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Silicon Alleys

Talk Dirty to Me

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I LOST out again. I was just about to sit down and concoct a ridiculous argument to bring the seediness back to downtown San Jose, when Eric Carlson beat me to the punch and posted just such a note on the sanjoseinside.com blog last week. Maybe we're psychically connected in some strange post-summer-solstice wasteland.

Speaking of wastelands, Carlson, who doesn't live here anymore (and who used to write the Underbelly column for Metro), laments those lazy Sunday afternoons strolling through an absolutely dead downtown San Jose. He enjoys the tumbleweeds. He lambastes the city's attempt to force-cram urban high-rise housing down everyone's throats. Now, he pretty much believes all change is for the worse—even I wouldn't go that far—and then he suggests a return to the days of old San Jose, circa 1960, where downtown thrived. That is, the neighborhood featured 12 movie houses, a plethora of independent businesses, places to go, retail, shops, things to see and, of course, prostitutes.

"Is it possible a key ingredient of a vital downtown is the preservation of its vulgar aspects?" Carlson asks. "Prostitution may be beyond the pale, but surely there is room for cigar shops, and a seedy Woolworth's or two. As well as an effort to subsidize obscure family restaurants and the like."

Back in the '60s—before I was born—we had all of this, and now small family shops are falling by the wayside, and the city is trying to homogenize everything. If one more chain restaurant opens up downtown, I'm going to stage a mass vomit in Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Forget Music in the Park, it'll be Vomit in the Park. I'll get onstage with dark sunglasses and be the leader. Chavez himself would have abhorred the systematic destruction of mom-and-pop shops currently taking place.

My original idea was to suggest that the main ingredient missing downtown is a strip club. I can't tell you how many times over the years a convention attendee from out of town has walked up to me and asked, "Where's the titty bars?" And I have to send him to the Pink Poodle. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that one of the primary activities one engages in while away at a convention is to go to the local strip joints.

Downtown is losing millions by not having a strip club. You've got convention delegates waltzing out of the Fairmont on $1,000 expense accounts just looking for somewhere to go spend money. And I have to send them over to Burbank instead.

I'm not suggesting downtown should return to a porno district like it was in the '70s. The club doesn't even have to be a seedy joint at all. Make it a two-story upscale gentlemen's club with a $20 cover, and the convention delegates will eat it up. Tax it and regulate the hell out of it and use that money to subsidize all the independent businesses that are slowly getting creamed. In fact, why not put it right next to the new City Hall? It'll draw convention-goers straight to the heart of our city. Exhume Manny's Cellar and put it right next door where all the politicians can drink and you're set. Everyone's happy.

Any real downtown contains a mixture of respectable joints and seediness—organically grown, not hand-picked and chosen by the city. It's the old-school dives that give a city its character. Take First Street just south of Santa Clara. You've got the brand-new Black Sea gallery furniture store right next to Hammer & Lewis Fashions—the greatest place in the area to buy pimp clothes. That's precisely the variety we need. Not that Hammer & Lewis is "seedy," but you get the point.

Another question convention attendees always ask me is "Where's the sleaziest dive bar around here? That's where we want to go." And I always answer, "Well, they've gotten rid of most of them, unfortunately." So I have to send them to the Caravan or Cinebar, which aren't even that sleazy, to be honest. To wit, I say, "Bring back the sleaze!"

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From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 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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