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Clampering Down

Either a fraternity disguised as a joke or a joke disguised as a fraternity, E Clampus Vitus, or 'Clampers,' go out of their way to celebrate history in this part of California


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THE PHRASE "high noon" just isn't used often enough these days. Likewise, the municipality of Alviso just isn't used often enough these days. And who better to stage a high noon celebration of Alviso than the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, Mountain Charlie, Chapter No. 1850. At noon on Saturday, March 25, they will descend upon the Alviso Marina to dedicate a new monument of the utmost importance. They are coordinating the event with the Rotary Club of Alviso.

Either a fraternity disguised as a joke or a joke disguised as a fraternity, E Clampus Vitus, or "Clampers" as they are known, go out of their way to celebrate and preserve history in this part of California. They have held parties and installed plaques at Oak Hill Cemetery and various places in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They take their sobriquet from Charles Henry McKiernan, a.k.a. Mountain Charley, one of the first white settlers in the Santa Cruz Mountains during the Gold Rush era.

Of course, such historical dedications should not take place without the required amount of libations. Booze is surely a key element in celebrating the Old West. So, with that in mind, allow me to recite the Clamper Creed in full: "As I pass through life, may I always be humble; may I never take myself seriously; may I always appreciate a little of the ridiculous; may I always be a two-fisted Clamper when the bottle passes my way and if I imbibe and can't hold it like a man, then may I always be able to pass it to the next brother; may I never forget the stout-hearted men who settled a great western wilderness and the heritage we have today. May I never fail to appreciate a bit of western lore."

And Alviso itself is long overdue for one of the Clampers' beer-fueled historical celebrations. If you've never visited Alviso, you should be ashamed of yourself. You see, in 1968—one long year before I emerged on this earth—the port of Alviso was annexed by the city of San Jose in an election that people are still complaining about. Many wanted it to remain its own municipality, but the sprawlmeisters who presided over San Jo just had to gobble it up. To this day, longtime Alviso residents still claim that it's a separate city from San Jose. Alviso is appealing because it is pretty much the last place left where you can experience what the Santa Clara Valley looked like before high tech rolled in. Alviso is Silicon Valley's last great small town. Even if you hate small towns, you should explore Alviso. You're right there on the very edge of the San Francisco Bay. It's where the Guadalupe River converges with Coyote Creek. You've got sloughs, levees, migrant workers, hikers, sewage, bicyclists and bored seagulls. The loneliness of the Mallard and Slough trails that snake their way through the wildlife refuge will do you in. Don't stray too far. You might not make it back. The isolation is downright awesome. And yes, those embarrassing "developers" are still plotting schemes to rape the area and infest it with hideous condos.

If you are the solitary-explorer type, a few inventive ways exist to get there. Here's one: Just get on Bascom Avenue and go north until it becomes Lafayette. And then keep going. When it finally stops, you'll find yourself transplanted back to 1962. Another way to reach Alviso is via North First Street. Just veer northward and keep going. And going. And going. After passing through an area that insidious vultures want to turn into another downtown, you eventually cross Highway 237 and wind up at a slow dusty lane called Hope Street, which dead-ends right at the edge of humanity called the Alviso Marina and Slough. When you roll into that parking lot, you're literally at "the end of Hope Street," all puns aside. "Where's the end of Hope?" Someone will always ask. Then you just point toward the salt flats.

But with the new plaque installed by the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, Mountain Charlie Chapter No. 1850, maybe there's hope for Alviso after all. Bring all your friends to the celebration and raise your glasses on high for Alviso. And don't forget the beer.

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From the March 15-21, 2006 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2006 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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