Do you know what’s embarrassing? Getting lost on El Camino Real. I don’t mean “lost” in the poetic sense, as in getting so enraptured by the sights and wonders that I lose all sense of time. I mean “lost” as in not having a perfectly clear notion of either where I am, where my destination is, or the precise relationship between the two. “How could you possibly get lost on El Camino?” you protest. “It’s a street, a one-dimensional line!” This is true, but after 200 years the road has developed a few idiosyncrasies which can snare the unwitting traveler. One of them is the city of Los Altos.
The first tricky thing about Los Altos is something that residents know but it took me a while to figure out: Los Altos does not cross El Camino Real. The city flows down from the hills but in its northernmost section it abuts El Camino. That means if you’re driving down El Camino, Los Altos exists only on one side of the street. El Camino borders Los Altos for about a mile and a half.
This is unusual. As far as I can determine, there’s only one other city in the Bay Area that touches but does not cross El Camino: Hillsborough, and that’s only for about two blocks.
Los Altos doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For that mile and a half stretch of El Camino, the other side of the street is either Palo Alto or Mountain View. There is a spot on El Camino between Del Medio and Los Altos avenues where Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Mountain View all meet in a single point. No wonder it’s easy to lose track of where you are! The border between Mountain View and Palo Alto is marked only by the fence, bush, and break in the low wall in this photograph. Really they are the property line between the Country Inn Motel (Palo Alto) and The Hotel Aria (Mountain View), which used to be a Holiday Inn. Cryptically there is a signpost right here pointing to Los Altos (Avenue, that is) which takes on new significance.
Granted, maybe it doesn’t really matter to you what city you’re in unless you’re challenging the jurisdiction of the speeding ticket you just received from the other city’s Police Department. What really matters is the street address right? Well that’s where things get really crazy. Take a trip with me.
Say you’re on El Camino in Palo Alto, heading south. As you cross Arastradero Road you’re on the 4200 block of El Camino with even addresses on your right and odd addresses on your left. The addresses increase as you go. As we all know, one of the cornerstones of modern civilization is that even and odd addresses are on opposite sides of the street, and that street addresses are ordered monotonically. You pass the Crowne Plaza Cabaña Hotel at 4290 ECR which is the last Palo Alto address on that side. You cross Adobe Creek and your side of the street is now Los Altos, though the other side of El Camino is still Palo Alto. Still with me? Fear not because the addresses still make sense. Both sides are now the 4300 block; the Motel 6 Palo Alto on your left is 4301 and the Courtyard Los Altos on your right is 4320. (There are a lot of hotels here.) You roll on and cross Los Altos Avenue. You’re still in Los Altos on your side but as we said, soon the other side turns into Mountain View. Your side is the 4400 block but the other side, the Mountain View side, is suddenly 2700! What?! That’s right, the addresses take a quantum leap on that Palo Alto/Mountain View side of the street.
Remember that the border between Palo Alto and Mountain View lies between the Country Inn Motel and The Hotel Aria. They are neighbors, but here are their addresses:
4345 El Camino in Palo Alto, 2700 El Camino in Mountain View, literally next door to each other. Not only do the numbers jump, but the Palo Alto addresses are odd and the Mountain View addresses are now even. The Los Altos addresses on your side are also even. This is madness! But wait, there’s more. As you keep driving, your Los Altos addresses continue to increase, but your Mountain View addresses get smaller! They run in opposite directions. You get to the end of Los Altos and cross over into all-Mountain View a little past Rengstorff Ave. On your side the last Los Altos address is 5150 El Camino Real and their neighbor in Mountain View is 2065. Even addresses become odd. The 5100s become 2000s. Enough said.
This address nonsense used to trip me up from time to time. Back in the old days before online maps and GPS units, I would look up a business in the phone book (remember those?). Maybe I was going to El Torito at 4470 El Camino Real, Los Altos. (Don’t bother looking for it now; it’s gone.) If I made the mistake of approaching through Mountain View, the addresses around me would be no help at all—somewhere in the 2000s when I’m looking for 4470, and odd when I’m looking for even. This confusion is part of the reason I started AllCamino.com. I felt a need to understand these addresses and help my fellow sufferers. Don’t even get me started on West El Camino, East El Camino, South El Camino, and North El Camino.
It’s not all bad. Even without wireless navigation technology there are plenty of hints to keep you oriented. There are well-placed “city limits” signs, and the light posts have handy civic banners hanging from them. Los Altos Patch Editor L.A. Chung pointed out a useful trick. Los Altos city street signs are brown and Mountain View signs are blue. I figured out on my own that Palo Alto signs are white, but the Palo Alto trash cans are blue.
I still get lost on El Camino every now and then which is especially humiliating since I have this blog and all. Technology helps but I can’t always rely on it, so I’m learning that a little knowledge and good ol’ powers of observation go a long way. And if those fail me there’s always the last option of a desperate man: stopping to ask for directions.
