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Editors' Picks: People & Places

Best Place to Eavesdrop on Other People's Conversations
Gordon Biersch
33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose 408.294.6785
Yeast strains. Hops. Corporate mergers. Dog breeds. These are but a small sampling of conversational topics you'll find at Gordon Biersch in downtown San Jose. If you don't infiltrate GB on a regular basis, you'd think its clientele are all the same. Not true. Whether it's the convention crowd, the theater crowd, local urban legends, the lawyers, stockbrokers, nuclear families from the suburbs or even a few wealthy drunks, the sheer variety of conversation on which to eavesdrop is unrivaled in San Jose. Just the other day, this exchange took place among three Caucasian businessmen discussing how many Asian girlfriends they've had:
"It's Singapore."
"You know what that means?"
"They take care of you."
"What do they charge?"
"Oh, it's big." (GS)

Best Local Music Fan
Tom Heckley
"I'm rebelling against big rock shows and rock stars," says Tom Heckley. Heckley, who calls himself "The Copier Guy" after his business, goes to anywhere from three to five shows a week. He's always at the front of the stage. He's always dancing in that slow, fluid, trippy way of his. "It's all about moving," he says. "If you stop moving, then you start growing old. I think it keeps me young." Heckley just turned 50, and he's seen the Grateful Dead more than 300 times. When Jerry Garcia died, Heckley says, "I chose to go out and check out different scenes and see what I can find." He's still a fan of folks like Phil Lesh and the Allman Brothers, but he'll pick the small local show over the big national show almost any day. "I'd rather see what's happening now and support the kids," he says, "'cause they're putting forth so much effort and energy... We have so many great musicians in this area who get no support and no respect. I would like to try to at least show my respect," he explains. "Show up, participate. It's all about participating." (SQ)

Best Feminist Pol
Sally Lieber
Feminism isn't only about enlightening the mainstream. It's also about shamelessly promoting certain people based solely on gender. Ms. Sally Lieber, still just a freshmyn in the state Assembly, fearlessly promotes female politicians. Lieber pushed a female maverick, Kathy Chavez Napoli, to run against popular, politically backed Assembly candidate Joe Coto, making gender the issue. She once told Metro's feminism ranking squad that, if it came to a choice between a good, progressive man or a good, progressive woman, she'd go with the woman. Other gender-equality-minded public office holders, who are more PC or post-PC (the squad has lost track of which backlash feminism is on), cushion their woman power sound bytes with the fluffy diffuser that "gender isn't the only measure of a qualified candidate." Not Lieber, whose dedication reminds one that gender is the only measure for judging a qualified woman. (AG)

Best Floor to Be on in the Santa Clara County Jail
Floor 8
150 W. Hedding St., S.J. 408.299.3337
So you're in the slammer, and life sucks. Here's what you do: First, tell the jail's mental health technician that you're suicidal. That done, you'll be sent to the county jail's eighth floor. Why is this your best move? One of the worst things about being in jail is sharing a room. On the eighth floor, reserved for those with mental health problems and those on suicide watch, you'll be given your own private room--in the words of one person with some experience in these matters: "You won't having a roommate cutting farts in the middle of the night, and it's all cool." Somebody will come to check on you every 15 minutes (almost like room service), and all in all, you'll have more latitude. Doesn't sound like too bad of a deal if you're having trouble coming up with bail money. The only downside: if you're on suicide watch (which you will be), you'll get your private room, but you'll be sitting in it butt naked. (NH)

Best Midwife
Faith Gibson
In labor and delivery, gravity seems obvious--use gravity the right way, and the baby comes out easier, right? Obstetricians don't think so; instead, they lay the laboring mother on her back and ensure that she remain immobile by injecting narcotics into her veins. Contractions are induced, and the threat of surgical intervention always looms. Perhaps, as they believe they did with God, scientists now believe they have disproved gravity. Palo Alto-based Faith Gibson is the alternative. The one-time labor-and-delivery nurse is not only a practicing midwife who has no complications on her record (many practicing obstetricians can't claim that), she's also a scholar of midwifery who's worked tirelessly for her 5,000-year-old trade. (NH)

Best Strip Mall
Maplewood Plaza
2612 Union Ave. at Bascom, San Jose
At Maplewood Plaza, the student of strip malls will find Mopar night at the Happy Dayz Diner, a defunct trophy shop, Ken's Bait and Tackle, ABBA Medical Supplies, Reptile Ranch and other constantly changing storefronts. If it weren't for the recent inclusion of Walgreen's and Kragen Auto Parts, one might think it was 1920s Missouri, which, by the way, is how San Jose used to look everywhere. Maplewood is everything a strip mall should be: Bland, anonymous, linear, nostalgic and embarrassing. And it's quintessential suburbia: Large ugly parking lots, plastic signage and the occasional vintage Mustang blasting AC/DC. (GS)

