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December 13-19, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Surrealism on Stockton Avenue

By Gary Singh

EVER SINCE RE/Search Publications released their compendium of quotes from world-shattering futurist author J.G. Ballard, I've been turning to that tome for inspiration. So many of his utterances can be mapped onto the terrain of San Jose, especially the chapter dealing with the suburbs.

Since Ballard has always championed Surrealism and the imagination, allow me to insert San Jose where he talks about his own hometown of Shepperton, England: "There are people who are constantly rediscovering the world on a second-by-second basis, for whom every minute is a new excitement. Whether it's a sort of naiveté or not I don't know, but I've always been one of those. I wake up in the morning and look out at San Jose, and I'm always amazed and think, 'What is this?'"

And since some of the best travel writing can be done right in your own hometown, that's what I decided to do. This time the voyage took place on Stockton Avenue, just outside of downtown San Jose.

Stockton Avenue should be in every travel guide to Silicon Valley. Even if you're not interested in thundering airport noise, rundown towing yards, industrial wastelands, dump trucks, dive bars and the Salvation Army like I am, you should get of the house once in a while and explore. Vacate the suburbs and the bedroom communities and have a look-see. It's good for you.

I began my journey where Stockton dead-ends at Emory Street, right behind Bellarmine High School and right at the College Park Caltrain Station, which was mentioned in one of Jack London's novels. It can be a beautifully desolate intersection at times. Graffiti-stained blockades warned me that as of July 2005, Stockton Avenue is permanently closed at this point. The railroad tracks disappeared over the horizon and underneath the freeway. Litter from homeless adventurers completely covered the landscape. Glaring signs warned me not the cross the tracks due to high-speed trains.

Continuing south, I paraded in front of Central Concrete Supply Company, a great place to look at a dozen cherry-red dump trucks getting their fill. The modern dump truck is a masterpiece of 20th-century automotive design. I was so enthralled that I wanted to segue across the street and grab a beer at what used to be a bar called the Shark's Tooth, but it isn't there anymore. It's now a piano-moving warehouse instead. Oh well.

This trek eventually led me to the Salvation Army store at the corner of Taylor and Stockton, another San Jose institution. Across the street, I saw more Royal Coach Tour buses in one place than I've ever seen. They are indeed San Jose's leading shuttle service and their headquarters exists right next to San Jose Boiler Works, who've been serving Northern California with commercial and industrial Boiler Sales, Rentals, Service, Parts and Engineering Assistance since 1922. You just don't see this stuff in travel guides, folks.

After passing by the old rundown location of Renegades, a popular gay bar, I descended upon the most gorgeous eyesore of the entire neighborhood: the archaic dilapidated Westinghouse plant at the corner of Stockton and Julian, a San Jose landmark if ever there was one. It is one of the most elegant examples of unoccupied falling-to-pieces urban decay anywhere in San Jose. I couldn't even tell you what decade it was last open. Go check it out.

Where Stockton hits Santa Clara, I wound up at another masterpiece of urban decay: the former Vietnamese restaurant/barbecue joint that is now fenced off. It went through a zillion incarnations, none of which ever succeeded. The most happening thing on that corner is the cheap car wash across the street.

And if you continue south of there, you can inspect the bowels of the Diridon Caltrain Station: the 6-foot-tall weeds, the gravel, the chain-link fence and the graffiti. And there, Stockton Avenue—and this adventure—ends.

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