Archive for the ‘Santa Clara’ Category

Diss Landon, My Landon?

Saturday, August 21st, 2010


The San Jose Earthquakes are hosting the L.A. Galaxy today at Buck Shaw Stadium on El Camino Real in Santa Clara. With the Galaxy come Landon Donovan and the Earthquakes have been hyping that fact to promote the match. It worked; the game is sold out. I had considered going to the game today but the scheduling didn’t work out. I was going to take my son for the fun of seeing Donovan, the hero of Team U.S.A. soccer, but I have since learned it isn’t that simple. Real Earthquakes fans, I’m learning, hate his guts.

Donovan started his MLS career at San Jose and was wildly successful, leading the club to championships in 2001 and 2003. The local fans loved him and were hugely supportive. Then in 2005 he was acquired by archrivals the L.A. Galaxy.  Many in San Jose saw it as betrayal and have not forgiven him, though it wasn’t entirely his doing.

In parallel however Donovan has become nationally popular playing for Team U.S.A. in international football matches. He wore the red, white, and blue in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and in the 2002, 2006, and most recently 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. He will forever be remembered for his late goal on June 23, 2010 which lifted the U.S.A. over Algeria, earning us the top spot in the group and advancing us to the knockout round. My son and I watched that match that morning and when Donovan scored we lost our freaking minds, jumping around, embracing, hollering with elation.

National hero, local villain. What’s a fan to do? The San Jose Mercury News interviewed some Earthquakes superfans and it’s clear where they stand:

“When he puts on the U.S. national team shirt he’s Landon Donovan, Team USA,” said Alex Davidson, leader of the Quakes fan club the Casbah. “As soon as he takes that shirt off he’s the guy who betrayed us.”

San Jose’s Brando Erazo, a member of the 1906 Ultras fan group, is even less poetic: “I still hate him. Nothing will ever change it. I don’t care if he ever comes back here.”

CIMG0034Perhaps it’s good we aren’t going today. I can’t call myself a loyal Earthquakes fan or a huge soccer fan. I’ve only been to one Earthquakes game and I only pay attention to international soccer every four years when the World Cup rolls around. I hate to think what would have happened if I had brought my son to Buck Shaw today and we blithely cheered Donovan as he took the field. At the one game we went to, the final home game last season against the New York Red Bulls, I was surprised and impressed by the vigor and volume of the San Jose fans with their non-stop songs, noisemakers, and loving support. They are fantastic.  San Jose isn’t known for hooliganism, but I’d hate to go down in history as the guy who sparked it.

MLS Soccer

San Jose Earthquakes v Los Angeles Galaxy
Aug 21 – Saturday, 1:00PM
Buck Shaw Stadium
500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara 95050

Bike Party Loves El Camino

Friday, August 20th, 2010


San Jose Bike Party is tonight and once again they are taking it to The Street, El Camino Real. To finish out the route the riders will be hopping on El Camino in Santa Clara at Los Padres Blvd and following it all the way down through The Alameda into downtown San Jose, ending at City Hall. The theme Hot August Lights is a play on Reno’s Hot August Nights so there will be bikes tricked out in their finest regalia and sporting plenty of lights (a sly way to promote bike safety). If that’s not El Camino love, I don’t know what is.

Indeed the ride starts tonight at San Jose City Hall, located at East Santa Clara Street and South Fourth. The food trucks will be there in force to send them off fully fueled: MoGo BBQ, QuickDog, Kalbi BBQ, and The Louisiana Territory. Treatbot would be there but sadly they’re having vehicle trouble. One commenter on Facebook quipped they should find some bicycles to tow the truck; there will be no shortage of pedal power tonight!

In addition there will be something special at the kick-off (roll-off?): a performance by Japanese drum troupe San Jose Taiko. They are promoting their Rhythm Spirit 2010 Concert, coming September 10-11 to the Campbell Heritage Theatre. Ei ja nai ka!

Bike Party. For those about to roll, we salute you!

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.

A Pilgrim’s Odyssey, or There and Back Again, Part 2

Saturday, March 13th, 2010


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
Total: $6.00

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.

Next installment…The Undiscovered County.

Santa Clara Law Center Receives Grant to Combat Human Trafficking

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

SBCEHTA Santa Clara University legal center has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help victims of human trafficking in the South Bay. The illegal exploitation of immigrant women, children, and men for coerced sex and labor persists as a form of modern slavery. This money will be used to enhance the legal and social services available to victims of this crime.

The grant goes to the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center (KGACLC) at the Santa Clara University School of Law. (The office of the KGACLC is located near the university on The Alameda in San Jose.) The center, which performs pro bono legal services primarily for poor minorities and immigrants, is a member of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. The coalition includes 34 agencies and organizations and provides services such as hotlines, housing, legal advocacy, children’s programs, and community outreach.

Reading this story made me think of the plight of Native Americans at the California missions two hundred years ago. Their experience was complex but at its worst there are notable parallels with modern human trafficking. The Native Americans were separated from their families and communities, forced to live and work at the missions, and were abused physically, psychologically, and spiritually by the Spanish. It’s fitting then that Santa Clara University, home of Mission Santa Clara de Asís off El Camino Real, is involved in the effort against trafficking today. It’s too late for the victims of the past, but the mission’s geographical descendants are doing good and laudable work for the victims of the present.

