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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes from the Underbelly

Painting Alviso

By Eric A. Carlson

"I would rather see the portrait of a dog that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they can shew me in the world."

Samuel Johnson

THERE IS NO desolation like putting six quarters into a Mercury News newspaper dispenser and then realizing it is Saturday--not Sunday. The machine provides no recourse for compensation. The mind is suffused with images of Tony P. Ridder rubbing his palms together with glee and chortling maniacally at the unexpected bonanza. A cleansing journey to Alviso is recommended at this point.

The old "historic" part of Alviso, from Vahl's to the Ghost Marina, is as picturesque and quiet as a Mexican seacoast village. If it is Sunday, there will be three small boys playing baseball on Gold Street and no cars to distract from the game. On a recent Sunday, Emmett Dingel was hard at work daubing a mural on the Gold Street side of a building owned by the Santos family. The work-in-progress is Emmett's second mural on that building. The first mural fronts Taylor Street and is a spectacular rendering of Alviso circa 1914. Kudos to the Santos clan for recognizing good art when they see it and for promoting more of the same. That is a trait rarer than hen's teeth.

Emmett was gracious and patient when I interrupted him to ask my two-bit questions. But I could tell he would rather be painting. When we shook hands, I ended up with a smear of blue paint on my hand--oil-based by the texture, I reckon. Alviso has a way of sticking to you, whether it is mud from the Alviso Slough or paint from an Alvisoan muralist. With the exception of recent incursions of $700,000 homes in the New Chicago district, Alviso remains as authentic as salt, as soulful as the indigo in Emmett's mural.

Emmett has a background in architecture and has been known to make a buck or two as a sign painter--an art form unto itself and not to be disparaged. Nevertheless, Emmett's mural of 1914 Alviso is beyond mere signage; it captures Alviso--pure and simple. And it is a fine addition to the many murals of Alviso. Yes, many murals--on the ruins of the Thomas Foon Chew Bayside Cannery, on the walls of George Mayne Elementary School, on the building hosting Ernie's Fiesta Restaurant. The town is rife with murals, and they are all worthy dashes to the work of art that is Alviso. If I might be allowed to wax a bit.

Emmett told me that when he painted his first Alviso mural he left his paints and brushes out each night on the sidewalk--for a month. And nobody messed with them. Don't try that at home in San Jose, folks. Those brushes would grow legs in a microsecond. Alviso has community, and the folks are not prone to fouling their own nest. Not that there isn't an occasional bit of discord from time to time--particularly in matters of the heart.

Emmett Dingel has a business called Pacific Arts and can be reached at [email protected] or Box 47, Alviso, CA 95002 if you need a sign or an evocative mural--or both. He does good work.

After talking to Emmett, I repaired to the cocktail lounge at Vahl's Restaurant for a cheeseburger and a glass of bourbon. These be the best cheeseburgers in San Jose and environs--a claim made not simply because I get a fairly good deal on cheeseburgers at Vahl's--which I do--but because these are damn fine cheeseburgers. Similarly, I would not suggest people drink Windsor wine solely on the basis that I get a discount from Tom Reier. That would be venal. It truly is good wine.

Vahl's is as good a place as any to muse upon the latest atrocities going down in San Jose and California. Such as expensive Oracle software being foisted upon the gullible state of California--and harried taxpayers--or the poor old San Jose Arena being renamed yet again. Compaq Center, adios. Queen Carly has deemed you HP Pavilion. Wags waggier than I have suggested the palace of ice be renamed Carly Fiarena. And I would suggest that San Jose Executives is a far scarier name than Sharks.

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From the May 16-22, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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