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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Mystery Spots

By Eric A. Carlson

"The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing."
Raymond Chandler

MYSTERY SPOT bumper stickers adorn many bumpers in San Jose and environs. Why? My theory for the stickers is that they were placed against the will of the drivers--possibly at gunpoint. It happened to my family at the Royal Gorge when my father stepped out of the car to use the restroom. While he was gone, a caretaker plastered a Royal Gorge bumper sticker on the rear of our 1956 Chevy "One-Fifty" Handyman Station Wagon (avocado green). I was a mere toddler at the time, but I recall my mother leaning over to me and saying, "Your father isn't going to like this." Indeed, he was not pleased with the sacrilege.

Thus I mused, standing outside Pepper Mill restaurant on Lakeside Drive (no lake for miles around) in Santa Clara. This neck of the woods is aptly described by Dave Hickey, a deep-dish San Josean: "I was nurtured in the cradle to hate all gruesome gulch suburbs of San Jose, such as Milpitas, Fremont, Santa Clara north of El Camino and south to Gilroy." I'll add Campbell to the list, but that's just me. Edward Allegretti and Darek Przgoda--two guys obsessed with the lore of Santa Clara County--arrived, and we repaired inside to talk shop. When I mentioned to Darek that I was planning a visit to the Mystery Spot in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he remarked he had been there and was not impressed. The only effect, he related, was that his wife became dizzy.

Darek has just completed a CD containing 300 photographs of San Jose's Christmas in the Park and accompanying text--in Polish. Darek was born and raised in Poland and came to America about 10 years ago. He loves history and began writing about the Bay Area. Darek explains, "My goal is twofold: I pass knowledge about this country and its history to readers living 10,000 miles away, on another continent, and I maintain my skills in writing Polish." Darek was keen to have me write about Melchior Wankowicz, a Pole who came to America in the 1950s. When Melchior returned to Poland, he wrote about the Bay Area--in Polish. The mystery and frustration is that present-day Poles are not terribly interested in 1950s descriptions of Villa Montalvo or Moaning Cavern. And most San Joseans can't read Polish. Except for Darek.

I was becoming concerned with Ed Allegretti's fancy drink. It was a tall glass filled with too much fruit and clearly the center of gravity was dangerously high and variable as fruit shifted internally. The Pepper Mill aims high, as indicated by the fancy drinks, and also by the purple coleslaw. When I order coleslaw I expect it to be green shredded cabbage drenched in mayo. Purple coleslaw--red cabbage sans mayonnaise--is decorative, but inedible. My Cajun chicken sandwich was good but resembled nothing a real Cajun would touch with a 10-foot fork. Cajun food outside the city limits of New Orleans tends to be gentrified, especially red beans and rice. F'get about it.

The disappearance of the revolving 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner from the Great Mall of Milpitas is the strangest and saddest mystery of all. The revolving Ford was the signature piece of the Great Mall. The removal of the Skyliner is only one of several changes for the worse that have occurred during the last three years. When the mall first opened, the entrances were designed in transportation themes: planes, boats, cars. It was easy on the eye and tastefully appointed. No more. The transportation themes have been replaced by large garish numbers painted in a crazed op art Austin Powers motif, and a new floor design is pure horror show.

The floor at the Great Mall is the most obnoxious in the history of mankind--and possibly the local group of galaxies. Psychotic swirls of seasick green, blood-boil red and liver-spot purple fan out in disturbing patterns. When I drove up to the mall, Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" was playing on the radio. Walk into the Great Mall, and you will wish you were stuck in Mobile.

Final Note: The Ford Fairlane 500 is now located at the Ford Historical Display by entrance No. 4. The horror, the horror.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the May 1-7, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 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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