Archive for October, 2009


Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Egg Wars. (Egg wars Trilogy)

This is Spirit Week at Palo Alto High School, the week leading up to the homecoming football game. The students celebrate with rallies and costumes and classes compete for points. Many juniors and seniors however take the competition a bit farther in an unsanctioned activity called “egg wars.” In past years they’ve met under cover of darkness in the groves on Stanford’s campus along El Camino and pelted each other with raw eggs. This year however on Tuesday night the police were ready for them and were patrolling the groves. So the students went to Town and Country but the police were there too. A field decision was made to go over to nearby Gunn High school. The coast was clear and the two classes faced off and the eggs flew. The problem is that the eggs also landed…all over school property. Reportedly mess was left at the swimming pool and on the scoreboard, requiring extensive cleanup and possibly repairs.

It gets worse. Apparently some students brought frozen eggs so there were injuries. They are thankfully minor but completely unnecessary.

So the Paly administration has come down hard. They are seeking out all the juniors and seniors involved, who could face suspension. The administration also canceled rallies for the whole school yesterday and upcoming activities are up in the air.

The punishment may seem a bit harsh for high school high jinks but in the big picture there are aggravating circumstances. In 2007 a senior parked a car upside down on campus, causing $3000 in damage in the process. The school didn’t see it as a prank; they considered it vandalism and brought criminal charges against him. This year the tragic series of suicides at Gunn High School casts Tuesday’s egg attack as particularly insensitive.

It’s a shame to punish the whole school for the actions of some, and I hope the school is able to resume their Spirit Week and enjoy the homecoming game against Los Gatos Friday. The administration is justified in punishing those responsible for the recklessness, and surely they’ll spell out their expectations and tolerances very clearly next year. It is after all a school, and this is a prime teachable moment for everyone, students and staff.

[Source: The Paly Voice]

P.S. This is the first article I’ve ever read in the Paly Voice and I was very impressed by it. I found it well-written, thorough, and  professional. Commendations to the entire staff, especially the authors junior Chloe Chen and senior Patricia Ho. Unless of course they were the shadowy instigators of the egg war all along.

Some People Fear It

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Spirit Halloween Store

Halloween is almost here…this Saturday, October 31 in case you didn’t realize. I’m not much of a Halloween aficionado, but I do enjoy an annual trip to the Spirit store. That’s the Halloween superstore chain that sprouts like mushrooms every Fall in cities all across the U.S. and Canada. There are literally dozens of these stores in the Bay Area but if you find yourself on my favorite road in need of a last-minute costume or some ghoulish lawn decorations, you’ll be happy to know there are three Spirit stores on El Camino Real ready to serve you: Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Redwood City.

Last weekend I took my son to the Santa Clara store to find some accessories for his Halloween costume. He was anxious to acquire some accoutrements of affluence, a.k.a. some bling, to round out his costume as a successful NFL player. We had a good time trying out all of the creepy talking ornaments and laughing at the gag costumes. I like to observe what the latest fashions in Hallo-wear are each year and this year to be honest nothing particularly stood out to me as new or original. For kids they seemed to be pushing “Clone Wars” and “High School Musical,” both of which were just as popular last year. For adults there were the same old standbys: hippies, sexy policewomen, etc. These are classics that are always fun to wear and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they are timeless which is exactly my point. I was surprised that the store failed to capitalize on the headlines, hits, and trends of 2009.

There was one timely display, a Michael Jackson section, but it was oddly placed, up by the registers, hard to see.  They ranged from the top-of-his-game Thriller-era sequined glove to Wacko-Jacko facemasks. I didn’t notice it in the store but apparently another hot item this year is the Kate Gosselin wig. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Where I did see a lot of innovation this year was in lawn and party props. The showpiece was an assortment of evil-looking babies: zombie baby, two-headed baby, demon baby, etc. The craftsmanship and realism was truly impressive, which pretty much makes them the worst things I have ever seen. I would never buy one. Bad juju.

