Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave you hanging. As I completed my reverse bus trip down El Camino Real earlier this month I tallied many chain stores like fast food restaurants and grocery stores as well as other categories like gas stations and bike shops. I also kept track of every El Camino Real bell. I tallied everything on the southbound trip, but I didn’t count them until now. Here are the totals for both the southbound trip and the northbound trip last November. I got some nice results.
East Bay East
|El Camino Bell||1||25||18||43|
|Jack in the Box||0||7||3||10|
|The Off Ramp||0||2||0||2|
* Under-counted due to inconsistent counting between trips
On every leg of the trip I only looked out the windows on the right side of the bus so I only saw one side of the road. The East Bay East column counts the businesses I passed heading north from San Jose to the Fremont BART station. It’s a short trip so the counts are low. I only made the trip in one direction so I only counted the east side of the road; I don’t have counts for the west side of the road at this time. The Peninsula East and West columns are for the long rides between San Jose and San Francisco. On the northbound trip I looked at the east side of the road, and southbound I looked west. The Peninsula Totals column is just that and does not include the East Bay counts. The main anomalies are bicycle shops and Midases because I didn’t count them consistently between the two trips so I know they are underrepresented in my table.
I’m delighted to see that bells are pretty much at the top of the list, outnumbered only by conglomerated gas stations regardless of brand. The original vision of the bell marker project in 1906 was to place them one mile apart on El Camino Real. It’s a 50-mile trip from San Jose to San Francisco and I counted 43 bells. There’s room for plenty more since I only saw one bell in San Francisco. It’s amazing how faithful Caltrans and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs have been to that original vision.
In the food department I’m surprised to see Subway at the top of the list with 13 stores though I shouldn’t be since they really do seem to be everywhere. I remarked on the northbound trip how there were 7 Taco Bells but only 1 McDonald’s. The southbound trip equalized the disparity with 4 Taco Bells but a whopping 9 McDonald’ses. Taco Bell still edges out McDonald’s with a total of 11 to 10, but that’s within the margin of error. The weird thing is how Taco Bell dominates the east side and McDonald’s dominates the west. The bell and the arch; the perfect symbols for the modern mission road.
My picks for which businesses to count were arbitrary. I don’t know why I didn’t count Starbucks; I regret the omission. On the southbound trip I wished I had been counting Walgreens and CVS drugstores because I saw a lot of them. Another unusually frequent chain was Holiday Inn Express. I think I saw half a dozen on the southbound trip alone. Car washes, car dealerships, hotels, and banks would also have been interesting to count.
The purpose of this is to embrace the vast stretches of El Camino which are zoned as commercial strip and celebrate the beauty in their homogeneity. They are home to pretty much every national and regional brand I can think of. Even so all these chain stores combined are a drop in the bucket. El Camino as I saw it is made up primarily of small businesses of every description from mom & pop dry cleaners to favorite local chain eateries. There are also homes, schools, municipal buildings, and open space. I can try to reduce this Royal Road to simple numbers, but the whole will always be greater than a count of its parts.