Archive for the ‘Sunnyvale’ Category

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!

Sunnyvale Art Gallery

Monday, August 16th, 2010

My wife was lucky enough to win tickets to the San Jose Jazz Festival this past weekend and I’m smart enough to be married to her in a community property state, so on Saturday the family headed downtown to enjoy some sunshine and great music. I could go on and on about our new favorite thing, chimney bread, or the delicious Creole food we ate, or my spectacular mudd pie brownie sundae, or Paulette’s authentic East Coast Italian ice.  You’d have to physically shut me up if I started to describe Maceo Parker‘s funkdified set, or Marcus Miller‘s transcendent recreation of Miles Davis classics. But I’m not here to tell you about that. I’m here to tell you about the Sunnyvale Art Gallery.

While we were at the Jazz Festival, the Sunnyvale Art Gallery was holding the “Trash to Treasure” event I plugged on Friday. I really wanted to check it out so we left San Jose and hightailed it up to their location on El Camino in Sunnyvale, across the street from the Cherry Orchard. We caught the very end of it. Sadly we missed the live music, but it’s not like we were starving for tunes that day. Three painters were still hard at work on their masterpieces so I had a chance to chat with them.


CIMG1446Oscar’s a computer scientist who’s currently studying art. His piece depicts a child begging on the streets of his native Mexico City. I told him, a little embarrassed, that my first impression was of a soccer player because the stark white shirt reminded me of a jersey. It’s done completely in spray paint and he was adding the final circle elements with a stencil as we showed up. I was amazed at the subtle skin tones he achieved. I have no idea how he did that with spray paint, though I can tell you he had an awful lot of cans with him. I’m guessing they were labeled something like “flesh #1,” “flesh #2,” “flesh #3,” etc.

IMG_0425Graphic designer Angela was halfway through her painting, a tribute to imagination in which a young woman puts pen to paper and creates limitless visions with tiny capoeira dancers giving body to her flights of fancy. Angela and her subject were inspired by the Shel Silverstein poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts.” Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

IMG_0431_cropHeather created a dramatic landscape in two halves, one side showing a flaming sky behind living flora, the other showing charred trunk skeletons on a cool evening. I loved the sense of opposites in balance, a multi-dimensional yin and yang. Her day job is producing artwork and lettering signs for Trader Joe’s grocery stores, but it was clear she enjoyed letting loose here.

All the artists I talked to enjoyed their day making art in each other’s company though it was grueling. Oscar worked on his painting for about seven hours and was exhilarated but exhausted. Tim the owner of the gallery told me the event was a success. Five bands performed throughout the day, and other painters were there earlier to decorate some erstwhile “trash.” Everyone looks forward to coming out and doing this again.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gallery’s cafe. We all ordered sandwiches, though I neglected mine for a bit while I was chatting with the artists. Tammy, Tim’s sister, whipped up some fantastic paninis: pastrami for me, bulgogi and a salad for Paulette, and grilled cheese for our son. I had eaten there earlier in the week and had the barbecued roast beef, also delicious. Their sandwiches are all named for artists: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Dali. I’ll leave it to you to guess which is which.

It was yet another winning event on El Camino Real. I have to smile at the creative spirit which continues to thrive on this Grand Boulevard. I hope they have another Living Art session soon. When they do I’ll be there because I want to check out the live music. With apologies to Vincent, I’ll be all ears.

Trash to Treasure

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The Sunnyvale Art Gallery is putting on a unique interactive art event tomorrow. This is a great place that has an inspiring vision of fostering a community of South Bay artists. Their gallery showcases local artists but they also provide studio space for work and for classes, an art supply store, and a cafe for mortal sustenance. Beyond the canvas they host open mic nights every Thursday for musicians and poets. Valley creatives…this is a place for you.

Saturday’s event will feature live painting and performances. They’ll have young artists bringing street sensibility, green painting where discarded items are turned into art, music, poetry, and a silent auction. Here’s their announcement:

Living Art Flyer

‘Trash to Treasure’ Living Art: An emphasis on Street Art

AUGUST 14, 10 AM – 8 PM

Join us Saturday August 14th, for a grassroots art event that will be like none before in the city of Sunnyvale.

Our goal for this event is to bring the young art community together with art, music, and spoken word.

Help us create something Amazing. We invite you to join us for this special event. The theme is LIVING ART: ‘Trash to Treasure’. This event will highlight ‘green painting’ as we turn discarded trash to beautif ul pieces of art. The event will last from 10am-8pm in the back parking lot of the sunnyvale art gallery. This is a FREE event, so let’s blow up the spot.

For artists, we will provide wooden panels as big as 8 x 4 feet to paint ‘STREET ART MURALS’. Panels will be limited so register early to hold a spot. For all other artists, we will provide discarded furniture, boards, and other elegant ‘trash’ items for artists to paint on. Bring your own if you have anything you’re inspired by. At the end of the day, there will be a silent auction where each artist can auction off their piece starting with bids at $10 if they want. The gallery will take a 10% commission for all pieces to help cover costs for the day. Please bring your own medium if you have (i.e.: paint, etc.) Otherwise, we’ll have extra household paint and brushes for sale at the gallery.

For musicians and poets, please sign up in advanced to secure a time slot during the day. A PA system will be provided. An open mic time slot will be available for all late registrants. Performers are allowed to promote their music with CD’s and merchandise.

Everyone else, come and enjoy.

To sign up or help volunteer, please send your info and/or comments to to reserve a time slot for music or an area to paint.


Sunnyvale Art Gallery
251 W El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 737-8188

Anna, Bella

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Anna Eshoo

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.

Click here to see the entire slide show at


Bike Party

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

bike_party_2010_april by billmo, on Flickr

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.

bikeparty  191I 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.

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.

