Archive for July, 2010


Saturday, July 31st, 2010

The Music@Menlo chamber music festival is going on now. It started on Friday, July 23 and concludes Saturday, August 14. The schedule is packed with daily concerts, open rehearsals, workshops, and discussions. The theme this year is “Maps and Legends” and the works performed will describe a musical landscape spanning time and space. They will include pieces by Vivaldi, Brahms, Dvořák, and others.

The performances take place in various venues in and around Menlo Park, including Stent Family Hall and Martin Family Hall at Menlo School in Atherton, just off El Camino Real. Some concerts charge admission and several events are free. The festival began in 2003 but I’ve never checked it out before. I’m going to try to  catch one of the free lunchtime programs. I shouldn’t get lost on my way to the theater; I’ll have musical Maps and Legends to guide me.


Chamber Music Festival and Institute
Now through August 14, 2010
Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto

What Is Hip?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a hipster: live in the cool places, wear the cool clothes, drink the cool beverages. Too bad that’s not my lot in life. I’ve spent my entire existence 37.5° out of phase with the rest of the world which means being hip has always been a mathematical impossibility for me. A little too much behind the beat but not enough to turn you on. I do know hip when I see it though, and I got more than an eyeful at The Usuals last week on The Alameda.

The Usuals is a clothing and accessories boutique that opened in April. It’s owned by brother-and-sister team Mike and Mari Millares, San Jose natives who have a longtime passion for fashion. They also have deep love for their home town so they created a shop that uniquely celebrates clothes and the San Jo’. This is most immediately evident in Mike’s Deadstok line of printed tee shirts, especially his iconic “I ♥ SJ” design with a teal shark-jawed heart. That’s how I came to learn of The Usuals. They had a booth at the Rose, White, & Blue festival and were selling “The Alameda” shirts. Pinch me. “Um…I’ll take one of those.” My first visit to the brick-and-mortar store however was Friday, July 23 when they hosted an event. What kind of event? That takes a bit of explaining. The best way I can describe it is: it was a San Jose mashup.

The Usuals is a clothing store, so clothes of course were the focus. They feature their own clothing designs as well as lines from other local designers. On top of that they host rotating art exhibits in the store so the Friday event was an opening reception for a Lost San Jose photography exhibit which will run until August 24. But wait, there’s more. In the back of the store they held a trunk show, showcasing jewelry from local artists. I’m not done. They presented a fashion show with some help from models from Ready2model, a talent agency. The models were styled on-site by 5 Color Cowboy, a salon further up The Alameda. The event was a fundraiser; they donated part of their Deadstok sales to the Trace Elementary School rebuilding fund to help them recover from their devastating July 5 fire. [Click here to donate by check or PayPal so classrooms can be ready before the kids start school in the fall.] They had a DJ from The Bangerz Crew providing atmosphere and an MC, Don Prahfit, freestyling during the fashion show. Inside they had refreshments provided by Chris Talosig. Outside they had ice cream and karaoke provided by Treatbot. Get the picture? I’m tired just describing it all.

Usuals Lost San Jose

Our whole family had quite The Alameda evening. We started with dinner at Tee Nee Thai. It was my wife’s first time and she loved it. I had the amazing Mussamun Lamb and asked for it hot but not “Thai hot;” I may be stupid but I’m not crazy. We enjoyed chatting with our friendly Tee Nee waitress who confirmed it’s a family-owned place staffed by cousins. She thinks an uncle  came up with the name because the place is so small. “You should see our kitchen,” she said. I think this is becoming my favorite Thai restaurant because the vibe is so warm and homey and every dish I’ve had there has been a winner.

IMG_9701Afterwards we rolled down to The Usuals, stepped inside, and my head started to spin from sensory overload. There was so much going on, I couldn’t process it. Clothes, photos, music, people, jewelry, live hair-styling. Most disconcertingly there were models walking around the store being photographed by paparazzi. I’m just not used to this. It seemed every time I stopped somewhere to catch a breath, I was in somebody’s way, awkward like an ox, so I did the only sensible thing. I stepped outside for some ice cream.

