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July 4-10, 2007

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Drive, He Said

By Gary Singh

ONE INITIAL aspect of this valley confuses people when they first move here: You can be driving down the road, and all of a sudden the road is called something else. For example, for a few miles you're on Camden, and then before you know it, you're on San Tomas Expressway. Or if you're motoring up Los Gatos Boulevard, it eventually becomes Bascom, then Washington and then Lafayette.

I've always taken this for granted and have never even thought twice about it, but the concept baffles a lot of newcomers. People are always asking things like "Why is there a Capitol Avenue and a Capitol Expressway? Or why is there an Almaden Road, Almaden Avenue, Almaden Boulevard and an Almaden Expressway? How did this happen? Who designed this place?"

You can blame it all on suburban sprawl and complain all you want, but there are indeed some fun and creative ways to deal with this mess. For example, in San Jose, it's possible to drive for 25 miles on the same road and not even have to leave town. It's a great way to experience the myriad cross-sections of this entire place.

Here's where you begin: right where Camden Avenue ends at Harry Road on what we natives call the "South Side." From there, all you have to do is just keep driving up Camden, and you never have to get off the road. It's so ridiculous, you'll just have to try it one day.

From the horse-ranch environs of the Camden & Harry show—sounds like a sitcom, doesn't it?—motor your way up Camden through the nether regions of Almaden Valley and suburban south San Jo, and eventually you'll get to Highway 17 in Campbell. Camden itself takes its name from a combo of Campbell and Almaden, as that street was originally a railroad line connecting those two neighborhoods.

Crossing Highway 17 then throws you onto San Tomas Expressway, and you wave goodbye forever to Camden Avenue. You also wave goodbye to pedestrians, as they're no longer allowed. San Tomas then barrels northward up through Campbell, San Jose and Santa Clara—and it's also known as "County Route G4," a phrase hardly anyone uses any more. I mean, can you imagine somebody actually saying, "I'm going to take the G4 up to 101," or "How do I get to Hamilton and G4?" I don't think so.

No wonder newcomers get bewildered by all this. In any event, the stretch of San Tomas between 280 and El Camino is part of the route Juan Bautista de Anza took leading his expedition into California from Mexico in 1775–76.

Once past 101, our pal G4 turns into Montague Expressway, taking one through high-tech Silicon Valley at its finest before barreling back into Highway 880, right at the San Jose/Milpitas border and historically one of the most clogged intersections anywhere around here. I can't remember how many stinking years they worked on re-engineering that intersection. The Great Mall is also nearby, which used to be a Ford assembly plant. Milpitas was one of the places that San Jose failed to acquire during its 20-year annexation hysteria, and in 1954 the population of Milpitas was 600, far fewer than the number of employees at the Great Mall today.

Lastly, after you rocket past Highway 680, Montague loses the expressway status and finishes off its last mile as Landess Avenue before dead-ending, finally, into Piedmont Road on the edge of the foothills. From Camden and Harry Road in New Almaden all the way through the South Bay, up San Tomas, across Montague and straight back over to the east Milpitas foothills is pretty close to about 25 miles. Yeah! That's a grand-scale, unmatched whirlwind tour of suburbia, and I call upon the masses to supply their own versions. Now. To hell with 17-Mile Drive in Carmel. This particular journey blows it out of the water.

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