I immediately checked it out and learned Patch.com is a slick, coordinated, AOL-owned network of hyperlocal news sites about communities across the country. Several are in California so I subscribed to all the Bay Area Patches for cities that lie on El Camino Real or have mission connections. I figured this would be an excellent way to catch news stories about the road. My current, growing list of Patches to follow is:
Back in November, as I was embarking on the the Shellmound Peace Walk through Milpitas, I contacted Adelaide in the spirit of networking and to my surprise got signed on as a freelance contributor. Since then she has given me the opportunity to write three articles for Patch—my first experience in journalism. It was a blast writing with a professional voice and (full disclosure) it was quite cool to be paid for those pieces.
Recently, however, she let me know that all Patches are adding a new feature: blogs. They are offering space for bloggers to write in their own voices about local topics they are passionate about. Patch bloggers don’t get paid, but they gain expanded exposure to a wider audience while retaining independence and ownership over the content. I knew right away this was a natural fit for me. Freedom!
I contacted the various Patch editors and so far the response has been quite positive. This is new for everyone so I’m still figuring out how it will work, but here’s the vision. AllCamino.com will continue to exist independently exactly as it does today; I’ll still do what I do. But if I write a post that might interest a particular Patch’s readers, I may cross-post to that Patch’s blog. Or I might write a standalone piece at Patch and just link to it here.
I’m taking baby steps now. I just published my first Patch blog at Los Altos Patch. The editor there, L.A. Chung, was the first to activate my Patch blog and she’s been very supportive and helpful so to her go the spoils. Click the link to read it:
By Bill Moore | May 10, 2011
El Camino Real is an important part of California history and Bay Area life. AllCamino.com is a blog that celebrates the past, present and future of The Royal Road.
It’s a fairly generic piece. My intention is to use it as an introduction on every Patch. See, I can do that. Freedom!
Do you like my profile photo there? It took me many takes and half an hour to get it right. It’s a trick-shot self-portrait and all I had as a guide was the little mirror on the back of my cameraphone. It was a lot harder than I expected and I got some funny looks from drivers whizzing by on El Camino. Can you locate that bell?
I think this Patch relationship will be a lot of fun. The symbolism is irresistable. AllCamino is the virtual link among the various Patches, just as El Camino Real is the concrete link that joins the real cities. These Patches are stitched together by a common thread that together make up the fabric of Northern California. Um, too much? Sorry about that.
I love the breathless tone of press releases—they’re invariably so thrilled!—and I always wanted to write one, so here we go:
Today AllCamino.com is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Patch.com. Blogger Bill Moore says, “This is the dawn of a new era of Bay Area hyperlocal storytelling. AllCamino and Patch create unique synergy and an enhanced value proposition for our combined readership along the El Camino Real information superhighway.” Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and recent addition to the AOL family, remarks, “We are thrilled to roll out one of the most exciting offshoots of our turbo-charged web presence. This week we launch a great new chapter for Patch.com.”
That’s a real quote from Arianna, by the way, just not about me specifically. A real journalist wouldn’t take a quote out of context like that, but hey I’m a blogger. Freedom!
The start of the Fall holiday season is definitely upon us. There are several events coming up to kick it off. Don’t forget to check out the El Camino Calendars page for a list of venues which always have a variety of activities going on.
PLANT 51 AUTUMN OPEN HOUSE
NOVEMBER 14 : 12-3pm
Join us for a special Autumn Open House and experience Plant 51′s vibrant and growing community for yourself. There’ll be seasonal food and refreshments, along with tours of our Building C collection of lofts and flats. This is a great time to buy. Rates are low and you can be all moved in by the holidays.
“Living Through Cancer, Living Through Life”
Saturday Nov. 13, 2010
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Mountain View Center
701 E. El Camino Real
Conference Rooms B&C
Mountain View, CA 94040
Keynote Speaker: Debra Jarvis, author of “It’s Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer”
“You’re Done with Treatment, Now What: A Survivor’s Panel” Facilitated by Joanna Losito, R.N., MSN, FNP-C, OCN, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation
San Mateo Harvest Festival® Original Art & Craft Show
November 12-14, 2010 at San Mateo Events Center Expo Hall
Shop over 200 booths of American handmade, original art, crafts, ceramic, jewelry, blown glass, pottery, specialty foods and 24,000 other items during this three day Festival. Enjoy all day stage entertainment at the large stage, comedy juggling at its best, along with stilt walkers, funny horsemen and the Mama Claus Duo. Peninsula Youth Ballet and several of our exhibitors will be doing special features on the small stage.