CIMG1270Treatbot was there with their van. Treatbot is one of the South Bay’s social-network-promoted roving upscale food trucks, a trend that’s sweeping the nation. They sell ice cream sandwiches and cones but they have a gimmick: there’s a karaoke machine attached to the truck. Instant party. A customer was serenading his family with “Superfreak” as I was placing my order. “Temptations, sing!” I ordered an ice cream sandwich on chocolate chip cookies and the flavor I chose was “408,” a lascivious chocolate concoction with caramel ribbon and Oreo cookie crumbs. It was sinfully heaven. I think the flavor is their own original creation; their ice cream is made locally.

CIMG1272Sufficiently bumped up to a higher energy level, I once again broached The Usuals and this time managed to sync up with my surroundings. I had a great talk with Josh Marcotte, the photographer behind Lost San Jose. His granddad was an old-time San Jose resident and history buff so Josh grew up hearing stories and appreciating our landmarks and neighborhoods. Recently however he became increasingly aware of how the past is fading away, either on its own or hurried along by development and progress. Parts of San Jose are becoming “lost.” At first he tried to capture some of the receding treasures in writing, then taught himself photography and took to the lens instead. He walks around and snaps images of aged architecture and decaying city scapes. The result is a haunting, evocative collection. His interest resonates with my El Camino Real obsession, and he has inspired me to kick my own photography up a notch.

IMG_9705IMG_9736I did in fact have my camera with me so I took a bunch of photos. Josh brought his enchanting collection of vintage cameras and had them on display in the store. Cameras as it turns out are extremely photogenic. Also photogenic was Eva, a model who tirelessly circulated around the store all night promoting Ready2model, cheerfully posing for anyone with a camera, your humble blogger included.

It was a great evening. I’m not much for nightlife so it was a real treat to get out and hang with the hipper set for a while. I love that The Usuals are on The Alameda. The Millares exhibit a blend of creativity, currency, and community-sense that will drive The Alameda’s Town Center to new pinnacles of cool. I may not be hip enough to go there with them, but at least I’ll be able to say I bought the tee shirt.

The Usuals
1020 The Alameda, San Jose, CA

See all my photos at Flickr.

Bump in the Road

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

I’m shocked and dismayed to report that Calvin’s Cheesesteaks on The Alameda had a fire last week and is now closed with “significant fire, smoke, and water damage.” The fire was caused by a problem in an ice machine on July 11. The restaurant was not open at the time and there were no injuries.

Distressingly the Mercury News reports that the traumatic stress of the fire caused the owner, Jonne Aleeson, to be briefly hospitalized. I have no updates but I trust he is recovering swiftly.

You’ll recall my wife and I were last at Calvin’s on the Fourth of July. We hadn’t heard about the fire but on July 17 we happened to drive by and noticed some of Calvin’s things out on the sidewalk but thought nothing of it. Oddly enough on July 19 my wife took some co-workers there for lunch and that’s when she learned of the fire. I say “oddly enough” because that’s the day the Mercury News published its story.

As it so happens Calvin’s had been working on opening a second location nearby at 1699 San Carlos. Work continues on that and it should be completed soon. The Alameda location will re-open pending insurance and repairs. It could take a month or longer. San Carlos is a fine road, but it’s no El Camino Real.

Readers of this blog will surely know that we love Calvin’s. The sandwiches are second-to-none, but what makes the place so very special to us is Mr. Aleeson. We’ve been privileged to spend some time with him in his restaurant and get to know him and watch him interact with the community. He’s a remarkable guy, warm and generous. He’s also tough—not with people, but with life. Even before this fire he has endured challenges and trials that should not be asked of anyone, but his faith in God and the love of his family and friends have brought him through. In heartfelt moments he openly shares how Blessed he considers himself to be, and listening to him teaches me what Blessed truly means.

This fire is really unfortunate, but we can be thankful it wasn’t worse than it was. Plaster and wood can be replaced and I look forward to that happening as soon as possible. My prayers are for “Mr. Calvin” (as I call him) to recover his health and once again find the strength to carry on. We miss him, The Alameda needs him, and I envision a spectacular Grand Re-Opening where we can can all show him how much we love and appreciate him.