Best Place to Meet a Psychic
San Jose Metaphysical Bookstore
1231 Kentwood Ave., #E, San Jose 408.446.0590
Who'd have thunk one could receive personal energy-flow alignments, entity releasement or channel one's angelic intelligences all just off De Anza Boulevard? If you can tolerate the abundance of waterfalls and piped-in songbird sounds, San Jose Metaphysical Bookshop can be a hidden strip-mall treasure. In-house psychic counselors provide all sorts of eyebrow-raising answers to whatever is ruining your career, your health or your relationships. Will you get rich? Will your boss drive over a cliff? Consult a psychic and find out things about yourself and your situation you may not have known. While you're there, peruse the collection of tarot decks, crystals, runes and racks of books on Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, chakras, tantra, secret societies ... the list goes on. (GS)

Best Political Goalie
David Vossbrink
David Vossbrink, director of communications for San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, wins hands down! Mr. Vossbrink, who held positions as public information officer for the city of Sunnyvale, National Semiconductor and East Bay Municipal Utilities District, demonstrates a huge talent for intercepting and answering any question at all intended for the mayor, thereby rendering the mayor's mouth completely irrelevant. Metro's "Best Political Goalie" investigative team isn't alone in recognizing profound skill when it sees it: In 2002, the esteemed California Association of Public Information Officials (which "promotes awareness of the public information profession") gave Vossbrink the Paul B. Clark Award "for excellence in the field of public information" and for lifetime achievement. (AG)

Best Place to Ponder the Sharks' Doomed Fate
Britannia Arms
173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose 408.278.1400
So the Sharks were a confused, rudderless mess last season. For five months, a school of discontented fans descended upon HP Pavilion to watch a team go from Stanley Cup contender to Pacific Division bottom feeders. In the aftermath, the team divested itself of captain Owen Nolan, coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi. Now the Sharks will try and put the chum behind them, led by Ricci, Hannan, Sturm, Marleau and a bench of rookies (who placed third in a recent rookie tournament). For armchair fans, the downtown Britannia Arms (a slapshot away from the Tank) serves as the premier warm-up spot for both ticketed and ticketless teal warriors on game day. Keep up with lesser sports on 14 plasma-screen televisions. Keep in mind that Nolan is a quarter owner of the downtown Brit, so behave accordingly when the Maple Leafs come to town. (TI)

Best Place to Spot a Mullet
Various spots valley-wide
After years of casual observation, it's become apparent that the Kentucky Waterfall hairstyle will not go the way of the Prince Valiant, the Caesar or the Hightop Fade. For whatever reason--economics, begrudging fashion values, lack of reliable transportation--Silicon Valley remains a fertile ground for mulletspotting. In particular, any place where middle-age, predominantly white Geddy Lee fans tend to congregate: Wal-Mart, Kragen's, batting cages at Fontanetti's, Santa Clara Fairgrounds/Rollin' Ice inline skate arena, Paramount Imports, Taco Bravo, Guitar Showcase, Shoreline Amphitheatre beer line, the Prog-Rock section at Tower Records, Costco, San Jose Sharks games, the DMV and anywhere in the vicinity of Merc sportswriter Tim Kawakami. (TI)

Best Example of Making Do With What You've Got
The Franklin Mall
Monroe Street and Homestead Road, Santa Clara
You can't really blame the city of Santa Clara for its lack of foresight. In the '60s, when local bigwigs decided to raze the city's quaint downtown and, eventually, erect the Franklin Mall--which has all the aesthetics of a medium-security correctional facility--shopping centers were draining commerce from downtowns across the country. The movers and shakers in Santa Clara were simply trying to keep up with national trends. And make a profit, of course. Now that Californians yearn for boutique hamlets like Los Gatos and semigated commercial communities like Santana Row, Santa Clara is left with its low-slung, mom-and-pop shopping maze that's just a few architectural rungs above a strip mall. But upgrades the past few years show that even an eyesore like the Franklin Mall can be rehabilitated, somewhat. The main courtyard, with its surprisingly pleasant fountain, is greener and more open. Trellis work has been added throughout, creating shade and adding a touch of wood and greenery to the otherwise sterile proceedings. And the businesses themselves, from bars and restaurants to dry cleaners and even a community radio station, prove that there is life without chain stores. It's not a downtown, but it could be a lot worse. (AM)