Avenue Art in San Mateo will be celebrating its one-year anniversary in November. Twenty-six local artists, spanning a variety of different genres — from paintings, sculpture, and glassware to fine photographs, jewelry, and other wearable art — are now displaying their creations for sale at the gallery at 60 E. Third Ave. An official celebration will take place 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Nov. 13. Everyone’s invited. http://www.avenueart.org/
Santa Arrives at the Great Mall
Santa will be taking requests at Great Mall on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.
Location: Entrance 2 Court
There’s nothing like the annual visit to Santa for creating family holiday memories that will last a lifetime. Bring the kids and their lists to Great Mall for one of the most magical and enduring holiday traditions.
On September 22, Metro, Silicon Valley’s weekly newspaper, put out their “Best of Silicon Valley” issue, 2010 edition. It contains the readers’ choices and editors’ picks of the best locations, goods, and services available in Santa Clara County and beyond. Of all the “Best of” lists out there, Metro’s is the one I’ve always valued the most partly because it always brings the wacky with unique categories like “Best Place to be a Scarecrow”and “Best Place to Buy an Accordian,” but mostly because it delivers. Some of my favorite joints in the South Bay proudly display coveted Metro “Best of” placards. They have weight with me, and they’ve earned my trust.
It’s no surprise Metro is so in tune with quality in the Valley. As it so happens this is their 25th annual list, a noteworthy milestone. They know what they’re doing and they do it well. You might even say too well: the sucker is pretty large. This year the printed list is 80 pages long. I scanned every page with glee but quickly realized what the problem was. They covered the entire Valley including, shockingly enough, businesses and locations that are not on El Camino Real. Yeah, I know, right? I understand their reasoning. Conceivably someone could find themselves on, say, San Carlos Street and they can’t easily get to El Camino and they desperately need to buy some sporty sunglasses. In such a scenario a two-dimensional “Best of” list could hypothetically be handy. All the same I took it upon myself to scour the list and extract for you the best of the “Best of,” the winners which are located on extended El Camino Real.
The list is below, presented not by category but in rough geographical order. Winners that are tagged with “#2″ or “#3″ came in second or third in the readers’ polling; otherwise they came in first or were simply awarded by the editors. This was a big copy-’n’-paste job so I apologize in advance for any errors I might have injected.
As I was putting this together I noticed that the list is heavily weighted towards Downtown San Jose. Then I remembered: Metro Silicon Valley is headquartered on El Camino, at 550 South First Street, in San Jose’s SoFA district. Now we know why the list is so good.
#3 Best Furniture Store
6881 Monterey Road, Gilroy
Tony Di Maggio’s Pizza
3852 Monterey Hwy., San Jose
#2 Best Motorcycle Shop
2897 Monterey Hwy., San Jose
#2 Best Alternative to Home Depot
1402 Monterey Hwy., San Jose
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
Best Art Gallery
560 S. First St., San Jose
San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles
#3 Best Art Museum
520 S. First St., San Jose
San Jose Stage Company
#2 Best Theater Company
490 S. First St., San Jose
Best Gallery for Weird Art #3 Best Art Gallery
451 S. First St., San Jose
I’ve been to WORKS three times in the past month, every two weeks, and each time the exhibit has been completely different. They turn this place over fast and frequently. I loved the most recent (OP)Space installation.
South First Billiards
Best Place to Play Pool
420 S. First St., San Jose
Miami Beach Club
#2 Best Latin/Salsa Club
417 S. First St., San Jose
#3 Best New Restaurant
399 S. First St., San Jose
This is high on my list of places to try, featuring lighter Southern fare.
Agenda’s Wednesday salsa night
#3 Best Latin/Salsa Club
399 S. First St., San Jose
#3 Best Big Dance Club
396 S. First St., San Jose
Cherri Lakey & Brian Eder
Best Cultural Guerillas
Anno Domini, 366 S. First St., San Jose
I was unaware until now that this pair deserves a lot of credit for the cool, creative vision which San Jose’s SoFA district has become recently.
#2 Best Gay or Lesbian Bar
349 S. First St., San Jose
Most Romantic Movie Watching Spot
345 S. First St., San Jose
Symphony Silicon Valley
Best Symphony/Classical Group
325 S. First St., San Jose, performances at the California Theatre
Best Moderately Priced Italian Food Best Late Night Eats Best Martinis
301 S. First St., San Jose
Four Points by Sheraton
#3 Best Boutique Hotel – San Jose/Los Gatos
211 S. First St., San Jose
Soula Power Yoga
Best Yoga Studio
200 S. First St. #70, San Jose
San Jose Taiko and the Bangerz
SoFA District, San Jose
So sad I missed this live. Check it out on YouTube.
Best Urban Uprising
Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose
Best Children’s Theater
271 S. Market St., San Jose, performances at Montgomery Theater
Best History/Specialty Museum
201 S. Market St., San Jose
Tech Museum Store
#3 Best Toy Store
201 S. Market St., San Jose
San Jose Museum of Art
Best Art Museum
110 S. Market St., San Jose
San Jose Museum of Art Museum Store
#2 Best Gift Store
110 S. Market St., San Jose
Dang, now my Christmas gift-buying secret is out!