Rubber on the Road

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

IMG_9629bRedemption! Back in April I heard that San Jose Bike Party was rolling down El Camino Real through Mountain View and Sunnyvale so I jumped in my car to check it out and failed! Thousands of bicyclists, hooting and hollering, cruising down a five mile stretch of the most important road ever (IMHO), and I missed it. I read the route map carelessly so they looped right around me. Sad. But Friday night July 16, 2010 I had a second chance. Bike Party chose The Alameda for its monthly appearance and this time I…was…there!

My wife alerted me about it a couple days ago. She follows Treatbot, the Karaoke Ice Cream Truck (more on that later), on Facebook and they announced they would be at Bike Party. I looked up the route Friday morning and was happy to learn they were starting at Santa Clara University and riding down El Camino Real and The Alameda to Naglee Avenue, from there going to the city of Saratoga and looping back around to Santa Clara. After work I ran home, grabbed my camera, and drove down to The Alameda. I strategized on-the-way. I knew if I took the The Alameda exit off I-880 I would risk getting caught up among the bikes and that’s a bad place to be. Instead I got off one exit earlier at Coleman and took surface streets to The Alameda and Taylor so I would never have to cross the stream in my car. I needn’t have worried; I got there before the bikes.

I only had a few minutes to wait before they started showing up. It began with a few riders arriving from all directions to meet up with the main pack. Then it came. I can’t think of a metaphor which will do it justice without being trite so I’ll use the shotgun method. A river. A flood. A chain-driven stampede, a teeming mass, a peloton of everymen. Over three thousand bicycles pouring down the Alameda, turning right on Naglee. Short bikes, tall bikes, custom bikes, normal bikes. Bikes with bells, horns, and stereos blasting tunes. One rider had a vuvuzela. Those without noisemakers gleefully shouted, “Bike party!” Woo! There were bikers in street clothes, casual clothes, um…bicycle clothes, and costumes. The theme was “Deity Ride” since the ride started at a Jesuit university and passed many churches and spiritual institutions along the way so several riders dressed as Roman gods in togas, Viking gods in horned helmets, and Earth goddesses with garlands. Special mention of the night goes to the guy riding his bicycle while playing bagpipes. I saw bikes. I saw a party.

I took a bunch of photos. If you want to see them, take a look here.

I’ll be the first to admit they aren’t very good. The light was fading and the subjects were moving so I cranked the ISO and hoped for the best. I got a bunch of what I call “I was there” shots. Hardly art, but they tell the story. If you want to see some really outstanding photos, photographer Richard Masoner shared some great ones at Find them here or see the whole set at Flickr. He snapped a pretty good one of bagpipe guy!

After about half an hour on The Alameda, I crossed the street on foot with some difficulty and hopped in my car and drove up to El Camino upstream as the bikes were still flowing down. In Santa Clara some spectators (not riders) shot off some fancy illegal low-flying rockets left over from the Fourth of July right in front of me; surreal. I got all the way up to Santa Clara University where the ride started. By then all the bikes had passed me by, so I can say I saw the whole thing in about 45 minutes.

I enjoyed watching the riders, soaking in the festive atmosphere, waving back as they passed me by. Reading the comments on their blog though there were a couple edgy incidents. First, some riders in spots were guilty of taking up all lanes of the road, not sharing with cars. I saw this myself. I also saw some riding against traffic and red light running. This kind of riding is against Bike Party’s policy, and it was heartening to see them policing themselves to maintain good will with the community.

Requiescat in Pace: Father Paul Locatelli, S.J., 1938-2010The other incident was a case of unfortunate timing. Father Paul Locatelli, former chancellor and president of Santa Clara University, died on Monday, July 12, from pancreatic cancer. The university held an outdoor funeral Mass for him Friday on campus, at the same time the Bike Party commenced. I gather the festive and boisterous atmosphere of Bike Party regrettably interfered with the more solemn event. Mortifyingly, some truckers honked their airhorns in support of Bike Party as it rode past, probably unaware of the funeral nearby which was disrupted by the noise. I don’t know Fr. Locatelli but I’d like to think any university president would smile at the youthful exuberance of the riders; still that’s little comfort to the mourners who came to pay their respects to him that evening and had their ceremony disrupted.

All-in-all Bike Party is an undeniably happy thing. It’s wonderful to see San Joseans come together in good humor and solidarity and explore our magical valley and get a little exercise to boot. As subcultures go this one is accessible and enticing. Maybe one night I’ll join them. That’s if I don’t read the map wrong.