Spirit Store Santa ClaraIt being the last full weekend before All Hallows’ Eve I expected the store to be crowded but it was not. In years past the checkout lines could reach halfway through the store but this weekend there was no waiting. It could be a sign of the economic times, or simply that the perennial big box stores, party supply stores, and online shopping have pulled customers away. It’s quite ironic to think about a downturn at the Spirit stores since their modus operandi is to exploit real estate doldrums by setting up for a few weeks a year in large vacant buildings. The Santa Clara store is in the old Mervyns building. Mervyns is the Bay Area-based department store chain founded in 1949 which sadly filed for bankruptcy, liquidated its assets, and closed all its stores last year. Oddly the liquidation began last Halloween.

We did our part for Spirit. My son got stunner shades, a dollar sign medallion, and a sparkling three-finger ring. We didn’t spend much but he came out looking like a million bucks. Afterwards we went next door to Walgreens drug store for some unrelated groceries and naturally wandered down the Halloween aisle. There in the middle of the aisle was the following display. Now that’s just wrong.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite costume store, Debbie Lyn’s Costumes in Sunnyvale, formerly Debbie Lyn’s Closet. They used to be right on El Camino Real but they moved last year not far away to 822 E Evelyn Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94087. They’re grandmothered into this blog as former residents of El Camino. They have a staggering inventory of high-quality rental theatrical costumes available year round. My wife loves telling the story of her first time there when she spotted a man in a business suit…wearing a banana costume. He was an Asian businessman no less, which just takes the whole thing to a whole ‘nother level, but I won’t go there.

The legend of La Llorona or “the weeping woman” persists throughout Latin America. Details and origins vary but the gist is she was a woman who centuries ago drowned her children in a fit of passion and now wanders the land for eternity weeping in anguish,  searching for their souls. Those unlucky few who encounter her under a full moon are terror-stricken, and misbehaving children are warned that she’ll get them. California scholar Craig Chalquist writes in his book Deep California that she is especially bound to El Camino Real because of its history of conquest and injustice. I can’t say for sure what will happen but I will say that if you intend to shop for a frazzled Kate plus zombie eight costume, you might want to get yourself to the Spirit store before this weekend is over because Monday is el Día de los Muertos [pdf]—”Day of the Dead” or “All Souls’ Day”—another mainstay of Latin American culture. And did I mention there will be a full moon that day? Who knows, La Llorona might be out, doing some post-Halloween bargain-hunting.

Update: That’s the spirit, Octomom!

Spirit Halloween Stores


Phone: 408-615-8309


Phone: 408-730-5298


Phone: 650-306-9514

Here Come the Men of Stanford

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

The Stanford Athletics department has produced this hilarious promotional video featuring my old a cappella group, the Stanford Fleet Street Singers. This is one of those strange weeks where things seem to converge. Last Saturday, the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, I wrote about how I was at a Fleet Street rehearsal when the shaking started. Next Saturday, I’ll be attending the Stanford Homecoming A Cappella concert of all the groups on campus. Afterwards I’ll be rooting for the Cardinal at the Homecoming football game against Arizona State. So naturally yesterday, hump day, I received this video featuring Stanford football and a cappella. It’s like a mashup of my life.

Now I have it on good authority that the world does not in fact revolve around me, but I must point out that I actually arranged the song that Fleet Street is doo-doo-doo-ing at the start of the video, “Lulu’s Back in Town.” I arranged it my Freshman year. That’s pretty good longevity for an arrangement, considering some of the guys in the video were born the year I graduated.

Stanford Reunion Homecoming A Cappella Concert

Memorial Auditorium, Stanford University
Saturday, October 24, 2009
2:00pm – 4:00pm

Stanford Homecoming Football Game

Arizona State @ Stanford
Stanford Stadium, Stanford University
Saturday, October 24, 2009
7:25pm kickoff

Loma Prieta, Nature’s Camino

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Twenty years ago I was an undergrad at Stanford University. I sang baritone in a 16-man a cappella group, the Stanford Fleet Street Singers. We used to have full-group rehearsals twice a week, and an additional weekly rehearsal for each section. The “bari” sectional was Tuesday evenings before dinner. I never liked that abbreviation, “bari.” It always made me think of Barry Gibb and Barry Manilow—two superstars in their own right, but just not my thing, ya dig? For a while I lobbied to call ourselves the ‘tones but it never caught on. Too bad, it sounds so much cooler.

