Archive for the ‘meta’ Category

Worst. Post. Ever.

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010


I hate clip shows. I avoid year-end “best of” lists. I was never even a fan of the remix CDs that were all the rage a few years ago; they’re so derivative. Nevertheless here I am faced with my own conundrum. As much as I dislike it, I have no choice but to look back and try to recap the past, to summarize and punctuate the last twelve months. You see, today is the one year anniversary of my blog.

One year ago today I logged into my 1&1 account and created a blog at where only a placeholder had been for years. I didn’t write my first post then. Instead I celebrated with lunch at Tee Nee Thai which became the subject of my first post one week later. After lunch I took a long walk down and up The Alameda from Naglee to Stockton, tweeting with pun fully intended that I was finally “on the road.”

From there it’s been a journey, if you’ll pardon the cliché. I rarely had a shortage of things to write about. I wrote about familiar places like Stanford and The Alameda. I wrote about news events I pulled off of Yahoo! News Alerts or the San Jose Mercury News. I wrote about my own process of discovery: books I’ve read and maps I’ve found. I’ve taken hundreds of photos with my SLR and trusty camera phone and enjoyed sharing them. Some of these things were planned from the beginning; others simply evolved organically.

The centerpiece so far has been my four-part writeup of my day-long bus trip up El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco. It was so epic, it nearly killed the blog as I refused to post anything at all until the entire thing was done. It took me two months to start it and two more months to finish it; I didn’t write anything the entire month of February! I finally got it done and I’m proud of the end result, but I’ve learned to be more careful about the scope of things moving forward. I still owe you the reverse trip down El Camino.

My favorite post is El Camino de San Jose because it brings together so many elements of my El Camino experience. I talk about the startling coincidences I’ve encountered which make me laugh out loud and tell me that there’s something beyond myself developing here. I talk about the magical discovery that I actually live on El Camino Real, suggesting I’ve been drawn to this road for longer than I was even aware. I talk about my new found enthusiasm for maps and local history. AllCamino is more than a journey now; it’s a quest.

So what’s ahead? For sure, more of the same, feeling out the ways the world connects to El Camino and writing about them once or twice a week. I need to make a greater effort to bust out of the San Jose and Stanford grooves I find myself in; There’s a whole lotta road out there to cover! I have some behind-the-scenes projects to attend to, like taking control of the underlying WordPress installation and customizing it. A have a goal to people-ize my experiences more. I’m making an attempt to get to know the good folks of El Camino a little better and tap into and contribute to the community which exists here. I really appreciate comments on the posts, and would love to see more chatter. What do you think? (Was that too obvious?)

So today begins year two. By the numbers I have 57 posts and 12 comments. Let’s see if we can triple that next year. I know the next twelve months will have more El Camino Real news, events, restaurants, retail, and transportation. The rest will be history.

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

You know those Arcadia Publishing Images of America local history books? I’m talking about the sepia-toned paperbacks about a single city or region, filled with pages of old photographs and local lore. I love them. After I started researching El Camino Real I became slightly addicted to them. I couldn’t go into a bookstore without gravitating towards Arcadia’s distinctive displays and very often walked out with one or two books. I at least had the self-control to limit myself to California cities on El Camino, but more than once I brought home books only to find out I already owned them. Mockery from my wife has prompted me to make a Google bookshelf of all the Arcadia books and other books I’ve accumulated about El Camino Real and California history so far. It will help me prevent duplicates, but beyond that it’s cool to see my whole collection in one virtual place.

I have 33 books in the list as of this posting, but I know I’ll be adding more. I own most of these titles, some I’ve gotten from the library, and the rest I’ve just heard about and hope to read some day. Fact is I’ve only read three of them cover-to-cover; the rest I just thumb through or look at the pictures or use for reference. That’s how I end up with duplicates—it’s hard to remember I have a book when I haven’t read it yet. Here’s a brief overview of a few key books on the list.

