Archive for the ‘The Alameda’ Category

So Blessed

Sunday, September 26th, 2010


Today we were shocked and deeply saddened to read in the Mercury News that Jonne Aleeson, owner of Calvin’s Philly Cheese Steaks on The Alameda, died at home of an apparent heart attack one week ago, September 19, 2010. “Mr. Calvin” as he is affectionately known was 67.

I’ve written often of Calvin’s because our family has eaten often at Calvin’s. It’s a special place to us because the sandwiches are amazing and we always looked forward to seeing and catching up with Mr. Calvin. He effused Love. I’m not finding the words right now so I’ll re-use what I wrote in July when I learned Calvin’s had suffered a fire:

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

Mr. Aleeson will be missed, and The Alameda and El Camino Real have lost a giant. Calvin’s will go on and every sandwich served to a satisfied customer will be a tribute to his memory.

Jonne Aleeson

August 31, 1943 – September 19, 2010

[A statement on]

Dear Family & Friends,

On September 19, 2010 Calvin went home to be with the Lord.

Services are being held on Monday September 27, 2010.

Maranatha Christian Center
1811 S. 7th Street, San Jose, CA.

The viewing is from 9:30 am to 10:30 am. The services will begin at 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
The Celebration of life is to follow at Calvins’s Cheese steaks restaurant at 1699 San Carlos Ave. at 1:00 pm

In lieu of flowers, monetary donations are being accepted at Bank of America account #0157171276

For additional information please call 408-286-5626

The Family of Calvin

El Camino Calendar

Friday, September 24th, 2010


Lots of good stuff happening this weekend! It’s all listed below in roughly geographical order. Sorry about all the Facebook links, but for some of these events that’s all I got.

San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival

Festival Dates: September 15-26, 2010
Sunday, September 26: Four Grammy Winning Artists Highlight the “Concert for the American Dream”
Outdoor Feria at the 19th Annual San Jose Mexican Heritage Festival. Ozomatli, Los Lobos, and Los Tex Maniacs Perform at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez.
This year’s festival offers music, theatre, historic art & more!

POINT & SHOOT @ The Usuals

Friday, September 24 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm
The Usuals
1020 The Alameda
San Jose, CA

A Group Photo Show plus beats, treats, and zines!

3rd Annual Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

Saturday, September 25, 2010
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Backesto Park
13th and Jackson Streets, San Jose
Chalk Artists, food, vendors, entertainment

The DNA LifePrint Child Safety Event

Saturday, September 25 · 9:30am – 2:00pm
Sunnyvale Ford
650 E. El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA
Digital fingerprints and photos and a take-home DNA identification kit

Rooster T. Feathers

157 W El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 736-0921
Friday, September 24, 2010
Tonight is College Night! Free entry with valid ID. 21 and over only. 8pm showtime, $12 for everyone else. And Margaritas on special for only $3! 408.736.0921

Car Wash

Sept 25th 10am-2pm
South San Francisco High School Main Parking Area (D.O.)
400 B Street, South San Francisco, CA 94080

Support South San Francisco High School Band with $5 per car & $7 per truck/van/suv.
Coffee & donuts & maybe BBQ hot dogs & hamburgers! Stop by & support Warriors Band trip to Washington D.C. to represent So City & California in 4th of July Parade in Washington D.C.

Old Counting Road

Monday, September 20th, 2010


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

Peninsula East

Peninsula West

Peninsula Total

Gas Station 4 24 23 47
El Camino Bell 1 25 18 43
Subway 2 5 8 13
Taco Bell 2 7 4 11
Jack in the Box 0 7 3 10
McDonald’s 3 1 9 10
Safeway 2 5 4 9
Blockbuster 0 7 1 8
Kragen 0 5 3 8
Burger King 1 5 2 7
KFC 0 5 2 7
Bicycle shop* 0 5 1 6
Lucky 0 4 2 6
Carl’s Jr. 0 2 2 4
Togo’s 0 2 2 4
In-n-Out Burger 0 0 2 2
The Off Ramp 0 2 0 2
Wendy’s 0 0 2 2
Midas* 0 0 1 1

* 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.

CIMG0229 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.

You Haul

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

[Photo from SVBC]

I love this story. Over Labor Day weekend the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition packed up and moved their office from Willow Glen to a new location at 1922 The Alameda, San Jose. The SVBC advocates for cycling as an everyday transportation solution that’s good for the environment and healthy for the participants so naturally they accomplished this big move completely by bicycle.

Travoy with BikeThey enlisted a team of over 20 volunteers, each with a trailer or some kind of load-carrying contrivance attached to a bicycle, and hauled everything. Computers, furniture, files…everything. They formed a ragtag caravan as they made the three mile trek. After they unloaded the bikes and carried everything to their new fourth floor office on my favorite stretch of El Camino Real, one of the volunteers won a new Burley Travoy trailer in a drawing.