So we four baris—John Sullivan, Jason Windawi, Gray Norton, and myself—gathered on Tuesday, October 17, 1989 in the Arroyo dorm lounge in Wilbur Hall to work on our parts for the week. [Thanks, Gray, for filling in the details I forgot!] I don’t remember if we started at 4:30PM or 5:00PM but I do remember that at 5:04PM the whole building shook like it had been hit by a truck. Then it kept on shaking. It was an earthquake. John and Jason were not from California so I think that may have been the first quake they ever felt. They were nervous but excited and enjoying the thrill ride with newbie “so this is an earthquake!” innocence. However Gray’s a native Californian and I’ve been here since I was five so we were old veterans with some perspective and I’ll always remember he and I looking at each other, eyes big as saucers, when we realized after a few seconds that this was very very serious. Scientists may quibble but for us at that moment, in that place, it was The Big One.

We stayed calm and all our elementary school drilling came back to us. We dove under the nearest piece of furniture, a ping-pong table, dragging John and Jason with us. I realized right away that it was a terrible choice. It looked solid enough while we were standing up but from underneath it was pretty much a folding chair with a net. Not sturdy at all. Then I looked around and realized that the table was right next to a lovely floor-to-ceiling picture window. A wall of glass—exactly where you don’t want to be in an earthquake. Well, we were the baris and we were tight so I barked a few orders and each of us grabbed a table leg, lifted, and in perfect unison we scooted that table away from the window from underneath, keeping it over our heads the whole time like a Spartan phalanx shielded from Persian arrows. By then the shaking had stopped…I think. I still felt some shaking but I think it was my legs. The window didn’t shatter, the ping-pong table held, the building stood fast (Wilbur Hall is pretty much a concrete bunker), and we were all unharmed.

Bay BridgeOver the next few hours and days news came in of the magnitude of the quake’s devastation throughout the region. The horror of the Cypress structure collapse in Oakland. The shocking visual of the ruptured Bay Bridge. The tragedies and fires in San Francisco’s Marina District. The destruction of downtown Santa Cruz. We named it for its little-known epicenter, the Loma Prieta Earthquake. We tallied its statistics: 6.9 on the Richter scale, 63 dead, 3,757 injured, 11,000 homes destroyed, 7 billion dollars in damage.

It was a grim day and the losses were staggering, but given the large population and the wide area affected, I’m grateful it wasn’t worse. Emergency responders and hospitals were well-prepared and heroically effective. Not all but most of our critical infrastructure—freeways, bridges, tunnels, utilities—withstood the quake and continued to serve after brief interruptions. All the A’s and Giants fans at the historic and ironic Bay Bridge World Series got home safely if slowly from Candlestick Park. At Stanford there was significant structure and property damage but no injuries that I’m aware of. With the power out for a while and classes canceled for a few days we huddled and bonded with dorm-mates early in the school year.

In retrospect thankfully the El Camino Real corridor along the Peninsula was relatively unscathed. The Mercury News recently published a chart listing the number of housing units destroyed or significantly damaged in the quake. The most were in San Francisco county: 24,800. The fewest were in Santa Clara county: 1,000. (Ironically Loma Prieta the mountain is actually in Santa Clara county.) San Mateo county isn’t even listed; I take it there were too few to bother counting.

Part of it may be that we had learned our lessons by then, many the hard way. The missionaries who forged El Camino along the mission trail 200 years ago often remarked about the frequent earthquakes but didn’t heed the warnings. Earthquakes damaged or destroyed many early missions. In particular a series of earthquakes around Santa Barbara on December 21, 1812 destroyed or severely damaged seven missions, some of which had to be abandoned and rebuilt elsewhere. There were tragic death tolls. At San Juan Capistrano the two boys ringing the bells for Mass were killed when the tower collapsed.

