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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Wayback in Alviso

By Gary Singh

IN THE TRAVEL writing business, one always runs across those service-type articles with titles like "72 Hours in Casablanca," "A Weekend in Montreal" or "Three Perfect Days in London"—the point being that the reader should be able to easily replicate the author's experience. Since nobody anywhere has bothered to enlighten us with a "Five Hours in Alviso" exposť, allow me to furnish an example of how just such a piece might begin.

If you aren't familiar with Alviso, just know that it's a throwback former port community at the southern tip of the bay where one can wander through what Silicon Valley used to look like before the Silicon showed up. New stuff sits right next to old stuff. You can walk down a deserted street where a brand new detached condo invades the space near a rundown shack with its street address spray painted on the fence. Rooster calls intermix with distorted Mexican music from unidentifiable places. People can tell time by when the trains come along.

Furthermore, the best way to explore Alviso, and the best way to subsequently bask in all of its ruined beauty, is to get stuck there. For five hours. It's a cinch, really, so let me explain: All you have to do is take the 58 bus up there around 9:30am, forgetting that VTA mangled half the routes last January and that now the 58 doesn't run between 10am and 3pm any more. For probably the last 20 years, the 58 ran during the middle of the day, but, alas, no more.

Once you get stranded in Alviso, begin your time-killing escapade on Hope Street and walk north. Hope Street got my vote years ago for the best dead-end street anywhere in the South Bay. A slow, dusty lane, it dumps you off right at the edge of humanity otherwise known as the Alviso Marina County Park. You're right at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay and once you hit the parking lot, nothing's there to greet you except for marshlands, the salt flats, bored seagulls, bizarre stenches and a light breeze coming off the bay. Two trails—the Mallard Trail and the Slough Trail—snake their way off into the wilderness, and when all's said and done, the locale is possibly the loneliest place anywhere around here. Since this is where Hope Street officially stops, you instantly get the feeling you're at the "end of Hope" when you're standing there alone in the parking lot.

When you venture out onto the trails, it's easy to get lost, since it's hard to gauge just how far out they go. So if you want to remain in at least some semblance of civilization, venture right back to the other end of Hope Street to what's left of the South Bay Yacht Club. If you climb up some ramshackle concrete steps, you'll get to the edge of where Guadalupe Creek merges into the Alviso Slough. It appears to be a place where small rusted boats go to die, but on a decent day you can see all the way to the Hangar at Moffett and the tents at Shoreline Amphitheatre. A glance northward gives ample views of Dumbarton Bridge. Since this is the opposite end of the street from the Marina, we shall call it "The Beginning of Hope."

From there, all you have to do is segue down Taylor Street and hop the railroad tracks, which will put you at the legendary Vahl's Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge, right on the other side of the Amtrak line. Vahl's eatery has been alive almost 70 years and it still looks relatively the same, even though Amelia Vahl herself is sadly no longer with us. The place exudes so much forgotten '50s ambience that it makes Original Joe's look modern. Expect to see a tipsy couple in their 80s slow-dancing to "It Had to Be You," long after the barkeep has left 'em the keys for the place.

This is Alviso, folks. I encourage everyone to use this as a jumping off point for discovering it further.

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