Friday, July 16th, 2010

W00t! The Mercury News reports that the San Jose Department of Transportation has been awarded a $3.1 million dollar grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to work on improving The Alameda! The city will begin implementing The Alameda: A Plan for “The Beautiful Way” which was developed in the series of community meetings which my friend Elena and I enjoyed participating in over the past year.

Work will begin on Phase One of the plan which calls for widening sidewalks, planting a raised median, creating safer pedestrian access, and generally beautifying and unifying the character of the “Town Center,” the southern stretch of mostly commercial buildings from Fremont Street down to the train  tracks. The goal is to enhance The Alameda’s appeal as a hip, strollable destination that showcases San Jose’s charm and history.

CIMG0164Elena and I go way back to her freshman orientation at Stanford my senior year. She recently moved to San Jose and quickly came to appreciate The Alameda, especially its casual and fine dining. At the community meetings she offered many thoughtful suggestions such as making it safer for bicyclists, and catering to families with young children the way Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen has done. Me on the other hand…well my best suggestion was to save the historic El Camino bell marker. Um, that was before I even realized there are three bells on The Alameda, not one. Gold star for trying.

This is exciting news for the community and it will be fun to watch all the planning become a Beautiful reality.

What are your favorite spots on The Alameda? What’s your opinion of controversial features like the Hester Avenue pedestrian underpass, Babe the giant muffler guy, and the Race Street billboard? Should they stay or should they go? Have you ever crossed The Alameda on foot at any of the crosswalks without traffic lights, or does your life insurance policy prohibit it?

Fourth Photos

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

I took a bunch of photos on the Fourth of July at the Rose, White, & Blue parade and at History Park. Enjoy!


Rose, White, and Blue in the Face

Monday, July 5th, 2010

CIMG0054Every year I think I’ve written new Fourth of July traditions in stone. I let myself believe I’ve got the celebration dialed in, and that’s the way I’ll be observing it from then on. And every year I’m wrong. Something changes that causes a little tweak or a giant upheaval. Sometimes it’s an improvement, and sometimes it’s a back-to-the-drawing-board experience. For years though the cornerstone of our July 4 festivities was the America Festival at Downtown San Jose’s Discovery Meadow. Sadly in 2009 that mighty event fell victim to the deflated economy and had to be canceled. To console ourselves on the Fourth our family went to Calvin’s on The Alameda for cheese steaks and discovered quite by accident the Rose, White, and Blue Parade. We missed the morning parade but the accompanying festival was still on so we perused the booths and shops, and made plans to come back this year.

Fwd:We arrived early this year and found shady spots on the parade route, under the El Camino bell on the west side of The Alameda at Singletary. That was no accident; it’s a special spot for me. I’m generally not a parade person because they’re always too early in the morning (I like to sleep in on holidays; so sue me), but I was in the right mood and this one was delightful. It’s not a huge production with marching bands and animatronic floats. Rather it’s a heartfelt community showcase with neighborhood kids on bikes, girl scout and boy scout troops, vintage car enthusiasts, and elected officials. The geeky highlight was Grand Marshal Steve Wozniak riding an Egyptian barque, surrounded by his Segway polo friends, one of whom was coincidentally an old co-worker of mine from Apple, Bill Knott. The giggliest moment was a lone be-kilted bagpipe player droning out Rod Stewart’s “Da’ Ya’ Think I’m Sexy.” The most sublimely surreal moment was Chuck Reed, the mayor of San Jose, cruising down The Alameda in the back of a straight-up cherry low-rider, bewildering uninitiated onlookers every time it stopped and dropped so low it was scrapin’.

By the time the last of the parade passed by—two ladies on horseback (it was smart to put them last) with a police car chaser—it was lunchtime so we headed once again to Calvin’s. Tradition! I can think of no better tribute to the signing of the Declaration of Independence than Philadelphia’s best cheese steaks. We weren’t alone; the line was out the door. It was an extra long wait but so worth it, and we reveled in our “sandmiches” while an Elvis impersonator cheesed us from the “American Stage.” Then we worked our way down the double row of booths—nearly twice as many as last year—cleverly arranged on the shady western half of The Alameda between Lenzen and Race. Kudos to the prior and current presidents of The Alameda Business Association Larry Clark and Michael Barnaba for spearheading a successful and growing event. My wife was drawn to the vendors of handmade jewelry, but I had a different agenda.