San Jose's Historic DowntownI have twelve Arcadia books, all unique. (I returned the duplicates.) The first one I bought was San Jose’s Historic Downtown. I bought it years ago, before All Camino, simply because I live in San Jose and was charmed by the book. I shortly went back and bought Milpitas because I work there.  The rest I picked up after starting the blog. As I said they’re all cities on some branch of El Camino except strictly speaking Alviso, San Jose,  which is so closely interrelated to its El Caminoed neighbors that it is included honorarily. Besides, Alviso, San Jose was written by the same guy who wrote Milpitas, Robert L. Burrill. There are several eligible books in the series still that I don’t have like San Francisco’s Mission District and Colma, not to mention cities outside the Bay Area. I suspect they’ll find their way onto my shelf eventually.

The Alameda: The Beautiful Way is noteworthy because it is the only one whose author I’ve met, and I got it signed. Bay Area native Shannon E. Clarke researched, wrote, and designed it while an undergrad at UCLA and it’s a remarkable achievement, a comprehensive and indispensable historical account of my favorite El Camino stretch. I bought it on the Fourth of July, 2009, at the Rose, White, & Blue Parade and Festival. Shannon was leading bus tours of historic The Alameda and the Rose Garden. I missed the last tour, but she was kind enough to give me a quick virtual tour using one of the book’s maps as a guide. I hadn’t launched the blog yet, but finding this book was the spark that inspired me finally to get it off the ground.

California's El Camino Real and Its Historic BellsCalifornia’s El Camino Real and Its Historic Bells is golden because it’s the only book I have that is explicitly about El Camino as a road, literally telling the story of its route, passability or lack thereof, and commemoration. What it lacks in polish it more than makes up in dedication, and it contains information you can’t find anywhere else. It’s one of the books I’ve read in its entirety. If Junípero Serra is the father of El Camino Real, Mrs. A. S. C. Forbes is the mother—with apologies to Mr. Forbes and the Franciscan order. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about this dynamic woman.

Deep California: Images and Ironies of Cross and Sword on El Camino RealAnother book I’ve mentioned a few times here is Deep California: Images and Ironies of Cross and Sword on El Camino Real.  It’s an unusual work because it espouses the notion of terrapsychology, the idea that the Earth literally has a psychology and that ecological features like land masses, water bodies, and climate are outward expressions of this inner soul. Since (most) humans are from this planet, we are subconsciously attuned to this psychology and play out its archetypical facets through our individual and societal behaviors. If we act contrary to nature, it reacts in kind. It’s a powerful idea, and the book is a fascinating colorful romp through the stories of California, picking out recurring themes from the human realm that reflect deeper root causes of place and pointing out the mistakes of the past so that we may learn from them. This book means a lot to this blog because it validates the approach I’ve taken, that there is a different way to tell the story of El Camino Real: that the road we experience materially may be interpreted symbolically as a path to deeper truths.

Oh, California, 21st Century EditionAs I read Deep California—front-to-back, and it’s big—I realized I knew very little about California history. I didn’t know Portolá from a pueblo or De Anza from adobe. How embarrassing. Every California schoolchild learns state history in the fourth grade (mission projects!) and I remember seeing this stuff in my son’s social studies book when he was in that grade but I don’t remember what I read in mine a generation prior. So I had a brilliant idea: I bought two grade school textbooks, Oh, California and Social Studies: California Edition, both published by Houghton Mifflin.  One of them is used which makes it very special. (Thanks, Kris, wherever you are, for your responsible stewardship, and I promise to provide the same.) They are a gentle introduction to a daunting subject, they represent at a curricular level what the state believes every citizen should know, and they contain plenty of colorful graphs and pictures. I like pictures. I may not be smarter than a fifth grader, but with these books close at hand I at least have a shot at holding my own.

A last few mentions. Historic Spots in California is I believe the California Bible, and Clyde Arbuckle’s History of San Jose is the San Jose Bible. Historical Atlas of California turned me into a mapaholic overnight. The Labors of the Very Brave Knight Esplandián, a romantic novel written around 1500 by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo of Spain, is the origin of California’s name. It includes an account of Calafía, the fierce black Amazon queen of the then-fictional island California, who wore armor made of gold as she battled the handsome Catholic hero Esplandián in the first bloody Crusade. She was defeated honorably so she subjected herself and her queendom to Christianity. Allegory much?

Each time I crack open one of these wonderful books I learn something new. The story of this great state is rich and enlightening, but impossibly complex. Studying how El Camino Real slices through it all is an effective way to get a clarifying cross section of history. Moreover the more general a book is, the more carefully I have to comb through it to find information specific to the road, and the more rewarding and thrilling is each golden find. I wish for the time and patience to someday read them all. Unless they make a movie first.