McCormick and Schmick’s
#2 Best Seafood Restaurant #2 Best Happy Hour
170 S. Market St., San Jose
Best Hotel Best Luxury Hotel – San Jose/Los Gatos
170 S. Market St., San Jose
Fairmont Hotel Lobby Lounge
#3 Best Jazz/Blues Club #3 Best Hotel Bar
170 S. Market St., San Jose
The Grill on the Alley
#2 Best Martinis
172 S. Market St., San Jose
Music in the Park
Best Local Festival
Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose
A couple years ago I took my son to Music in the Park to see his first live rock band, Smash Mouth. He’ll always cherish that night.
San Jose Jazz Festival
#2 Best Local Festival
Various venues, downtown San Jose
Best Official South Bay Cultural Treasure
Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival artistic director
I include her as an El Caminoan because the 2010 San Jose Mariachi Festival culminated at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, which I also count as El Camino. It’s a long story.
Bill’s Beer Steamed Hot Dogs
Best Bacon Hot Dogs
Market and Santa Clara streets, San Jose
Hammer & Lewis Fashions
Best Name for a Downtown Store
19 S. First St., San Jose
It’s a San Jose thing. You wouldn’t understand.
Best Vegetarian Overall #3 Best Asian Vegetarian
37 S. First St., San Jose
E&O Trading Company
Best Asian Fusion #2 Best Malaysian Restaurant
96 S. First St., San Jose
#2 Best Hair Salon – San Jose/Sunnyvale/Los Gatos
2 N. Market St. #100, San Jose
Best Deli/Sandwich Shop
2 North Market St., Suite 105, San Jose
717 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
1350 Grant Rd., Mountain View
Ballet San Jose
Best Dance Company
40 N. First St., San Jose
#3 Best Tapas/Small Plates
62 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
San Pedro Square Farmers Market
Best Farmers Market
San Pedro and Santa Clara streets, San Jose. Fridays, 10am-2pm
Best Irish Pub
25 N. San Pedro St., San Jose
#3 Best Local Burger Place
29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose
Best New Restaurant Best Dining Value Best Family Restaurant
31 N. Market St., San Jose
I’m not sure how this counts as new, but I don’t argue the other awards. Apparently they dropped the “Coop” from the name.
Satori Tea Company
Best Place for a Destroyed Nervous System
37 N. San Pedro St., San Jose
Britannia Arms, San Jose
Best British Pub #2 Best Sports Bar #2 Best Pre-Sharks Game Spot #2 Best Restaurant Patio #3 Best Happy Hour
173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
Metro readers really really like this place. Can you believe I’ve never been there?
Hotel De Anza
#3 Best Luxury Hotel – San Jose/Los Gatos
233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
Hedley Club Lounge (Hotel De Anza)
#2 Best Hotel Bar
233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
Best Chocolate Shop
840 The Alameda, San Jose
A surprise win, but well-deserved. It’s special to me because I stopped by Schurra’s for an ice cream cone the day I created this blog. Sadly Bill Mundy, former owner of Schurra’s and father of the current owner, passed away last month, another sad loss to The Alameda.
#3 Best Gay or Lesbian Bar
1010 The Alameda, San Jose
Recently I walked by this place, heard water running, and wondered what it was. Now I know.
Best Boutique-Gallery Crossover
1020 The Alameda, San Jose
The now classic “I heart SJ” tee shirts made them a lock for this prize. Congratulations to Mari and Mike, friends of AllCamino!
#2 Best Local Independent Bookstore
1066 The Alameda, San Jose
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
Best Local Winery
1000 Lenzen Ave., San Jose
Also a great place to throw a party. We held my wife’s birthday party there a few years ago and it was a hit.
Tee Nee Thai
Best Thai Restaurant Beer and Wine List
1423 The Alameda, San Jose
Near and dear to me, the subject of my very first blog post.
#3 Best Organization Making a Difference
1691 The Alameda, San Jose
#2 Best Health Club
1717 The Alameda, San Jose
#2 Best College/Independent Radio Station 500 El Camino Real, #3207, Santa Clara
The Off Ramp
Best Bicycle Shop
2369 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
2320 El Camino Real, Mountain View
Funny how similar the two addresses are, but they’re nine miles apart. That’s El Camino!
Best Furniture Store
2645 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
Santa Clara Ballet
#3 Best Dance Company
3086 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
Best Alternative to Home Depot
3615 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
777 Sunnyvale Saratoga Road, Sunnyvale
Best Seafood Restaurant
3775 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
Last year around this time I wrote about how the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival signifies the end of summer for me. We didn’t attend last year, but we did go this year on Saturday, September 11, 2010. This of course was the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001. To commemorate it the festival sponsor, Chamber of Commerce Mountain View, held a special Remembrance Ceremony to honor the heroes of September 11 and of the wars that followed.