Two agendas, actually. The first was chocolate. Schurra’s had a booth and I bought myself a Rocky Road treat: a giant homemade marshmallow brick topped with almonds and covered in chocolate. The lady asked if I wanted a bag. Ha! I told her that would only slow me down. It was gooey, melty wonderment.

CIMG1233That out of the way, I moved on to my primary objective. This was the third year for the Rose, White, and Blue Parade, but it traces it roots back to a legacy of Rose Festivals in San Jose dating back to 1896. At the 2009 parade I found Shannon Clark’s book, The Alameda: the Beautiful Way, which I acknowledge was the spark that convinced me finally to start this All Camino blog. This year I was delighted to see she had produced a new book in collaboration with her sister Allison called Roses on Parade: a Santa Clara Valley Tradition, an exposition of this very event. I bought the book at their booth, got it signed, and networked with my fellow El Camino history buffs. At least I thought I was a history buff, until I met Bill.

CIMG1232The booth next to the Clark sisters’ was a modest affair, simply a few rows of clotheslines with historic photos of The Alameda clothes-pinned to them, flapping like pennants in the warm breeze. A lone gentleman was narrating them, jovially taking questions and leading listeners from photo to photo to illustrate the timelines he was reciting from memory. His name is Bill Wulf and he’s a 71-year-old San Jose native, railroad enthusiast, Los Gatos expert, and Santa Clara Valley historian extraordinaire. It’s tempting to say he knows everything there is to know about local history and his ready facility with names, dates, and anecdotes would seem to back up that claim, but it would do him a disservice. He impressed upon me that though he has been meticulously and doggedly researching his subject for decades, he’s still learning something new every day and constantly having his understanding challenged and refined. That’s what amazed me. He’s not just a passive font of facts; he’s an active and probing student of stories, and a really nice guy no less. He’s the kind of historian I can only aspire to be.

I honestly have no idea how long I stood there talking to him, he was so generous with his time and information. I think it was a couple hours. I lost track of time and shamefully neglected my wife (she bought some jewelry in mock revenge), but I learned a ton of great things, like how Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes was inspired by her colorful father-in-low James Alexander Forbes to romanticize California’s Mission past and memorialize El Camino Real with posted bell markers. I learned about troves of primary sources to explore like forgotten county archives and collections of the Franciscan order. I appreciated his theories about practical land routes that were the basis of the real El Camino. And I only scratched the surface. I look forward to meeting him again.

Finally I tore myself away and my wife and I finished strolling the fair and went home. Our day wasn’t done though. You’d think we would have both had enough history for one day by then, but you underestimate our capacity. We grabbed a couple sandwiches from the Togo’s at Oakland Road and Brokaw and headed down to History Park in San Jose’s Kelley Park for the History San Jose Fourth of July Celebration. Can I possibly use the words “history” and “San Jose” any more in a single sentence?

If you had trouble parsing that sentence, it will help to know that “History San Jose” is the name of San Jose’s historical association. They host an annual members-only (yeah, I’m a member) Independence Day event at their showpiece village in Kelley Park, a collection of reconstructed or physically relocated buildings and landmarks from San Jose’s past. Kelley Park isn’t quite on El Camino Real (it’s three long blocks from Monterey Road) but its centerpiece is a half-scale replica of the famous electric light tower which once straddled the intersection of First and Santa Clara Streets downtown, so it represents. We rode the electric trolley and strolled the grounds and chatted with Judy—a long-time HSJ volunteer we met—and her family and friends until it was dark enough to enjoy the San Jose Giants’ fireworks display happening across the street at Municipal Stadium and the unsanctioned fireworks outbursts happening everywhere else.

That was our Fourth, dipped in San Jose and fried in history. It may seem odd to focus on a seemingly academic subject on this defining day of summer but when you think about it, it’s not so weird. The Independence Day celebration is plainly and simply a celebration of American history, a way to bring it percussively to life. San Jose was dubiously Spain during the Revolutionary War but we’re America now. If there’s one date an American schoolchild needs to remember from history lessons, it’s July 4, 1776. It just so happens that some people know a few more dates than that.