El Camino de San Jose

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

One of life’s more mysterious delights is synchronicity, those moments when you experience a startling coincidence that impresses your instinct as having special meaning that may defy logic. I’ve been enjoying several of these “whoa” moments with respect to El Camino Real since I started this project.

Here’s an example. The afternoon of September 25, 2006 I read the landmark article “What Is Web 2.0” by Tim O’Reilly. It had been written a year earlier, but I’ve always been behind in all things web. I read it, I “got” it, and was inspired to create a web site as a way finally to express this ticklish notion I’ve had for a while of celebrating El Camino Real. The name came to me like a thunderbolt: Later that evening I was browsing the San Jose Mercury News online and was astonished to read an article published that same day called “Bringing face-lift to historic road” which was all about the Grand Boulevard Initiative of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a multi-city drive to revamp El Camino into a unique, thriving street for the 21st century. It was fate; it reinforced that El Camino has a story to be told. I registered the domain name immediately.

CIMG0150Here’s another. I registered the domain in 2006 but didn’t get around to creating this blog at the site until August 11, 2009. (I told you I’m always behind.) I accomplished this milestone with my laptop at the San Jose Library Rose Garden branch using their free wi-fi. After creating the blog, to celebrate I drove up Naglee Avenue and down The Alameda to Tee Nee Thai for lunch. On the way I happened to see the Hester Park gates at Singletary Avenue. I had never noticed them before and I wondered what “Hester Park” meant. Was there really a park? Aha, an El Camino mystery to investigate! So after lunch I walked back up to Singletary and took some photos of the gates. I walked down Singletary several blocks to look for a park. I didn’t find one so I turned right on Park Avenue, passed Hoover Middle School and the Egyptian Museum, turned right again at Naglee and walked all the way back up to The Alameda, a big loop. Then inspiration struck again. Since it was a beautiful day I decided to walk the entire length of The Alameda from that point all the way down to the Caltrain underpass and back. That day I “did” The Alameda; what better way to celebrate the launch of AllCamino? An ice cream cone from Schurra’s consecrated the occasion. My walk all started with that happenstantial glimpse of the Hester Park gates; none of it was planned, I just followed a series of whims. A few months later in January 2010, I was studying an old map of San Jose and realized that Singletary Avenue wasn’t always called that; it used to be called Moore Street after Judge John Hendley Moore who owned that land. My last name is Moore, no relation to the judge. So yeah, without knowing it I marked the beginning of my El Camino career at the intersection of Moore and The Alameda. Mind-blowing. Did I mention there’s a bell right there? As a humorous postscript, I discovered there is no Hester Park on Singletary/Moore after all; that was the name of an old housing subdivision there. However I did find an actual Hester Park very nearby…a teeny tiny playground adjacent to the San Jose Library Rose Garden branch, the very same branch where I launched this blog. Ba doom, crash!

Moore St

That’s all kid stuff. Here’s synchronicity’s grandma with respect to El Camino Real and me.

Shortly after I launched the blog I went looking for books about El Camino, or at least with “El Camino” in the title. I bought two for their distinctiveness: Deep California: Images and Ironies of Cross and Sword on El Camino Real by Craig Chalquist, PhD, and California’s El Camino Real and Its Historic Bells by Max Kurillo and Erline Tuttle. The latter contains a reproduction of a 1912 AAA road map showing the length of El Camino from San Diego to San Francisco. It answered a mystery for me. El Camino nominally links the missions, but Mission San José in Fremont is nowhere near today’s El Camino Real. So what route did early Californians take from Mission Santa Clara to Mission San José? I had assumed the route ran down The Alameda to Santa Clara Street in San Jose to Alum Rock Avenue, perhaps running north along the foothills on Piedmont Road. The 1912 map suggested something different. It shows El Camino entering San Jose from the south as Monterey Road/First Street then splitting. One branch goes west to The Alameda as expected, but the other branch continues along First Street then turns east somewhere around Gish Road, then turns north on Old Oakland Road. There it continues along Main Street and Milpitas Boulevard in Milpitas, to Warm Springs Boulevard in Fremont, to Mission Boulevard which runs right to Mission San José. So there’s the route, which I like to call El Camino de San Jose.

