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May 17-23, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

24th Street Rocks

By Gary Singh

THE STRETCH of McLaughlin Avenue that becomes 24th Street going north from 280 to Santa Clara Street should be in every brochure of the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau. It beats out Bonfante Gardens and the Niles Canyon Railway by a landslide. Whoever wins the District 3 City Council race should dedicate a monument to the cross-section of San Jose culture that this promenade exudes. Visitors from as far away as Story and King might come check it out.

I descended upon the locale just last week and couldn't stop scribbling down details on the ambience of the entire surroundings. The voyage began at 527 McLaughlin: a place called San Jose Trailer Park, which dates back to 1937. Rundown mobile homes dot the landscape, trash overflows out of the dumpsters and beat-up '80s minivans abound. Since placards inside warned that the locale is monitored by electronic surveillance, I escaped back out to McLaughlin and my gaze went straight to an old Hispanic man with crutches who was waiting for the 72 across the street. He had a neat cowboy hat.

Venturing northbound on McLaughlin, one finds a few taquerias, Laundromats and a dive car wash before it turns into 24th Street. There you see a classic strip mall with nothing but Mexican places, oddly titled Grewal Center—Grewal being a Punjabi surname. Then you have a few auto repair places and tire shops that precede the railroad tracks. A glaring sign warns, "Tracks out of service." I glanced down the tracks and watched two guys walking along them until they disappeared over the horizon. Everyone knows that defunct railroad tracks are an integral part of any urban exploration.

As the glaring sun beat down on the pavement, I then found myself at Clean Carts Sales and Service, an industrial yard filled with nothing but hundreds of shopping carts, all painstakingly organized in tidy rows. A yellow Penske rental truck was dropping off more carts, and they crashed to the ground as they fell off the lift-gate. Only then was I distracted by a young Mexican girl walking down 24th Street in a skimpy white shirt that said, "Midnight Cowgirl."

Continuing north toward Santa Clara Street takes you through a more residential neighborhood where neatly restored Victorian homes are juxtaposed with dive apartments. And then, like a diamond in the rough, as you approach Santa Clara, you find brand spanking-new cookie cutter condos right across the street from an old shack that houses an ice cream vendor operation—you know, those Hispanic guys who push the carts around with bells ringing.

Finally, when you hit Santa Clara, you have Ponderosa Westernwear, a few Mexican restaurants and a rundown building with piñatas hanging in front that houses a party supply shop. Then, all you have to do is segue left and you'll hit Al's Furniture with some Chinese characters on the sign, and a Vietnamese eatery called Binh Minh with white bars on the window. Man, what a rocking neighborhood.

You see, people in San Jose just aren't interested in urban exploration anymore. They think having to walk four blocks to go somewhere is an arduous task. Since San Jose is basically 30 small towns duct-taped together, no one really goes out of their way to explore other parts of the city besides their own neighborhood. As I've said, nobody in Evergreen cares what goes on in Willow Glen and nobody at Foxworthy and Meridian gives a rat's ass about 24th Street. I once got an email from someone who said she hadn't been downtown in 30 years. That blew me away.

The politicians must decide whether or not this is all a good thing for the future of the 10th largest city in the United States. Whoever becomes mayor must figure out what to do with the wreckage of suburban sprawl that he or she will inherit.

And because of that sprawl, it seems like every other block has its own freakin' "neighborhood organization." And, yes, there actually exists a 24th Street Neighborhood Association. They meet on the second Tuesday of every month and apparently it begins with a potluck from 6:30 to 7pm. What a merry-making bash that must be. I just might check it out myself.

Contact Gary Singh or send a letter to the editor about this story.