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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Ravishing San Jose

By Eric A. Carlson

"Only 45 minutes from San Francisco."
--Santa Clara County motto, circa 1960

IN THE INTRODUCTION to Harry Farrell's pivotal opus, San Jose--and Other Famous Places, written in 1983, Harry notes that San Jose retained an "exceptional level of livability" despite being the 17th largest city in the country. Twenty years later, San Jose has moved up to 11th and, for the most part, is still exceptionally livable. Small-town charm in a sprawling package.

Speculation as to what makes a "great city" is often made round these parts, usually in preface to proposing "improvements" to San Jose: bigger-than-life wonders, being contiguous to a great body of water (the Guadalupe River?), efficient transportation leading to museums of indecipherable art, world-class eateries and so on. San Francisco can boost such amenities. "Frisco" is located at the mouth of the bay and is graced with the picture-postcard Golden Gate Bridge. San Jose, on the other hand, is allocated the tail end of the bay--which would be Alviso with its sewage-treatment facility and garbage dump. But greatness comes at a price. San Franciscans recently paid $50 to park to watch a performance of Cirque du Soleil. Fifty dollars to park is surely a sign of greatness. And who needs it.

San Jose, including Alviso, is livable--so far, and despite not having a Golden Bridge, or Alcatraz, or bull seals on piers attempting sexual congress with Buicks--and does have reasonable parking fees and relatively easy access. One can always drive to San Fran for the other crap. Such were my musings upon landing at Norman Yoshi Mineta San Jose International Airport (gasp for breath) recently, after a Metro-financed junket to the United Kingdom to research single-malt Scotch whiskey--in my dreams. But I was in the U.K., and I did drink Scotch, and I saw the queen in a coach.

On the subject of airports, the San Jose Airport is brilliant because it is relatively small, user-friendly and close. Very handy indeed. Yes, one must walk across the tarmac upon landing, but that is a charming detail in that it gives one a chance to gander at the hills before entering the terminal, and it hearkens back to earlier days of travel. Proposed changes to enlarge the airport will have detrimental effects on the quality of life for all concerned. Any change is for the worse.

An exception to the "change is bad" tenet might be San Jose's penchant for building New City Halls, which is quixotic and aberrant behavior in the extreme and should be encouraged. The next New City Hall might have the intended effect of vitalizing downtown--or not. The bottom line for me is that it will have a glass dome, which I am anxious to see. One assumes some thought has been given to the survivability of the glass dome in case of earthquake or man-made attempts to bring it down. As for maintenance, I believe there is such a thing as self-cleaning glass, but it is quite expensive.

One path to greatness for stumpy San Jose would be to institute a monarchical form of local government. After witnessing the queen's speech to Parliament, I see the value of unchecked pomp and ceremony as therapeutic for the common man/woman. In lieu of "City Council," consider "House of Lords," presided over by King Gonzales, or perhaps High Alcalde Gonzales. Throw in a few horse-drawn coaches and an assortment of royal regalia, and how can San Jose be anything but great? It's a no-brainer.

San Jose is accessible, livable and surrounded on all sides with a bounty of natural and unnatural wonders--including the City with the Golden Bridge. To maintain this quality of life, greatness and growth should be discouraged.

Final Note: Politics aside, the Fallon statue, sculpted by Robert Glen, may be the finest work of art in San Jose--from any distance. The details on the horses and men are wonderful, as are the stars on the flag. It is a damn shame the statue was not placed where it was originally intended: at the head of the Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez. Nonetheless, the statue stands as a great work of art on the dusty traffic island in front of Pellier Park.

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From the December 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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