We arrived a few minutes before 11:00 AM Saturday. We usually park for free in the garage at Villa (if we get there early enough) or on the street, but this year we patronized one of the convenient paid parking lots. It was adjacent to the festival and proceeds benefited Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC). The Remembrance Ceremony began with a single-file procession down Castro Street from Evelyn down to the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts. It was a solemn march of men and women in uniform. At the front were boy scouts carrying their troop banner and a United States flag. They were followed by Mountain View fire fighters and police officers. After them were soldiers from various branches of the military, predominately Army. A policeman on motorcycle brought up the rear. As they passed, festival goers and vendors stood aside and applauded. Some of the soldiers handed out mini flags to children in the crowd.
At the Center for Performing Arts the procession assembled, stood at attention, and saluted as the flag was raised and two talented teens sang the National Anthem a cappella. Air Force Lt. Col. Sanchez addressed the crowd with a moving reminder of the sacrifices the armed services have made since 9/11. He was followed by Mountain View Fire Chief Bradley Wardle who spoke of the terror and bravery of that day. The colors were retired and the ceremony was over. It was brief but inspiring and many attendees took the opportunity personally to shake the hands of our local heroes and to thank them for their selfless service. Watch KPIX’ coverage of the event here. View my slide show below.
It was by then lunchtime so we diffused into the side streets and loaded up with savory delectables. With us was Paulette’s friend Melanie who was visiting us from out of town for the weekend. Among us we had a Thai wrap, jumbo chicken wings (sweet and spicy), pizza, and lemonade. For dessert we found something new: pot holes. They’re fried mini donuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and dipped in chocolate sauce. ‘Sbeen done, you say. Yeah, I retort, but these are made out of potato. “Pot holes,” get it? Apparently they’re not new to the planet but that was the first time I ever heard of or tasted them. I thought they were great. They tasted like donuts, but there was a distinct tater undertone, like a sweetened french fry. The irony is that my son loves the donut fries at Psycho Donuts: donut batter formed like french fries and served in a basket with raspberry “ketchup” and custard “mayo.” French fries shaped like donuts! Donuts shaped like french fries! Stop the madness!
The women went off in search of a jewelry booth that had been recommended by a friend. My son and I ambled Castro at our own less urgent pace from end to end, El Camino Real to Evelyn. Naturally we lingered at the El Camino intersection which I mentally named “Issue Ghetto” because of the political and spiritual free speech tables located there. I took some photos of the historic bell marker in Mountain View Plaza and noted that the nearby flag was flying at half-staff. I stopped at the California Welcome Centers‘ showpiece Airstream and asked them about the Welcome Center sign I had seen in San Mateo on my bus trip the week before. They told me there is in fact a brand new center in the Hillsdale Shopping center to cover the long un-welcomed stretch between San Francisco and Pismo Beach.
The oddest thing I saw was the nyckelharpa, a 600-year-old Swedish musical instrument that’s bowed like a fiddle but keyed with the left hand with a row of buttons, one key per note. It had a beautiful tone and Aryeh Frankfurter played Celtic tunes on it masterfully. The main music stage was at the Center for Performing Arts and we overheard a cover band knocking out some Michael Jackson tunes. Street musicians were scattered throughout the festival so you always had something in your ear. At one point we were sitting in a spot where we could simultaneously hear an R&B backbeat from one busker and some new age flute from another and you know, the resulting mashup was surprisingly groovy.
The festival had a green lean to it. The garbage cans weren’t labeled “garbage,” they said “landfill” instead to encourage you to use the accompanying “compost” and “recycle” bins. Towards the Evelyn end Whole Foods was handing out tasty goodies like bite-sized Lara Bars and Casacadian Farms samples. Cherry pie. Chocolate Chip Brownie. It’s a tough job saving the planet, but somebody’s gotta do it.
With the perfect 81° weather, eye-catching art, and sensory delights taken to near hedonistic excess it was easy for my mind to wander away from the somber anniversary. It pains me to say that; I never want to forget the losses and shining humanity of that day. But it was only nine years ago. This was the 39th annual festival. Mountain View was incorporated in 1902 and the roots of the town trace back to the stage coach stop established in 1852 on El Camino Real on the Rancho Pastoría de las Borregas, originally granted by the Mexican government in 1842. This festival demonstrates to the fullest what no terrorist can undo: when people of good will come together, love and life endure.
