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Hello, Silicon Valley


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AS MUCH AS I lack skill at goodbyes, I'm even worse at hellos, so let's sidestep all that nonsense and get right into things. It's going on three years now that my warped yield has infested this paper, so the time is right for an open forum devoted to the absurdities and obscurities of life in Silicon Valley. Call it our heart and soul if you wish. It's long overdue.

And no, I don't just mean San Jose. I might converse about artificial intelligence research in Palo Alto or garbage cans in Sunnyvale. If Los Altos actually lets me walk around without getting arrested, it'll get ink as well.

It won't be the same every week. One time you'll get Paris, the next week, a farmer's overalls. Call it the Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome if you must—that's Silicon Valley. There's high tech, low tech and way-below-tech. We've got Ph.D.s living on the street and CEOs beating their wives. This is called diversity. We lifelong natives know it.

Of course, I don't speak for everyone, but right now, Silicon Valley seems to be at a crossroads. The municipality of San Jo calls itself the valley's "capital" although it had pretty much nothing to do with the rise of Silicon Valley compared to other nearby locales.

There's much to ridicule about San Jose—and likewise, much to applaud—but the city's identity complex needs some serious resolving. Folks in Oakland and San Fran consider Silicon Valley to be no different than Bakersfield or Lodi—it's one gigantic strip mall, they all say.

S.J.'s priority should be to prove them wrong. Sadly, Ron Gonzales and Larry Stone's country-bumpkin carnival-barker farce at baseball's spring training in Arizona accomplished exactly the opposite.

Many decades ago, Herb Caen nailed San Francisco as Baghdad by the Bay. So let me put this out for a public vote. What should San Jose be? Damascus by the Bay? Beirut by the Bay? Cairo on the South Side? We've got the Egyptian Museum, why not? Fire off your invective and tell me what you think.

San Jose's motto in the old days used to be "45 miles south of San Francisco." Now it's "Capital of Silicon Valley." The town has a habit of always piggybacking on something else in order to describe itself.

This needs to change. When Santa Clara County called itself the Valley of Heart's Delight and San Jose's nickname was the Garden City, those two tag lines made sense. Residents were proud of them, at least from what I've read.

Obviously, the city and the valley have grown massively since those days and we need another designation that actually means something. But not "Capital of Silicon Valley."

Then again, on the other hand, removing that phrase from all the garbage cans will probably cost too much. Perhaps the point is moot.

Talk to someone who lives at Hillsdale and Meridian—quintessential S.J. suburbia—and ask him if he cares that San Jose is the "Capital of Silicon Valley." Ask the crackhead staying at a Monterey Highway motel if he thinks this town is the "mother of technological innovation."

While you're at it, talk to the homeless folks who occupy St. James Park and see if they agree that San Jose is the "safest city in the country."

Whoever becomes mayor next year should put S.J.'s identity complex high on his or her agenda. If not, it just might be too late.

Now, I won't be a complete sourpuss here. Yes, there are several reasons to enjoy the valley. There's some outstanding history here. Many parts of it are spectacular to live in if you're raising a family. Most of the place is very, very safe. The sun shines 300 days a year and we're close to the beach. So, taking that into account, let's change all San Jose's garbage cans to say this: "San Jose: 30 miles north of Santa Cruz."

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From the April 13-19, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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