Best New Evidence of San Jose's Cityhood
The San Jose Subway
A city is not a city without a subway. Without a subway, a city is only, say, Stockton. But consider the newly completed light rail tunnel underneath Diridon Station in downtown San Jose, part of the soon to be completed line to Campbell and Los Gatos. This tunnel--as opposed to the ordinary open-air railway cut on First Street between Japantown and downtown--makes our light rail, for a moment at least, an underground railway, a genuine subway. For the purpose of argument, anyway. I know there's already an pedestrian crossing underneath The Alameda in front of the Towne Theater, technically called "a subway." You may even have had the authentic subway experience of being mugged in it. But where're the rails, where's the train, eh? Eh? (RvB)

Best Hole in the Ground
Civic Center Construction Site
The best hole of the year award goes to the new Civic Center construction site. Acting as a string tied around San Jose's finger, the hole marks a 530,000-square-foot City Hall-to-be that promises to reach as high as 288 feet and to cost at least $343 million. Excitingly, one can track the hole's progress on the proud city government's webcam site, As of 12:18pm on Sept. 10, the hole is gaping. Upon learning of this prestigious award, the City of San Jose sent out thanks to architect Richard Meier & Partners for designing the hole and to construction manager Turner/Devcon, a joint venture, for digging it. (AG)

Best Alibi
'The Capitol Corridor Was Late'
At best, the Sacramento-San Jose commuter train provides a happy alternative to the monoxide-ridden rolling hell that is Interstate 880. Commuters get views of the shorebirds sporting along the salt flats; they curl up and sleep or putter on a laptop or nurse an expensive-($4.25)-but-worth-it cocktail, which you certainly can't get on the BART. The cost--be sure to flash the CSAA club card when purchasing a ticket--is only $8 one-way to Oakland or Richmond. Too bad the train is about as punctual as a $3 wristwatch. Disputes between Amtrak, which runs the train, and Union Pacific, which owns the tracks, have gotten public and acrimonious. Passengers are frequently stalled in favor of more lucrative freight, and delays are common. Amtrak, operating off an annual budget of $521 million (1/167th of what Bush wants for Iraq, in other words) does what it can, but this commuter train continues to run slower than a banana slug. However, this might be used to advantage, as cover for everything from oversleeping, to too long spent at happy hour--or even an affaire d'amour. And if boss or spouse complains, tell them time is relative anyway. (RvB)

Best Place to Adopt a Beckoning Cat
'Neighborhood 4,' Great Mall of the Bay Area, Milpitas
The legend says that a poor noodle-shop owner spied his white cat beckoning to a passing samurai ("Yoo hoo! Eat here before we both starve!"). Since then, Japanese entrepreneurs have put a statue of a kitty giving the high sign outside their businesses as a good luck charm. The price of a "beckoning cat" can be steep for the burgeoning small-business owner. Kyun (, a Japanese chain store along the lines of the late, lamented Woolworth's, carries these fortunate felines for $3.49. Nothing costs more than $5 at this store, which operates under the motto "Home Accents for Creative Living." The merchandise includes everything from the practical (cheap tea, sake and sushi sets, tin-can coin banks that don't open unless you take a can opener to them) to the enticingly odd: plaster busts of Julius Caesar and Japanese Halloween masks: a debauched, swollen faced blonde lady (Marilyn Monroe on Nembutal?), a wincing George W. Bush and a grimacing blue demon with gilded eyes and horns. (RvB)

Best Spine Adjustment
The Arizona Cactus Garden
Off Quarry Road between Campus Drive and Arboretum Road, Stanford University
Close to a parking lot but seemingly miles from the academic hurly-burly of Stanford University lies an unexpected remnant of the original grounds of the proposed (but never built) Leland Stanford residence: The Arizona Garden. The 30,000-square-foot cactorium, divided into nearly three-dozen rock-lined beds, showcases a highly formal arrangement of desert botanicals from prickly pears to aloes to exceptional examples of barrel cacti--and a scampering of quick-limbed lizards. According to garden volunteer Julie Cain, the "Arizona Gardens were unique in their times." Laid out in the early 1880s by landscape architect Rudolph Ulrich (who also plotted the grounds at the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey), the garden was kept up until the 1920s, when it started a long, slow decline. In the late 1990s, volunteers began a restoration project, unearthing the original border stones and filling in blank spots with donated plants. In Cain's estimation, the garden's most distinctive (and long-lived) residents are the two towering specimens of Yucca filifera. Among the newer plantings, she's fond of the boojum tree, which sounds like something out of Lewis Carroll. (MSG)

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From the September 25-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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