Last November I took a bus ride up El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco and blogged my impressions and observations. To avoid giving myself whiplash, that day I only looked out the right side of the bus at the eastern side of the street and doggedly ignored the left side so the job was only half done. Last Friday, September 3, 2010, I completed the task, taking the reverse bus trip from San Francisco down to San Jose, observing the west side. Back in November I scribbled all my notes on the bus by hand in a notebook and ended up taking four months to type them all up. It’s not that I’m a slow typist, it’s just that the scope of the project was much larger than I anticipated. For the second trip I found a more efficient way: I live-tweeted my journey.
If you’re unfamiliar with tweeting, it means I used my cell phone on the road to type and send text messages to the Twitter service. Twitter messages, or “tweets,” are limited to 140 characters each so it enforces brevity. A great advantage is that every message was timestamped and geocoded by GPS so I have a complete record of what I saw, when I saw it, and where I was. I tried to live in the moment and just write what was on my mind which means whatever happened to catch my eye out the bus window. I know it’s a pretty pedestrian read (irony intended) but I hope I conveyed a sense of El Camino’s diverse profile.
Below are my 167 tweets from that day from my brand new @allcamino twitter account. It took some effort to extract them all from Twitter’s web site. There are web apps that do this but they didn’t work for me because they rely on Twitter’s search engine which failed me, returning only six tweets (?!). I wrote a Perl script to convert their HTML to the format I wanted for the blog. To improve the readability I put each time stamp and location stamp against the right margin above each tweet. You can click the location links to open a Google map. My live-tweeting strategy worked great. Last year it took me four months to finish the writeup. Here I’ve done it in less than four days.
I cleaned the text up, fixing obvious two-left-thumb typos and grammar issues, but the content is largely raw and uncut. I’ve put a few editor notes in [square] brackets and added hyperlinks for your reference. I’ve written broader post-trip comments in between tweets in italics. You’ll see a bunch of the photos I took, many from the windows of the buses. Please excuse their quality. (more…)
The Hill magazine has named Congresswoman Anna Eshoo one of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill for 2010. The California Democrat and Atherton resident represents the 14th Congressional District on the Peninsula which covers a stretch of El Camino Real from Sunnyvale to Belmont, mysteriously omitting San Carlos (District 12). District maps…go figure. At 67 she is the oldest hottie on the list. She beat out her fellow Bay Area El Camino representatives Jerry McNerney (D-CA11), Michael Honda (D-CA15), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA16), and Jackie Speier (D-CA12).
The magazine write-up notes her “Sophia Loren-esque” look and how she enjoys soul-restoring walks along the Pacific Coast. She’d better enjoy it; she represents the entire coastline between (not including) Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz! I’m a little disappointed she didn’t mention the romantic car washes or Nachos Bellgrande to be had along El Camino, but I assume it’s because she wants to keep them our little secret, California’s last unspoiled wonder.
Friday night, April 16, 2010 San Jose Bike Party hit the El Camino Real, bringing their two-wheeled high jinks to Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Stanford. Bike Party is a volunteer group that organizes monthly bike rides through the streets of the South Bay, attracting hundreds of riders. In contrast to the edgier and more confrontational Critical Mass, Bike Party seems to be a more festive and light-hearted event, but still a serious ride. Friday’s route was 27.57 miles long.
I first heard of Bike Party last year when they rode past my house in the middle of the night. I was asleep in bed when I was awakened by a couple neighborhood dogs barking their heads off. I could hear voices and strange mechanical noises coming from outside in the street. That’s not so unusual; it’s a busy street and occasionally we’ll have boisterous pedestrians or vehicles going by. But this time the noises didn’t stop and the dogs kept on barking so I went to the window to see what was going on and slipped into the Twilight Zone. There were bicycles rolling down the street. Wave after wave of bicycles. Dozens of them. There were mountain bikes, road bikes, stunt bikes and beaters, riders in costumes, hipster types, and nerds in reflective vests. I thought I was dreaming. I went outside in my pajamas and found a couple teens from the neighborhood already standing on the curb, watching the spectacle. They’re the ones who told me it was Bike Party, being much hipper than I.
When I learned Bike Party’s route this Friday included a big chunk of El Camino, of course I wanted to go see the fun and maybe take some pictures. However we went to the anniversary celebration at Calvin’s and I stayed too late enjoying the festivities so by the time I got up to Palo Alto the ride was pretty much over. I saw a few isolated stragglers but hardly enough to constitute a party. I stopped to chat with two riders fixing a flat tire who told me they estimated there were a thousand riders out. I asked how the ride on El Camino was and they replied, “too many cars.” Fair enough.
I reflected on how tragically unhip I am. I drove my car to try to get a look at a celebration of bikes, and missed the whole thing. Ironic and sad. I drove over to the ride’s end at Sunnyvale Town Center and strolled up and down South Murphy Avenue to see if I could spot any riders enjoying a post-ride beverage at the many nighttime watering holes there, but all I saw was this well-populated rack. As it so happened several bars had the Sharks’ hockey playoff game against the Colorado Avalanche at HP Pavilion on their TVs, and as I was walking back to my car I heard the whole street erupt in cheers as Devin Setoguchi scored the game-winning goal in overtime to even the series 1-1, thrilling the home crowd. Friday night on El Camino the good times just rolled.