Still the Spaniards pressed northward, building stronger and stronger structures as they went. I like to think that the pueblos and towns and cities that sprung up along the route inherited the aesthetics of resilience and were built to last. There were mishaps—the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake exceeded their ability to prepare—but 1989 showed that El Camino has gotten a lot of things right.

It’s interesting to compare El Camino Real with the San Andreas fault, that famous feature responsible for so many historic quakes including 1812, 1906, and 1989. El Camino isn’t literally on top of the fault, though interestingly they do cross near Mission San Juan Bautista. Their similarity is more symbolic. They parallel each other, running south-to-north from roughly the Mexican border to approximately Sonoma county. (The fault at that point slides into the Pacific ocean.) To me they both represent forces of movement and change in the state. The San Andreas fault is the tectonic junction between the Pacific plate and the North American plate. The Pacific plate moves south and the North American plate moves north at a plodding 4-6 centimeters per year. As it rumbles along it shapes the state, pushing up mountains and sealing up valleys and bodies of water. Every so often the plates slip and we feel the temblor. El Camino moves us also, but at a slightly quicker pace. It also moves us forward through time. It’s the juncture of nature and invention. It’s where people plant roots and build things, but never lose the wandering spirit that brought them there. So they constantly rebuild and reinvent, and every now and then deliver a jolt that shakes the world.

It’s perhaps inevitable that El Camino shadows the San Andreas. For the past 25 million years the fault has been defining and reinforcing the orientation of the land. Humans just followed the geological path that was laid before them. Earthquakes will happen and the road will shake but that fateful October evening twenty years ago today, El Camino Real was the natural place to be.

Crossing El Camino

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

There’s a stretch of El Camino Real in North San Diego that cuts through the expansive San Dieguito River Park. The city is planning to widen El Camino there from two lanes to four. The problem is that currently there’s a tunnel under the road that wildlife can use to cross from one side to the other. It’s also used by bicyclists and pedestrians. When the city widens the road, they’re planning to close the tunnel. They say it could be rebuilt later by someone else, but the city’s not going to do it.

CA Ground SquirrelThe Carmel Valley Community Planning Board is not happy about losing the tunnel. The San Diego River Park Joint Powers Authority is pressing the city for more time so they can prepare a response. The California ground squirrels, Pacific tree frogs, and Coast horned lizards living in the park were not available for comment. [Photo: CA Ground Squirrel on hind legs by Howard Cheng. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.]

I’ve never been to this part of El Camino Real, but oddly this story made me smile. Up in the Bay Area El Camino is so heavily developed it’s really refreshing to remember the parts of it that still share space with a bit of preserved open space, wildlife and all. I know that most of El Camino is undeveloped, in particular the inter-city spans along U.S. 101 between San Jose and Los Angeles, but I don’t get down there very often so frankly I forget about it sometimes.

The Alameda pedestrian subwayI’m certainly not happy to see the tunnel go. I love the idea of the little critters scampering safely across the busy road through the thoughtfully-provided underpass. El Camino is a great way to go North and South, but it does have this tendency to split land in half, to separate East from West. It’s pretty easy to cross by car; I heard once that the intersection of El Camino Real and San Tomas Expressway in Santa Clara is one of the busiest intersections in the Bay Area. But for everyone else, crossing El Camino can be an ordeal. In 1928 the city of San Jose built a pedestrian subway tunnel under The Alameda for the students of Hester School to use. The subway is dedicated to the memory of Virginia A. Frazer and Charles Loring Sykes, two students who were struck and killed by automobiles while crossing the road. It was commendable of the city to take action to prevent another tragedy. San Diego should take note.

El Camino Real is a valuable and august citizen of the state. But if you cross it, watch out.