[Source: San Jose Mercury News]

El Camino International Airport

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving which means that today, Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving is (cue graphics) “The Busiest Travel Day of the Year.” This is the day that many Americans hop on a plane, train, or highway to visit loved ones for the holiday or enjoy a long weekend getaway. A favorite tradition in our household is to watch the Wednesday morning television news broadcast because they invariably send a reporter to an area airport to cover this annual non-story. Usually they send the most junior reporter in what I’m sure is a rite of passage. Occasionally I think more seasoned reporters volunteer for the assignment and show up with their bags packed so they can hop on a plane as soon as the broadcast is done. It’s a free ride to the airport!

CIMG0005Our closest airport is Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC). We generally don’t fly for Thanksgiving but last month we did get a chance to fly out of the brand new Terminal B Concourse. It started out a little rough because the terminal is a work-in-progress. Check-in and security is still at Terminal A after which we had a hike-and-a-half to get to the Southwest gates at Terminal B. But once we got there I was absolutely delighted. The sweeping ceiling is breathtaking and the curved surfaces and high-key color palette are magical. There are touches which the tech-savvy Silicon Valley traveler will appreciate such as free Wi-Fi and my favorite: cushy Captain Kirk chairs with built-in AC and USB power outlets. A Geek Dad like me could live in a chair like that.


CIMG0010What really put a smile on my face is the concessions in the new terminal. They invited well-known local businesses to operate or at least lend their name to the shops and restaurants so the terminal is a reflection of the region. The restaurants are the San Jose Sharks Cage Sports Bar & Grill, the Britannia Arms British Pub better known as The Brit, and Le Boulanger selling fresh baked breads and sandwiches. The news stand is named for Sunset magazine, longtime champion of the Western lifestyle. For unique snacks and gifts, you can stop by the stylized corrugated fruit stand of Sunnyvale’s own C.J. Olson Cherries. They sell fresh fruit as well as a carry-on-friendly selection of dried fruits and nuts. That’s dried fruits and nuts dipped in chocolate. I couldn’t resist picking up a bag of their mixed pastels.

CIMG0013As our flight was early in the morning I opted for breakfast at the Sharks Cage. I sat at the bar and immediately laughed out loud when I saw how the top was cleverly crafted to look like ice. Do the bussers carry little tiny Zambonis? I ordered the Hat Trick: eggs (I substituted fruit), applewood-smoked bacon, and home-style potatoes served with three slices of sourdough toast. I’ve had my share of airport breakfasts, but this one was the best as the ingredients were all very high quality. He shoots…he scores! Hooooooooooooooooooooonk!

This new terminal is part of an ongoing airport redesign which will result in the removal of the nostalgic but horribly outdated Terminal C. The entire project—the renovation of Terminal A, construction of Terminal B, and destruction of Terminal C—will cost $1.8 billion and is scheduled to be complete in Fall 2010.

You may be wondering why a blog about El Camino Real, a city street, is covering an airport. This is not a stretch at all. First of all San Jose Airport is really very close to El Camino; the airport’s western boundary, the long-term parking lot, is only a half mile from the Santa Clara Caltrain station on El Camino. Technically it’s walking distance, though it’s pedestrian-unfriendly as you need to cross the Union Pacific and Caltrain train tracks which are very dangerous. Don’t do it, there’s a free shuttle.

CIMG0224Second, there’s an interesting historical connection between the San Jose Airport and the Santa Clara Mission, the crucial link in the El Camino Real mission chain: the Mission’s first and second sites were both located adjacent to the airport starting in 1777. The first was on the northern bank of the Guadalupe river near the current-day Trimble exit off U.S. 101. It flooded so they relocated to the second site, 1000 yards south to the current intersection of De La Cruz Blvd and Martin Avenue. Memorial Cross Park marks the site today with adobe and a cross, just over the fence from the airport employee parking lot. This site also flooded—the mighty Guadalupe was a force to be reckoned with—so eventually the soggy padres moved a “musket-shot” away to its final location at present-day Santa Clara University.

Third, the astute will note that several of the concessions in the airport’s Terminal B represent businesses on El Camino. C.J. Olson’s of course is on El Camino in Sunnyvale, and the HP Pavilion where the Sharks skate and the Brit’s downtown location are both on Santa Clara Street, El Camino’s historic stretch though the San Jose Pueblo. Le Boulanger is not found directly on El Camino but there are stores just a block or two away. The exception is Sunset magazine which is on Willow Road in Menlo Park; let’s just say it proves the rule. In a sense San Jose Airport’s new Terminal carries the essence of El Camino within it.

The fourth connection is thematic. El Camino represents the south-north transportation corridor that traverses the state. The corridor started as a footpath, then evolved to incorporate a stagecoach route, railway line, a highway, a freeway, and finally air travel. Looked at this way both San Jose and San Francisco Airports are in the corridor as well as Moffett Field, Palo Alto Airport, and San Carlos Airport, home of Hiller Aviation Museum.

So this Thanksgiving, thousands of travelers will make their way to their merry destinations along the El Camino corridor. They may depart from its airports or ride its railway tracks or jam its freeway, U.S. 101. If you join them, heed the common wisdom I learn every year from the Wednesday morning news stories: call ahead or check online for travel conditions, leave early, buckle up (there’s a CHP crackdown [PDF] this year), and be patient. Our family will be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house a stroll away from El Camino Real in San Mateo. Whatever you do, wherever you go, we wish you a wonderful and safe holiday!

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