[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1998

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Takeshi's Excellent Adventure

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To gain perspective on the wild, wacky, wonderful valley that we call silicon, the editors needed a trained observer of the human condition, one who could communicate something that hadn't been expressed about this magical patch of geography in the recent pandemic of cover stories in Time, Wired, Forbes, Business Week and other airport newsstand magazines. The assignment called out for a keen mind that could excavate the deep meaning beyond the construction fences and diamond lanes that have become signatures of our industrial prosperity.

Takeshi Tadatsu was indisputably the candidate. His English was choppy, and he'd never been to California--or for that matter much anywhere else besides Japan, Brooklyn and northern New Jersey. More importantly, he didn't have email, wear a pager or carry a personal digital assistant. His retention for Metro's most popular issue would no doubt further infuriate the readers who had been waging a campaign to have his weekly cartoon dropped from the letters page and put the word "starving" back in starving artist. Nonetheless, it was a risk that had to be taken; we sent him a ticket on the cheapest transcontinental airline we could find.

Tadatsu arrived in the kind of funny framed glasses that New York underground artists are required to wear at gallery events. He was clearly wholly unprepared for the overscheduled itinerary our research staff had organized for him. This was not going to be the chamber of commerce tour of Silicon Valley.

We took him to Coyote's best roadside honky tonk for $7 pitchers of Bud with Tampa cigars and beer nuts, then to Spago Palo Alto. "Is it dangerous?" he asked, when we drove up amidst the Harleys at the cowboy watering hole. "Nah, more money is lost to bandits at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant every day," we explained.

We took him to Morgan Hill and the southern reaches of San Jose, where the Monterey Highway is still littered with agricultural vestiges like apricot orchards and sunflower fields and roadside hotels identified by neon signs with dropped letters. We explained that all this would soon be replaced by beautiful pastel-colored homes for Silicon Valley's expanding workforce. There would be neatly arranged homes inside walls with nicely landscaped entrances. The acres of strawberries and the occasional sun-weathered barn or roadside cherry stand would give way to economically viable, job-producing uses and tax-generating retail. Soon there would be convenient dry cleaners and 10-minute lubes, we assured him.

We chowed down at an East Side taco joint and paid tribute to Chango at an Alum Rock botanica, then said howdy to the nearby feed store, where, with a purchase of hen scratch or Purina pig pellets, customers get a free fly swatter. Then we went to Willow Glen for evidence of California's culinary confusion. Aqui's Rob Francis helpfully educated us about his "Thai burrito" in a neon-colored tortilla. Next, we crossed the street to the Willow Street Pizza/Noah's/ Peet's/Jamba Juice cluster for some Pacific Rim pizzas, washed down, of course, with wheat grass soy latte gelato microbrews.

We kept Takeshi and fellow artist Sanae Okura out way past their jetlagged bedtimes at SoFA rockabilly nights and Sunnyvale strip joints, then took them to the Saddle Rack to watch the mechanical bull and learn how drinks can be mixed in your mouth while lying head back in a dentist's chair. We paid a midnight visit to the 18th-floor network operations center of AboveNet, where the valley's next crop of IPO millionnaires will soon broadcast forth.

We exposed him to Frank Joseph, the one-man wall of sound who can sing AC/DC songs as country music like nobody's business, then drove Takeshi and Sanae to Oakland for Vietnamese food at Le Cheval and across the Bay Bridge for a hippie concert at Great American Music Hall, demonstrating in real time the wonderful mobility of our great Bay Area. Next morning, we ventured out to Silver Creek Country Club ("Pretend you don't speak English, Takeshi," I counseled), where we fibbed and told the salespeople he was a prominent Japanese exec considering relocation to one of their $1.2 million estates. We toured models with balustrades and soaring ceilings and kitchens with icemakers and jars of tricolore fettuccine balls. Takeshi was so impressed with the sodas in the model unit's fridge that we stole a round of Diet Pepsis.

Each morning we'd meet at Il Fornaio for cappuccino. We'd explain the significance of Quetzalcoatl, go see the waves break in Santa Cruz, inspect an important architectural landmark like Apple or Mark's Hot Dogs (it does kind of look like The Tech, doesn't it?) or force him to draw Godzilla on an Etch-a-Sketch for our 3-year-old nephew.

Then the couple returned to the safety of the East Coast with sketch pads and sleep deficit, while we waited for the FedEx van to arrive with the results of the most comprehensive artistic study ever undertaken of this region in 96 hours or less. you now can click your way around this important work, along with the usual complement of indispensable wisdom and discoveries from the Metro writing staff, as well as the popular mandate of the finest readership a weekly newspaper could ever hope for.
Dan Pulcrano

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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