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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Salamanca Soiree A la Scotch

By Eric A. Carlson

Talk does not cook rice.--Chinese Proverb

DINING IN a local military-industrial-strength cafeteria in Sunnyvale, Martin told me of a survey that revealed people fear death less than speaking in public. What? As a recent guest speaker at the prestigious Salamanca Speaker Series in downtown San Jose, I can attest to raw fear pulling at my gutty-wuts, but it was not as bad as fretting about mad cow disease or spiders biting me on the face. Showing up is half the battle.

Salamanca takes place in a saloon--Fuel Cafe & Bar at 44 S. Almaden Ave. An informal gathering allowing for "conversations with the newest and brightest voices shaping our community"--and occasional gadflies for comic relief. Accordingly, a few hours before unfurling my tongue, I began composing an introduction praising the spiritual enlightenment exhibited in choosing to congregate in taverns--to discuss the state of the city--like 1849 San Jose legislators stepping in from muddy streets to drink whisky on barrelheads before plotting out the future of nascent California. And then the phone rang.

It was William Harmon, one of the driving forces behind Salamanca. "I have some good news and some bad news," he said. "What say?" said I. "The good news is the event is still on for tonight." Pause. "The bad news is Fuel is booked by someone else. We have to move to the De Anza Hotel." This was not bad news per se. The De Anza Hotel is a drop-dead gorgeous structure, and I would be speaking in the same room (perhaps) that the doomed Brooke Hart was headed for in the sad San Jose year of 1933. (Brooke was scheduled to attend a public speaking class at De Anza, but was kidnapped in Lightston Alley (a street) earlier in the day--and later dropped off the San Mateo Bridge. (His nappers would pay the price in St. James Park.) My memorized introduction--touching on Fuel--was now kaput.

I shoved four quarters into a meter on Santa Clara Street before realizing it was a "12-minute" meter. The first quarter bought 12 minutes; the other three were my contribution to whatever services the city of San Jose provides: JCDecaux pay-toilets, repugnant public statuary, razing Victorians, nouveau City Halls. My treat.

Walked past ominous Kleidons Cocktail at 152 Post St. to meet William at Fuel before continuing on to the De Anza. Fuel was indeed booked. The windows were covered with crude signs scrawled with "Private Party." Human ululations and guttural hissings could be heard from within. Young urban professionals were engaged in some form of despicable karaoke ceremony. I made the sign of the cross and moved on. "Yeah, yeah, doo doo yah!" For this I was pre-empted?

Into the lobby of the De Anza Hotel--stopping at the desk for directions and a cookie--and then down to the basement and the San Jose Room. The room is a corker and includes a large Chinese screen depicting spider monkeys. That would be my backdrop--along with a U.S. and a California flag. As many folks were retrieving a drink from the bar, I indulged myself with a Scotch on the rocks. Public speaking, like golf, is not enhanced by drinking Scotch. At one juncture I noticed I was pointing to my head with my left hand while speaking--a mannerism that was duly noted and pointed out with merciless glee by Jeanne the following Friday evening in the Dolphin Cafe. Perhaps no one else noticed.

Many bright lights in the San Jose Room that night: Jack Douglas (wry as ever), Val DeLang, Judy Stabile, Margaret Tamisea, Marty (pushing for sports coverage), Andy Frazer (night photographer), Howard Frederic (one-half of Black Pearl), Jeanne Wood, Elizabeth McKeon, Jim Arbuckle, John Olson, Dan Gagliardi, Judi Henderson, Chris Esparza, Andrea Flores, William Harmon, Brendon Rawson--among others of equal note. (I knew I should have passed around an attendance record.)

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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