Here’s the thing. I live on Old Oakland Road. I live on El Camino de San Jose.

I’ve lived there for over ten years. I had no idea about its mission connection. This knowledge did not inform my decision to buy the house, nor did it impact my interest in El Camino Real or motivations to start the blog. I had always assumed Old Oakland Road was simply the old road to Oakland, later replaced by Interstate 880, and never thought more about it than that. To tell the truth I had been feeling naggingly incomplete blogging about El Camino when I didn’t actually live or work on it. I didn’t have standing. But guess what, I do after all and I learned all this after the fact. Astounding.

A 1912 map is pretty old, but it’s a lot more recent than 1797 when Mission San José was founded. I embarked on a quest to find older maps that show this road. I bought a bunch of well-known San Jose maps from eBay, Lord help me. The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection has also been helpful, however the Online Archive of California, in particular the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library collection, has been absolutely indispensable in this research. They have high-resolution scans of the California land case maps, evidence the Mexican rancho owners presented in their petitions to the U.S. government for the rights to the land. “Transfer” of land ownership is of course the fundamental moral, ethical, and legal quandary in California’s past, but the records generated shed light on state history. The following two maps are the keys for me to El Camino de San Jose.

The first is a free-hand map or diseño of North San Jose dating from the 1840s. I first found it in the Historical Atlas of California by Derek Hayes. It clearly shows “El Camino Nacional” (in some maps the name changed from “Real” (“Royal”) to “Nacional” (“National”) to reflect Mexican independence from the Spanish crown) running to the San Jose pueblo from the south, then branching off as “El Camino de San Jose” to the north in the direction of the mission which unfortunately is not shown. This camino crosses Coyote and Penitencia Creeks (“Arroyo de Collotes” and “Arroyo de la Penitencia“), and I contend that this road is Oakland Road today. Oakland Road still crosses Coyote Creek in front of the San Jose Municipal Golf Course, and it used to cross Lower Penitencia Creek in front of Orchard School before the creek was radically altered into submission.


The next map shows only Milpitas, but this time it’s an official survey from 1857. It’s so dead-on accurate I can overlay it on a modern map and details like roads and historic buildings line up perfectly. It’s irrefutable that the road labeled “San Jose Road” on the survey is Oakland Road today. It hasn’t moved in over 150 years.


To recap, my thesis is that at least as far back as 1797 the Spanish must have had a road that connected Mission Santa Clara and the San Jose pueblo with Mission San José, and that Oakland Road today is part of it. The 1840s rough diseño shows such a road labeled “Camino de S. Jose” that approximately corresponds to physical features of Oakland Road. It unfortunately doesn’t show Mission San José but there’s a suggestive ambiguity in the name “Camino de S. Jose;” it’s the perfect name for a road connecting Pueblo de San José to Mission San José. It’s reasonable to conclude that “Camino de S. Jose” on the diseño is “San Jose Road” on the 1857 survey; it’s a direct Spanish-to-English translation. The survey proves topographically that San Jose Road then is Oakland Road now, and that’s where I live.

I’m no historian so I can’t say how much proof is proof enough, and I recognize there are holes in my maps. For example on the diseño the road crosses Penitencia Creek at the wrong spot, but I’m willing to attribute that to either map error or shifts in the creek over time. On the other hand, I’ve read at and other sites that Penitencia Creek was so named because the padres from Mission Santa Clara and Mission San José would periodically meet in an oak grove along its bank and give penance to each other and to the native Ohlone. I’m writing a song about it:

How’d the padres get to San Jose?
They drove on Oakland Road, and stopped to pray along the way…

So I’m convinced. And if that weren’t enough, this little detail from the southwest corner of the property in the 1857 survey grabbed my attention and drove the point home to me.


Synchronicity. It’s a trip.

I have a much deeper personal connection to El Camino Real than I ever realized or may ever understand. So far it’s been fun and exciting, the experience of a lifetime as I try to hear what it’s saying to me. I will henceforth widen the scope of this blog to include the historic East Bay as well as the Peninsula. I look forward to following this road. Who knows where it goes?