AllCamino Puts Sunnyvale on the Schmap

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

CIMG0184When I find myself on El Camino Real I like to snap a few photos. They’re generally nothing fancy, just a few establishing shots to add to my collection. Usually nothing comes of them but I throw them up on Flickr just to keep them handy. Recently my rainy-day digital packrat habit paid off: Schmap selected one of my photos for inclusion in their online city guide for Sunnyvale!

schmapI took this photo after my lunch with Dan at Dusita. I headed up to C.J. Olson’s to load up on produce and decided to photograph the intersection of Mathilda and El Camino while I was there. I guess Schmap found me through the tags and the rest is history in the making.

I confess I was unfamiliar with Schmap though I was amused by the self-deprecating name. They publish  digital travel guides for cities around the world. This Sunnyvale entry is part of their latest San Jose regional guide. Coincidentally I happen to have met one of the other photo contributors, Ben Combee. I like to say it’s a small valley.

This is the second time this year my random photography has been picked up. NowPublic used a couple of my photos in a story about San Jose’s own Joey Chestnut and his record-smashing victory at the 2009 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest: 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. My shots are the HP Pavilion jumbotron and the bobblehead.

Speaking of Olson’s, their Food and Gift Faire is this weekend. If you stop by, step out to the sidewalk and take in the view that inspired me to capture this kudos-winning photo. Take some yourself. I’d like to see them. Ansel Adams had Yosemite to pursue, interpret, and decipher. Me? I’ve got El Camino.

C.J. Olson Cherries Annual Food & Gift Faire
November 14th & 15th, 1:00 – 5:00 pm
348 W. El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087

Get Ready for The Holidays!
Just before Thanksgiving, our Annual Food & Gift Faire is a great time to visit us and stock up on items for the holidays. Our moist, Dried Blenheim Apricots are especially good in stuffings or as a unique addition to your favorite cranberry sauce.

New gifts and special offers await you at this annual event marking the start of the yuletide season.

The End of the Age of Automobiles

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunnyvale Chevy

I Heart C.J. Olson Cherries

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Fruit Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunnyvale Rocks!

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

I had lunch yesterday with an old friend, Dan Hugo. Dan and I worked together one summer at UMAX Computer Corporation. That was almost twelve years ago and I’m not sure I’d seen him since then. Still we intermittently kept in touch through the magic of the internet and finally connected for lunch.

It’s not like I needed a reason, but it was particularly timely for me to talk to him now because of a Really Cool™ project he’s launching: Sunnyvale Rocks! Dan has lived and worked in Sunnyvale off and on for a number of years. Being a civic-minded guy his growing interest in the affairs of the city culminated in his taking and completing the Leadership Sunnyvale  training course. Armed with a deeper understanding of the city and appreciation for its citizens he decided to bring his software and web development expertise to bear and launch Not a geology site, it’s a local community media outlet by, for, and about the people of Sunnyvale with genuine booster spirit. It’s still early but they have exciting plans for it.

A significant part of the project is a series of podcasts at Check out the inaugural episodes of the flagship program, “The Dan and Kevin Show.” You will be amazed at how much there is to learn about the city. In fact in the next episode Dan promised to give a shout-out. I sure hope he does it since I’ve put him on the hook here…

I’ve been following Sunnyvale Rocks! with interest and wanted to learn more about it as there’s a lot of synergy with what I’m trying to do with, thematically and geographically. After all, El Camino Real passes right through Sunnyvale and each imparts a lot of character on the other. So naturally we picked a place for lunch on El Camino…in Sunnyvale. At the intersection of our respective interests, if you will.

Dusita Thai CuisineDan recommended the restaurant: Dusita Thai Cuisine. He knew I liked Thai food from my very first post and he’s a longtime connoisseur. I went a different direction from my usual benchmark and ordered Pad Thai with prawns, an equally valid test of a new restaurant. Pad Thai is a nice, safe, conservative choice because I’m a nice, safe, conservative guy. Dan however, not so much. He ordered Mussaman curry…hot. The exact phrase he used was, “Thai hot.” Evidently that’s a code word that lets the kitchen know to bring the heat. Still the waitress cautioned, “It’s veerry spicy,” to be sure she wasn’t dealing with a novice. My man Dan coolly told her, “I like it spicy.” In Thai. I told you he was a connoisseur. The deal was sealed.

My meal came with vegetable soup, the same one as Tee Nee Thai. This time though the yucky stuff was in plain sight. I’m good with that because it’s easy to avoid; it’s concealed carrots that make me nervous. Now you might point out that noodles and spring rolls are prime hiding spots for yucky stuff and you’d be absolutely right but for some reason that doesn’t bother me. What can I say? It’s food. Logic does not apply.

Pad ThaiThe Pad Thai was delicious. I haven’t learned yet how to write convincingly about food so I’ll fake it. The sauce was piquant and the prawns were succulent and yet approachable. The noodles, inextricably intertwined with the bean sprouts, yielded to the bite like a willing paramour. Not buying it? Then I’ll go with the simplest and sincerest compliment: I’d totally go back again.

As for Dan, between searing mouthfuls and the occasional brow blot he was a treasure trove of fascinating information. Not just about Sunnyvale, but about his approach to the whole undertaking. He gave me a lot to think about and will be better for it. I approach El Camino as a consumer but he’s making a difference in the city of Sunnyvale through human connection. On our way out of the restaurant I wondered aloud what “Dusita” means and he made me go back inside and ask. (It means “heaven.”) It’s that personal approach that makes the difference.

It turns out that Dusita has two locations on El Camino: one in Santa Clara and this newer one in Sunnyvale. My wife has been to the one in Santa Clara and she reports it’s also very good. But I can’t say it any better: Sunnyvale Rocks!

Dusita Thai Cuisine
1028 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
2325 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050