases, an entire windshield is nothing but dirt, or an entire hood is nothing but rust and cobwebs. Of all the rotting trucks that occupy this dead zone, the newest registration tag seems to be 1992. I don't know who owns this glorious graveyard, and maybe it's better I don't know.

The real truth lies somewhere between all of this, as always. As any traveling Sufi mystic on a trashed Lyft bike will say, the reconciliation of opposites leads to personal transformation. This is why Auzerais Avenue is such an enlightened old street.

Halfway between the aforementioned extremes of luxury and garbage, one finds Palermo Restaurant, where I contemplated everything over a prosciutto and arugula sandwich.

Palermo, of course, used to be Paradiso's until recently. Paradiso's was one of San Jose's all-time most legendary old-school joints, a deli and restaurant going back more than half a century to when Del Monte Cannery employed just about everyone in the whole damn neighborhood.

In the debut year of this column, I wrote that if Paradiso's ever went away, I would blow up the new city hall. Yes, I actually wrote those words in a newspaper. At the time, City Hall had just moved back downtown and I was awash in grandiosity much more than I am now. Luckily I didn't follow through on it. Besides, Palermo is the best possible follow-up to Paradiso's.

A few remnants of Paradiso's remain, if you know where to look. An old wooden sign remains attached to a waist-high chain-link fence right at the house next door, facing the parking lot on the other side of the house from Palermo. Anyone driving by can see the sign is a masterpiece of decay.

Across Auzerais, one finds several dead-end residential side streets broken up when Interstate 280 was constructed. On Hannah Street, one finds a wonderful little secret plaza dedicated to the Del Monte Cannery workers. Faded tiles feature local luminaries, including Tony Paradiso himself. The neighborhood is an enigmatic enclave, a pocket of paradise, a testament to old-school working class San Jose.

In ancient times, before the Children's Discovery Museum, before the McEnery Convention Center, before State Route 87 and Interstate 280 and five different streets named Almaden, Auzerais used to run all the way to Market Street downtown. Now it dies a natural death at Woz Way, following another stretch of beautifully incongruous residential, retail and junk-like environs. The whole street, or what's left of it, remains steeped in history. There are pieces of Auzerais that time has simply left behind.

It doesn't matter from which direction you begin: from the Ferraris, or the dead Unocal trucks. You can enter a space of enlightenment from any door. At Palermo, all points converge. All conflicts resolve. Ignorance withers away.

To riff on Rumi, I have harmonized the opposites and the prosciutto is amazing.