[Source: Rancho Santa Fe Record]

The End of the Age of Automobiles

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Sunnyvale ChevyLast week Sunnyvale Chevrolet on El Camino Real abruptly went out of business. This has obviously been a tough time for auto dealers, especially those who were dropped by struggling U.S. automakers. Along its length El Camino has a large number of new-car showrooms; the Sunnyvale Auto Row alone has ten…er, nine now. They’re not all going to disappear but the decline in the economy in general and in new car sales in particular is forcing cities and dealerships to rethink their future.

The automobile is largely responsible for making El Camino Real what it is today. After the California missions secularized and the United States won control of the state from Mexico, El Camino nearly faded into  obscurity, various stretches of it being renamed, rerouted, or forgotten. It was the inspired vision of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs at the start of the 20th century that led to its recognition and preservation along with the missions as a treasured historical landmark. However automobile clubs like the California State Automobile Association spearheaded the practical effort to make it serviceable for cars. The CSAA produced markers and maps for El Camino, lobbied for pavement and passable grading, and for a while were even responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the famous bell markers which the women’s clubs had placed along its length. Thanks to the combined efforts of the women and “automobilists” of the state, El Camino became the car-centric highway that linked the Bay Area to Southern California.

For 100 years the car has ruled the Royal Road. For the last fifty years in much of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties El Camino has taken the form of a homogeneous multi-lane commercial strip, with miles and miles of low-slung low-density commercial buildings fronted by car-friendly parking lots and frequent curb-cut driveways. It’s a form that’s frankly hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists. But now in the 21st century people are ready for change.

The commercial strip is becoming less and less viable as businesses and their customers find greater value and convenience in regional super-malls and revitalized or fabricated downtowns. But cities can’t afford to let El Camino decline into disuse so they’re proactively making plans to transform it into a Grand Boulevard. The vision is a corridor with a smoothly transitioning rhythm of zones varying from public open spaces to high-density urban mixed-use developments. The key is to impose unifying architectural guidelines that make the boulevard appealing and convenient for pedestrians first, not cars. Examples include creating lovely wide sidewalks separated from flowing auto traffic by landscaping and curbside parking, and getting rid of frontside parking lots and bringing the front doors of businesses and residences much closer to the pedestrians. Amazingly they want to slow the auto traffic down by taking away car lanes and giving new dedicated lanes to bikes and public transit.

These are ambitious plans that can’t happen overnight. An obvious obstacle is the current businesses that are doing relatively well and don’t wish to see their buildings bulldozed and their parking lots filled in. Here then is where the failed auto dealerships present an opportunity.

When the car had its heyday in the last century, it made perfect sense for  car dealerships to locate on the El Camino commercial strip. That’s where the drivers were, and drivers were their customers. That’s how I first heard of El Camino Real. Having grown up in the East Bay in the 70s and 80s I remember the infectious bouncing-ball TV jingle for a long-gone dealership: “Pete Ellis Dodge, 1095 West El Camino Real, Sunnyvale.” El Camino and the dealerships were made for each other. Design-wise the dealerships were in fact the archetypical commercial strip businesses except ironically the front lots weren’t for parking but for inventory.

But we’re at a point in history now where as a nation we’re trying to reduce our reliance on the private automobile. We still love our cars but we’re realizing our economy and ecology can’t continue to support the fuel that goes into them and the emissions that come out. Our psyches are bruised from all the time we spend in them in long, inefficient, bumper-to-bumper commutes and our bottoms are spreading from the exercise they deprive us of and the drive-through high-caloric nightmares they enable. Our car culture is looking unsustainable and is receding for a myriad of complex reasons, and a direct result is dealerships shutting down.

(A noteworthy exception to this trend is Tesla Motors,  the start-up manufacturer of fully-electric—not hybrid—plug-in cars. For reasons I haven’t seen publicly stated they seem doggedly devoted to the cities along El Camino Real. Their corporate offices are in San Carlos, they have a showroom on El Camino in Menlo Park, and they’re opening an R&D and manufacturing facility in Palo Alto. It could be they’re planting their roots in the state’s ancient road for continuity as they take us into the future. I applaud their innovations, but one must consider the economic case against battery-powered electric vehicles.)