IMG_9395I was immediately reminded of the 2010 Fourth of July Rose, White, & Blue Parade on The Alameda. The Cleveland Avenue neighborhood association entered a green-themed float entirely powered by bicycles. Carbon footprint: zero (assuming the huffing and puffing of the pedalers was too small to measure). It won first prize. The Bicycle Coalition move may not be quite as impressive a feat as the Murphy Party dragging covered wagons over the Sierra Nevada in 1844, but given the easier alternatives the SVBC could have chosen, their dedication to their cause is admirable as is the consistency of their message.

[Update] The SVBC is holding an open house at their new location. Come chat with other cyclists and enjoy some refreshments.

SVBC open (office) house

September 16, 2010 – 4:30pm – 6:30pm
United Way Building
1922 The Alameda Suite 420
San Jose, California

Around the Bay in a Day

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010


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.

Follow allcamino on Twitter

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…)

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!

Asphalt Gourmet

Thursday, August 5th, 2010


I’ve written about Treatbot a few times, San Jose’s own Karaoke-enabled ice cream food truck. We first learned of them in April at Calvin’s Second Anniversary celebration. I’m not normally very observant but I surprised myself by noticing that the address printed on Treatbot was the same as Calvin’s! Ryan the owner explained to me that food vans need a permanent address, so his is Calvin’s. Personally, I think Treatbot just wanted the upscale The Alameda address. I was very impressed by the whole concept—and the ice cream sandwich—but I was soon to learn it was just the tip of the iceberg.

A month later while at work I saw a very random message on Twitter retweeted by @aroundfremont:

MoGo BBQ Lunch time! Join us for lunch 12pm at 399 S main st milpitas! Come out be featured in PACMAN”S 30th anniversary video! they will be giving out free stuff today and cool PACMAN gear! 

I like lunch, I like Pac-Man, and I work in Milpitas, so at the appointed hour I was there.  That’s when I learned about MoGo.

CIMG0974Like Treatbot they are a new-wave mobile food vendor. MoGo serves up Mexican-Asian fusion cuisine such as Kimchi Quesadillas and Tofu Burritos. I tried a couple pork tacos with MoGo vinaigrette with a side of Kimchi rice. Very tasty.

A coworker told me that these gourmet food trucks are very popular in Los Angeles and now they’re on the rise up in the Bay Area. They can be found all over the country. They even have their own elimination-style road trip reality TV show, “The Great Food Truck Race” with Tyler Florence on The Food Network. Obviously food trucks have been around forever, known colloquially by an unflattering rhyme I won’t repeat here (hint: it’s not “broach poach”), but they’ve always been plain unimaginative affairs, more a convenience than a culinary experience. This new generation has found a formula to energize the whole concept of meals on wheels.

The first element is food with a hook. Treatbot sells locally-made hand-scooped ice cream, not packaged frozen novelties like your typical music-box-cranking ice cream truck. MoGo and Bulkalbi have the Mexican-Asian fusion thing going on which is exotic even in multicultural San Jose. Other trucks go high-end, serving dishes you’d normally only find in fine restaurants.

The second element is marketing. Each truck works hard to create a unique identity and memorable customer experience. Treatbot…Karaoke…say no more. They have clever names, flashy paint jobs, and bubbly servers. They’re most known for using social networking sites to attract and retain clientele: Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, you name it. (Humorously their mobile nature defeats Foursquare; it can’t keep up.) I follow them all on Twitter and let me tell you, when I get that daily deluge of lunchtime locations and menus du jour, it gets the juices flowing. Last week three of them showed up within walking distance of my job on three different days; I took the bait and ate at all three.

CIMG0830Check out my Twitter list:

Let me know if I missed any. I haven’t tried them all yet, but I will. I know where to find them.

Naturally these trucks often find their way to El Camino Real. Heck, Treatbot “lives” there. The MoGo Pac-Man event was on Main Street in Milpitas. It’s not an opening at The Usuals unless Treatbot is there. A few nights ago MoGo and Curry Up Now were both on El Camino at the same time for dinner, a couple miles apart. They know what’s up.

CIMG0973Here’s what I really like about these trucks: when they show up, they create an event. Namco chose to tag along with MoGo, tapping into some street excitement to celebrate Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary. They filmed this video behind the truck. It works both ways; the trucks go where the action is, often in pairs. Bike Party, National Night Out, festivals, holidays. Social networks in tow, every time they park it’s an instant meet-up.

I feel we’re right at the beginning of this movement and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an explosion of variety in the next couple years. There’s plenty of room for innovation too. This is Silicon Valley. How about online ordering? GPS tracking? Electronic payment? Alternative fuel vehicles? (Treatbot is propane-powered!) Um…chairs! The sky’s the limit and the road is open.

What Is Hip?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

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

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

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

Usuals Lost San Jose

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Usuals
1020 The Alameda, San Jose, CA

See all my photos at Flickr.

Bump in the Road

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rubber on the Road

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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