I just spent a few days in Silicon Valley and though there has been a million words written about the explosion and growth in the area, you have to see it to believe it. When the hit tune “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” was penned nobody could find this sleepy little village on the map. Now it is one of the largest and richest cities in California. Cal Train connects it to all points and there is an excellent light rail and streetcar system. They have a lovely performing arts center and a world class museum which was running the stunning Leonardo da Vinci exhibit. If you missed it in New York, you can catch it in San Jose!! Needless to say it was well worth the afternoon spent browsing among the notebooks and models that sprang from da Vinci’s genius.
California has forever and a day been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and in many ways, it still is. It was enlightening to compare the California I knew when I lived in L.A. years ago with the modern version in the Valley. The freeways are still clogged but as many as thirty percent of the cars are hybrids. Priuses are a dime a dozen and you see them everywhere. They come with the added advantage of automatic access to the HOV lanes, no matter how many folks are in the car, a perk worth at least two grand when you sell the car. The average home is still the small rancher but they now come with a decidedly un-average price tag. It is fair to say that the real estate market is the unreal estate market with a two bedroom, 800 square foot house fetching eight hundred thousand dollars. Yep. That is not a typo, not an error. A three bedroom 1500 square foot home will go for a cool million or better…and I thought housing prices on Maryland’s Eastern Shore were bloated and absurd.
Small sleepy hamlets like Mountain View have a thriving entrepreneurial spirit and all towns of any size boast a restaurant row to die for. You want it? You got it: Thai, Greek, Viet Namese, French, and Chinese of a half dozen varieties. We had an excellent dinner in a Chinese restaurant with a nightclub techno-pop theme and breakfast in another in Lafayette with a cast and menu imported directly from Singapore. We drove over to Palo Alto home to Stanford University and had dinner in a restaurant called Shokolaat. The food was excellent and the desserts were painfully sinful. No doubt, da Vinci invented the chocolate bomb.
There is a coffee shop in every block, ranging from Boulanger to Peeks to Starbucks and so you “pays your money and takes your choice.” I got attached to Boulanger since they had great breakfast sandwiches, great Danish and yummy coffee.
Kal-i-fornia is not with out its problems. The collapsing economy has put a huge dent in revenue and the state is running a gargantuan forty billion dollar deficit. Local Kal-i-fornia governments are handling the cutbacks in various ways but I was pleased to see that one of the local school boards had added up the cost of athletics and decided that since the football team had nothing to do with education that was a reasonable place to save a chunk. They simply cut out competitive athletic programs. There were the usual screams of anguish from the athletic supporters but the school board acted with intelligence and fortitude. Perhaps some good will come of this deep recession after all
At the state level the deep cutbacks are controversial with Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature at loggerheads. Schwarzenegger has made a surprisingly good governor and puts me in the mind of the Republicans of my youth who were fiscal conservatives and otherwise reasonable people. That the party has morphed into a clutch of wigged out right wing extremists, financial pirates, and religious bigots is one of the sadder chapters in American Political History. Schwarzenegger is environmentally friendly and forward thinking. He pushed very hard against the auto industry and the Bush administration for cleaner cars and tougher air quality standards. He is also pushing for utilization of natural resources—sun, water, wind–to generate energy. He has proposed an extensive solar collector in the Mojave dessert. Perhaps Schwarzenegger is the face of things to come in the Republican party, and the neo cons and free-booters, and so-called free marketers and their witless hate-monger followers can be consigned to the dust bin of history.