No one wants the traditional dealerships to fail. No one wants their employees to lose their jobs, local governments hate to lose the sales tax they generate, and neighbors abhor the vacant lots they leave behind. So the closures are an unpleasant reality but once accepted they can be the bellwethers of change and cures for so many car-related ills. The vacant lots can be purchased and redeveloped according to the Grand Boulevard plan, perhaps as mixed-use residential and retail that will get people out of their cars and out walking, biking, or busing from their homes to convenient neighborhood stores, restaurants, and jobs, all on the boulevard.

This exact debate is happening in Menlo Park. A Cadillac dealership on El Camino near Valparaiso closed down and the city council, developers, and the community are working out what to replace it with. The leading plan includes retail and office space. It lacks residential space for various logistical reasons but all parties wish it could be included. Simultaneously they’re moving ahead with a plan to revitalize the city’s downtown and its El Camino segment.

I don’t know what will become of the recently-closed Sunnyvale Chevrolet dealership. Last December the city actually recommended moving the entire Sunnyvale El Camino Auto Row to Onizuka Air Force Station which is scheduled to close in 2011. The city hadn’t decided what to do with the space on El Camino, and Radio Sunnyvale reports that the whole idea is on hold for now, but it shows that cities are ready to make big changes and they’re eyeing the valuable real estate that the transitioning auto industry is freeing up as the engines of that change. There’s no future in the single-use resource-guzzling status quo; the engines of change, it’s clear, will be hybrid.

Sunnyvale Chevy

Jailhouse Crock

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

File this one under yuck.

What's growing in your toilet ?Some inmates of the Maguire Correctional Center in Redwood City have taken to flushing foreign material down their toilets. Socks, underwear, food wrappers, hair brushes, jump suits, etc. The only limit apparently is their imagination. These are sometimes acts of rebellion, of effluent sabotage. I would expect also there are cases of getting rid of contraband or disposing of incriminating evidence.

But these are not victimless crimes. The offending matter makes its way through the pipes and ends up in the county sewers where it threatens to seriously jam up the pumps and apparatus that keeps the community sanitary. The South Bayside System Authority, which provides sewer service for the area, has had to install extra protective grating to filter out the solid waste and hire additional employees to keep the grates clear, scraping them several times a day.

So the authority sued the county and won a $2.3 million settlement to cover their additional expenses. And they also reached an agreement to take steps to reduce the  flow of junk from the jail.

I’m glad in the end they’re able to get along, but shame on the miscreant flushers.

[Source: Mercury News]

The Big Kiss…Off?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Stanford University was founded in 1891. One thing that set it apart from the start was the fact that it was coed, unusual at the time. Boys and girls together, gawrsh. It wasn’t long before these inventive youngsters came up with a rite that was doubtless daring at the time, but in our sepia-toned way-back mirror looks sweetly romantic now: Full Moon on the Quad. The way it works is freshmen become true Stanford men and women if and only if they are kissed by a senior at midnight in the Quad under the first full moon of the school year. The tradition has persisted so for over a century the place to be for the incoming and outgoing classes on that harvest moon is in front of Memorial Church, lips a-pucker.

This year however the event has fallen victim to that perfect storm of modern science, well-intentioned protectiveness, and media fear-mongering: the H1N1 virus. University officials canceled the event due to concern it could lead to a swine flu epidemic.

My first reaction on hearing this news was that the whole thing has become ickily seamy in recent decades, but I’d hate to see it go out like that.

full moon on the quadfull moon on the quad 2006I graduated from Stanford in a not-so-recent decade and yep, I went to FMOTQ once or twice during my time there. My memories are hazy but I recall it being a good time but a little too bacchanalian, not at all matching the intimate fantasy I had built up in my naive little head. (What’s that? You want to know if I was made there or a maker? Ah…but that would be telling.) I haven’t seen it since—I’d probably be arrested for lechery if I tried to crash—but from published accounts it hasn’t changed much. If anything it’s gotten a bit worse with cases of public drunkenness, lewd acts, and middle-aged lechers trying to crash.