Whereas the 66 was a calm low-key ride, the 522 was a grittier urban experience. It was nearly full so I was lucky to find a seat near the back like I wanted, but it was on the driver’s side. I had wanted to sit on the passenger side so I could observe the east side of El Camino as we traveled north. I was going to be hard-core about this, ignoring everything on the left (west) side of the street, only looking at the right (east) side. I would catch the west side on the return trip. Great plan, right? For it to work I needed to be on the right side of the bus so I resolved to bide my time and switch seats as soon as one became available. Fortunately the view out the passenger-side windows was not too bad from across the aisle.
If you’ve ever seen the 522 bus you know how distinctive it is with the snazzy bright blue and red wrap covering the entire exterior, including the windows. Let me say that again…including the windows. It looks cool from the outside but from the inside looking out the view is horribly obscured by zillions of halftone screen dots. The world outside is low resolution, making it hard to see details and read street signs—a poor choice for sightseeing. It was bad enough from the driver side but once I got my coveted window seat it was even worse because the dots were right in my face. I thought about opening a window but I didn’t want the chill and I suspect my fellow passengers wouldn’t have been too happy about it either. So I squinted and craned and made the best of it but it was far from ideal.
There was another problem with the 522: speed. A few seconds after I boarded the driver took off, literally leaving behind an old lady who was shuffling up the street, flagging him down. Passengers shouted for the driver to wait but he shouted back that he was late and that there were many 522s behind him. He’s right; the 522 runs every 15 minutes so I’m sure the little old lady was fine. But that was the start of a ride that can best be described as breakneck. The 522 hauls you-know-what up El Camino, pedal-to-the-metal from stop to stop. I have since learned that they even have sensors which cause traffic signals to change, like for emergency vehicles. All this efficiency is awesome for commuters but for a sightseer like me, not so much. I’m glad to have experienced it, but honestly the pixelated view of El Camino whizzing by the 522 at top speed wasn’t what I wanted. In retrospect I should have taken the VTA 22: same route, but a more relaxed schedule and clear windows. Next time.
Time : 12:40 PM
Place: Downtown San Jose
Route: VTA 522 Westbound
Fare: $0.00 w/day pass
I had my notebook out to write down things of interest. There was no way to capture everything on El Camino so I only jotted when something struck me. You would think a big old bus would be a pretty smooth ride but it turns out there’s a lot of motion which makes it difficult to write, so I tried my best. (My handwriting is not the most legible, even under ideal conditions.) I definitely wanted to be sure to record all the Historic El Camino Real bells I passed along the way. The first one was downtown San Jose near where Santa Clara Street crosses over the Guadalupe River. A little further up near HP Pavilion I could see the tents and tables in preparation for the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot the following day. The road was going to be closed on Thanksgiving Day so it’s lucky I didn’t get caught up in that. (Years ago I was not so lucky. I set out on a similar excursion to drive State Route 84 from end-to-end, Livermore to the Pacific Ocean, but after 70 miles in San Gregorio the road was closed so I never made it. D’oh!)
The bus continued onto The Alameda. I made a note of Downtown College Preparatory, the first high school we passed. Somehow I missed recording the El Camino bell there, but I did note the one a mere two blocks away at Singletary. These two bells are oddly close together.
Near the Santa Clara city limit I saw a gas station and decided to count all the gas stations we passed. There’s another bell near Santa Clara University‘s Loyola Hall. That’s where we left The Alameda and where El Camino Real in name begins. I made a note of the Roxio building because as a well-known CD and DVD burning software company they stand out as one of the few household-name high tech companies conspicuous on El Camino. This road is the backbone of Silicon Valley but for some reason the tech companies have shunned it. I saw a sign for Alviso St. which was puzzling until later I checked some maps that show that Alviso St., The Alameda, and El Camino Real all confusingly combine at Mission Santa Clara and shoot out Lafayette St. which in the 1800s was the main road from the mission to the all-important port city of Alviso.
As we passed under De La Cruz Avenue El Camino took on the commercial strip character that defines so much of its length through Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties: strip malls, parking lots, driveways, and low-slung cookie-cutter architecture. I decided to start tallying fast food chain stores, notching a Jack in the Box, KFC, and a Burger King before we got to the El Camino bell at the Santa Clara Civic Center. At Bowers we crossed over some water which I learned is Saratoga Creek. At some point we passed into Sunnyvale.
