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Buckle up for Sanity

misc 96 San Jose people
Illustration by Stephen DeCinzo

By Dan Pulcrano

An economic boom intoxicates, vindicates and coats teeth with a saltpeter grist. No, this is not a fruit orchard-to-Ferraris '80s-style boom, rather a gourmet "hold the foam" caffeination. And, we'd like that with skim, please, with a couple of zeros at the end. We're mature enough to handle it this time. Days when Nolan Bushnell could become a Silicon Valley legend after selling Atari for $28 million are over. Netscape's Jim Clark is worth 25 times more than that on a bad stock day, and most people haven't even heard of him. Then again, he doesn't play with stuffed animals in public.

This time around, Steve Jobs cashes in for a billion and not only starts nothing ... there is one less computer company in the valley. Go figure.

Oh, and poor Frank Taylor, who struggled through those difficult mid '90s staring at his skyline model and building a movie theater instead of planning $100 million arenas and convention centers. Even he had to suffer the indignity of staff "downsizing" like everyone else. Now that his redevelopment agency has "found" another $43 million on top of more than half a billion in chunk bonds, we can just go ahead and build, well, everything.

Read the news highlights of Silicon Valley in 1996.

Not a day goes by without driving down the street and discovering that yet another multiplex, Blockbuster or office building is going up. Historic preservation? No, that building is just plain old. We have to expand. Got plans to add another 5000 employees a month. Says it right here on the spreadsheet. No more apricot trees and strawberry fields on North First left. Building's gotta go. If the termites stopped holding hands, it'd fall anyway.

Yes, we must be right, the company stock price tripled this year. This is the 11th best place in the country to live. I read that.

Austin who? The Japanese threat? NAFTA's sucking sound? Just watch out for that predatory company from Seattle. Starbucks, I mean.

San Jose is on the map now, even if we can't come up with a good slogan. Of course we have big city sole. Just look at all those Doc Martens!

And who cares if the Sharks don't win? They just sold out their hundredth game, and even though the city gave its owners a license to print money, the Gunds don't carry on like Davis, Steinbrenner or Schott, so we should count our blessings.

We should also be thankful for living in a relatively safe area. Aside from the occasional teenage kidnap-torture or rogue civil servant gunning down a shoplifter, our valley is not overrun with crime, unless ask you the San Jose city attorney's office about its efforts to criminally prosecute the organizers of the June 4 Metallica concert in Tower Records' parking lot.

Still, just to be sure, the government wants to tap your cellular calls, your email and your secure electronic bank transactions. I'll send you an encrypted message about that--hey, software code is now constitutionally protected free speech--if I can manage to log onto the now flat-rated AOL. At least it won't go down anymore, since AOL flaks assured us after a 19-hour blackout that it was due to "a coincidental series of sequential events that will most likely never occur again." Whew.

Despite the will of the people of California and a small desert state next door, the federal government is intent on keeping joints away from the lips of cancer and AIDS patients. What's Timothy Leary's email address now?

Lawbreakers in cyberspace now have nowhere to hide. Johan Helsingius shut down his anonymous remailer in Helsinki, and computers were seized elsewhere in Scandinavia for posting secret Scientology tracts. Locally, the same church silenced its critics by forcing San Jose's Netcom to settle a lawsuit in August that will require the Internet provider to enforce its "Terms and Conditions" on the use of copyrighted material.

Thank goodness for lawyers. Netscape taught those nuisance-mongers a thing or two with their No on 211 icons on their home page. Meanwhile, they had their lawyers prepare a brief for the Justice Department documenting how Microsoft was browsing their territory with knockoff products and anticompetitive behavior.

We must not be too critical, however, for technology is a good thing, even if the power grid is collapsing. The transportation secretary who declared ValuJet so safe he'd fly it is now Secretary of Energy, which oversees nuclear power plants.

I am more concerned, though, about inept efforts to disguise cellular antennas as trees and the fact that we are running out of telephone numbers in our area codes. This crisis has gotten so bad that communities will be divided by new forms of gerrymandering. On some streets, you will soon you will need to remember which area code to dial to reprogram the timer on your kitchen coffee grinder from the master bedroom.

Life will continue to get more complicated. Your toaster will surf for cool Java-enhanced sites thanks to new highly integrated Intel smart chips. Breadmakers will have digital flat panel screens capable of displaying Spanish soap operas in high resolution mode. Designer toilet paper will be generated on the fly to match your mood by wall-mounted dye sublimation printers using advanced preference filtering software that looks up your individual profile--all at no cost to consumers, though the quilted triple-ply sheets will contain some advertising.

Speaking of advertising, a new word entered the English language, or at least the Californian version thereof. I am talking, of course, about "flashology," Odwalla's nouvelle pasteurization process for producing bacteria-free fruit beverages with names like Mango Fandango and Femme Virale. UC Santa Cruz is expected to soon announce a degree program in Flashology to meet the heavy projected demand for fresh juice flashologists.

Economists at Stanford, meanwhile, are studying the importance of silly words to the local economy after a company with $1.3 million in sales and an exclamation point went public in April. Ten million shares traded hands in the first 90 minutes, with its first day value peaking at $848 million. Why do you think they named it Yahoo! (Confidential to David Filo: You can now hire someone to wash the birdshit off your Datsun.)

Californians created a big warm fuzzy by approving a minimum wage increase in November. The local unemployment rate is less than 5 percent. Why is it, then, that someone is always asking me for coin? Get a job, buster!

The Dow Jones broke 6000, and I think that is a good thing, even though the market will collapse when baby boomers retire and cash out. But for now, it is reassuring that the economy is strong. Especially since we just voted ourselves higher sales taxes to expand our freeways and trolley lines. Until those relief systems are built, the price of escaping the valley's quickly worsening traffic goes up next month, when Yosemite's gate fee rises by 400 percent, to $20.

In the free lunch department, San Jose voted to endorse a proposal to move city bureaucrats into fancier offices. The city's voters obviously have a sense of humor; the ballot measure said they could do it only if it didn't cost taxpayers a cent.

The Republican crackdown on undocumented immigrants, meantime, created a boom in the citizenship industry, and the downtown economy was invigorated by renewed strength in the fingerprint and immigration photo sector, along with increased sales tax revenues from hot dog carts vending to overnight lines at the federal building. A wave of newly naturalized and politicized voters took down B-1 Bob Dornan in Southern California.

In other bizarre and unexplainable partisan political developments, Democrat Tom McEnery and Republican Ed Zschau lined up behind Reform Party candidate Richard Lamm.

None of this really matters though. Public memories are short and booms, like holiday seasons, are forgiving. We can feel good about ourselves now. Jesus and Quetzlcoatl are getting along just fine in Cesar Chavez park, thank you. Pass the egg nog and have a great year.

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From the Dec. 26, 1996 to Jan. 1, 1997 issue of Metro

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