The University has moved to protect its students and reputation by taking some control over the event, providing security, sanctioned entertainment, etc. It’s this element that they canceled. On the face of it it’s not a bad call. I’ve seen enough fictional outbreak scenarios in movies and television that I can practically see the PowerPoint slides depicting casualty projections with the Quad circled as ground zero. A big ol’ bull’s-eye on a Google map.

Still I’m a sucker for tradition and would mourn this one if it passed prematurely. Finding your way through life requires striking the right balance between repeating what came before and forging new experiences, hopefully building and improving as you go. A good tradition connects you with a community larger than yourself—past, present, and future—and there’s validation in that.

Last year’s FMOTQ bore little resemblance to the very first one. A community as vibrant as Stanford’s knows how to adapt to changing times. H1N1 is a mere irritation to be worked around. I’m not even sure how FMOTQ could be canceled; the moon and the Quad are still there and barring a Tiananmen-type crackdown students are still free to use them as they see fit. So the students may retract at first, but they’ll push back, pulling, twisting, and tweaking the event until it suits them once again. There will be some missteps: this past Sunday under the full moon some undergrads opted to interpret the event as Full Moons on the Quad, to the em-bare-assment of all. Maybe it only takes a few sensible precautions. But they’ll get there. In its next incarnation it may not look like the FMOTQ I knew, but it will be the same in name, and that’s good enough for me.

[Source: The Stanford Daily]

I Heart C.J. Olson Cherries

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Fruit Stand

When I first had the idea to blog about El Camino Real, the first topic which came to mind was C.J. Olson Cherries in Sunnyvale. Over the years this historic fruit stand has been one of our most frequent single destinations on the Royal Road, especially in the summer cherry season. We’ve become very friendly with the good folks there, including fourth-generation owner Deborah Olson.

Olson’s describes itself as located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. They’ve been there since 1899, well before silicon. (You know what I mean.) Before it became the high-technology capital, Santa Clara Valley was primarily agricultural, aptly known as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” That makes Olson’s the Valley’s Heart of Hearts. See, we engineers call that refactoring.

ms. independentI’m not done. Regard the cherry. With its indented top and peaked bottom it’s a ruby red valentine to the eyes and taste buds. Turn it around to where the lobes meet and it becomes subtly anatomical, though thankfully not grossly so. When you pop a cherry in your mouth and crunch down on its juicy goodness you don’t want to be thinking about atria and ventricles, but the symbolism is powerful. Olson’s extols the health benefits of cherries for preventing heart disease—something to do with flavonoids. Sounds like the purest sort of homeopathic remedy to me.

Local cherries peak in the summertime but the days are getting shorter and my beloved summer fruits are gone for now. Happily Olson’s is always fully stocked with the best seasonal produce. Still when summer ends I turn my attention to their delectable selection of prepared and packaged items: dried fruits, nuts, and baked goods. Oh…and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Truthfully when I refer to dried fruits, nuts, and baked goods, I really mean dried fruits, nuts, and baked goods all dipped in chocolate.

Next weekend Olson’s is hosting their annual Harvest Faire. They’ll be celebrating your favorite fall crops like apples, pumpkins, and candy corn (OK, I added that last one). Their signature locally-grown dried Blenheim Apricots are headlining these days. I also expect there will be plenty of sweet and savory goodies to sample. Stop by, say hi, and load up. It will do your heart good.

C.J. Olson Cherries Harvest Faire
Saturday, October 10th, 12:00 – 4:00 pm
348 W. El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087

Exotic pumpkins and more will be the highlight of our annual harvest faire along with the new crop of fall apples. So mark your calendar, get out your carving tools, and join us for special tastings and demonstrations at our Sunnyvale pumpkin patch.