I say “at some point” because it turned out to be surprisingly difficult to tell where one city ends and the next begins. Sometimes there are posted signs but they are easy to miss through pixelated bus windows. I tried to keep track of city boundaries in my notes but mostly they were just guesstimates. I wrote down that the Lucky grocery store and a Blockbuster Video just past Lawrence Expressway were in Sunnyvale (deciding to count those as well as fast food joints and gas stations), but they’re actually in Santa Clara. Who knew?
Speaking of Blockbuster, that one was closing, and it was the second closing store I had seen so far. They were hard to miss as they each had a person standing outside waving bright “Store Closing” signs and the stores carried similar banners. This was the scoop of the day as I hadn’t realized this was happening. I thought maybe the whole company had gone out of business but it wasn’t quite that bad; still it was a major reduction. This shook me as we’ve recently had not one but two neighborhood Hollywood Video stores close on us. Evidently Blockbuster is faring no better in the face of withering entertainment competition from Netflix, digital television, and the internet. I paused to reflect how I had watched the videotape and DVD rental business grow from its earliest humble beginnings to being the go-to weekend entertainment option to being on life support in a couple short decades. We’re witnessing the end of an era.
On into Sunnyvale I tallied a Carl’s Jr., a Kragen auto parts store, Safeway, Subway, Togo’s, and my first of many Taco Bells. I smiled as I recalled many good times at Golfland. I noticed that at some point the name of the road had changed to “E. El Camino Real” which reminded me of a paradox I had noticed about El Camino years ago: that somehow a single monotonic contiguous road has North, South, East, and West variants. I resolved to confirm this conundrum, and confirm it I did.
It’s been years since I’ve been to Rooster T. Feathers comedy club but what always struck me was the long list of rules and regulations they have telling you what you can and can not do. My friend Dan told me an amazing story that it used to be called Andy Capps and is where Nolan Bushnell of Atari installed the first PONG coin-operated video game prototype, and hence could be considered the birthplace of the commercial video game industry.
I noted the newly opened Sunnyvale Art Gallery and made a plan to visit soon. (I have. More later.) It was coincidental to pass the elegant Grand Hotel because I had just recently watched for the first time the famous 1932 film of the same name featuring Greta “I Vant to Be Alone” Garbo and a star-studded cast. As we were nearing the end of Sunnyvale I realized I hadn’t spotted any bells yet in the city. Just then, we passed one at Mary. I observed a closed car dealership near Bernardo and my first McDonalds, then we were in Mountain View.
My first note was the Hotel Avante, followed shortly by the El Camino bell at State Route 85. We crossed over Stevens Creek and the Stevens Creek trail then passed Hotel Zico. There’s a tourism ad for Mountain View somewhere in there: “Need a place to stay? We have Hotels from Avante to Zico.” I spied a historical marker in front of BMW of Mountain View commemorating the “Site of Old Mountain View.” Nearby was a De Anza Trail marker at State Route 237. I imagine this crossroads was historically very significant since the road to Alviso and Milpitas was a crucial link to rest of the Bay Area before the railroads and bridges were built.
More Mountain View highlights include Amber Café, Indian Bits ‘n’ Bites and El Camino bells at Castro and at Rengstorff. By the way in these parts the road is called “W. El Camino Real.”At the San Antonio Transit Center I spotted my second The Offramp bicycle shop and the extensive Avalon Towers apartment complex. It’s always heartening to see high density housing near transit hubs and El Camino has its share. I noticed a pole-top wi-fi antenna, courtesy of Google, and a couple 24 Hour Fitnesses (48 Hour Fitness?) oddly co-located at the San Antonio Shopping Center. So long, Mountain View; hello Palo Alto.
Palo Alto Bowl made me wistful since it’s about to close after 55 years, to be replaced by a mixed-use hotel and townhouse complex. A little further up at Charleston there’s a brand new single-family housing development, Redwood Gate. I bagged a bell at Page Mill, nodded to the eminently strollable California Street, and wondered about the Ananda Church of Self-Realization at Stanford Avenue. Hits came hot-n-heavy: Palo Alto High School, a bell at Embarcadero, the now-booming Town & Country Village, and Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Shortly we turned off of El Camino into the Palo Alto Caltrain station, end of the line for the 522. It was 1:40 PM, exactly one hour after I boarded. We piled off the bus and I looked for my next connection.
I love summer street festivals: the live music, the artists and vendors, the people-watching. What I love most is the food. For me summer isn’t summer until I’ve had my chicken-on-a-stick, kettle korn, and frozen lemonade.
But Labor Day has come and gone, the kids are back in school, and the summer festival season seems just about over. So might as well send it off with a bang: the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival is this weekend. It seems always to be the last festival of the season, but it’s always grand even if it does leave me a little wistful.
Head on over if you missed your chance to swing dance in a normally-busy intersection. While I’m sad to see the summer end, it’s time to look forward to the indoor fall festivals. Fudge Lady, save a slab for me!