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November 29-December 5, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Nobody Puts Bill in a Box

Bill 'the Oysterman' Callahan wants the people of Los Gatos to know that there are two reasons that, after his serving them for 15 years, they no longer see him around. First, there's the bacteria that were gnawing away on his foot, almost forcing him to have it chopped off. Second, Santa Clara County health officials have shooed him away from his traditional farmers market oyster bar in Los Gatos. But Callahan, whose personality and product have both been long considered Bay Area treasures, is quick to point out that the two points are not related. The damage from the infected wart on his foot has put him out of commission for a good while now. But whatever his health, Callahan will no longer be selling his famed oysters in Los Gatos, after health department officials demanded he comply with state vendor guidelines and sell his oysters from a fully enclosed booth, rather than the open bar that Callahan has traditionally preferred. "I'm an intelligent guy," Callahan tells Fly. "So I said, 'Why for the 15 years that I didn't have [an enclosed booth] were you not protecting public health, then?'" Fly thought the question was good enough to pose to Peder Eriksson, the environmental health specialist for the county who focuses on farmers markets and mobile food facilities. Eriksson acknowledged that Callahan was allowed to slide for a while, but said state guidelines are now being roundly enforced. "Raw oysters are an extremely dangerous product," Eriksson warns grimly. "We want to prevent [things like] flies from landing on the oysters." Callahan retorts: "I talked to Eriksson and his boss. I asked them, 'Can you show me the scientific literature proving your case? Of course they couldn't. All I'm asking for is a bigger sized hole in my booth.'" Fly went further up the county ladder, asking Ben Gale, the director of county's Department of Environmental Health, if there was any wiggle room for Callahan, being that the oysterman is an institution. "It's a public health threat," responded Gale. "We're not talking about a non-potentially hazardous pre-packaged product." Non-potentially what? Fly went back to Callahan, who at least spoke English. "You just start laughing," says Callahan. "It's not financial; it was never about the money; it's about the community. That's the loss. They want a business that fits in a box. Well, I don't fit in a box."

What Part of 'Humorless' Don't You Understand?

On its website, Starbucks encourages customers to "Become more involved in your community through your local Starbucks store." That's what Robert Therrien Jr., a.k.a. Bad Bob, creator of Screaming Man comics, intended to do on Nov. 5 when he hung some of his paintings at the so-called eBay Starbucks at San Jose's Bascom Square. But the day after Therrien, 52, hung his paintings, he got an anxious call from the store's manager asking him to take them down. It wasn't a complete surprise to Therrien, who said he felt a "really bad vibe" when he was hanging the art. He had put up eight pieces, three of them related to coffee: Screaming Man pointing a gun at the viewer with the caption "What part of 'no decaf' don't you understand?"; a vibrant, lovingly shaded espresso machine under the text "God doesn't make decaf"; and Screaming Man behind the wheel under the words, "caffeine ... road rage enhancement." Therrien, now an engineer for Lockheed Martin, has been published in Mad magazine and authored a book of Screaming Man comics in 1994. During that time, his work appeared on T-shirts and coffee mugs from Haight to Melrose. Starbucks manager John Renna didn't offer much explanation for why the paintings had to come down, says Therrien, but a pending visit from the company's regional manager was mentioned in the conversation. (Attempts to contact Starbucks representatives in person and by phone were unsuccessful.) On Nov. 6, Therrien took down the paintings and replaced them with some less provocative work—traditional oil paintings of landscapes and architecture. In an ironic twist, Therrien had originally hung the landscapes in Santa Cruz at the Chill Out Café, but felt that the manager there was disappointed with the content. "I was ready for some crazy shit," admitted Allen Guild, 23, Chill Out's general manager. But Guild loves the paintings. "I think Bad Bob has really captured the vibe of the coffee shop. You got all these stimulants lying around and people get really edgy."

Room With a View

The San Antonio Inn on El Camino near Mountain View's Los Altos border is far from the jewel in the crown of the city's lodging choices. It's not even a diamond in the rough. Let's put it this way: a one-night stay at the San Antonio Inn can be as cheap as about $55 a night, while the same overnight at the nearby Courtyard would be almost $100 more. Having been around a lot of dumps, Fly was interested to catch wind of how the San Antonio has become one of the favorite targets of a quiet but seemingly legal policy of the Mountain View Police Department. A concerned San Antonio Inn lodger called Fly with the goods. A concerned lodger who described herself as friendly with some of the motel's desk clerks discovered that the motel's management routinely opens up its registries for the cops, allowing the police to run the names through their databases for outstanding warrants. "It seems to me that's unconstitutional," she told Fly. "I would imagine [visitors] come in here not knowing their information would be shared with the police." A clerk at the San Antonio Inn confirmed that the motel gives information to the police department "if they ask," while Jim Bennett, a representative of the Mountain View Police, acknowledges that the city's police force works on a "voluntary and cooperative" basis with the city's hotels and motels to keep track of the bad guys. "Many, if and when an officer contacts them and asks to look at their register, are willing to provide that," Bennett says. He adds that officers ask to look at registers both with or without cause or suspicion; they don't need a warrant because opening up the registries is strictly voluntary. Whether or not motels can legally divulge customer information without notifying the customer is another matter—though the practice is quietly common in many parts of the country. But is the targeting of hotels such as the San Antonio Inn an example of different standards for different classes of establishment? Well, the Courtyard confirms that it only divulges customer information when the cops produce a warrant. "That's the interesting aspect to this," says our source. "If you stay at the Marriott, the Marriott is not going to give your information to the police department."

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