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December 20-26, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Bad Planning, No Donut

By Gary Singh

ASTRIP OF ROAD that adequately represents a microcosm of all things San Jose is the entire length of Auzerais Avenue, from the Children's Discovery Museum straight over to Meridian. My local travelogue began right there on Auzerais underneath Highway 87, just a stone's throw west of the light rail tracks at the Discovery Museum. I eagerly inspected the fenced-off construction area and all its wonders: Piles of unused steel girders, pallets of wooden planks, heaps of gravel, knocked-over stacks of cones, discarded pieces of rebar, a lone pickup truck and one portable bathroom. What a sight, and the chain-link fence was erected by Thompson & Thompson Fence Company in San Lorenzo. I don't know who the Thompsons are, but I like 'em already.

Venturing westward, I came to the corner of Delmas, where the building that used to house Lou's Living Donut Museum sits. It is a travesty of justice that Lou's is no longer in existence. The only thing gracing the storefront is an untouched rack of Auto Mercado magazines.

The next few blocks of Auzerais are highlighted by a few rundown trailers, a panel wagon from the '40s, a slew of dilapidated houses, the San Jose Fire Station No. 30 and a handful of auto repair shops. Continuing, I just had to stop and gawk at a beautiful local market from the old days. The sign above the place says this: Mi Rancho Grocery Beer Wine Vegetables. Someone should do a photography exhibit of dive corner markets in San Jose before they're all gone. Across the street, I just had to feast my eyes upon Janco Welding Supplies, housed in a building that is God knows how old. And at 525 Auzerais, I looked at an unidentifiable building with three blue awnings and a "closed" sign on the door. A glaring red sign on the black iron gate said: Herman's New Location. I know nothing of Herman, but I like him already, too.

After that, one of the best vacant lots in all of San Jose beckoned me over to have a look-see. Like a glove, the 6-foot-tall weeds completely enveloped the broken-down chain-link fence that looked like a truck had backed into it. On the other side of the fence, I saw abandoned cars, empty 12-packs of beer, a shipping container and a rotten wood fence that connected the lot to the dilapidated Victorian next door. Yeah! From there, I just had to keep on trucking across Bird Avenue, past Hitchcock's Construction Lawn And Garden Equipment and the bags of mulch that occupy a section of Orchard Supply Hardware across the street. The water tower from the old Del Monte Cannery stood above it all, beaming down like an ancient relic from the past that just refuses to die.

Just a stroll down the road sits one of the all-time fortresses of old-school San Jose: Paradiso's Delicatessen. I couldn't even tell you what decade it opened, but the Royal Crown Cola sign still holds court out there in front. If that place goes away, I'll blow up the new City Hall.

Now, to clarify: I'm not some crotchety old-timer against all progress—I just believe "development" should just be something that looks and feels freakin' real, for crying out loud. And speaking of that, as soon as I carried on down Auzerais and crossed the creek, the "new days" arrived. KB Homes is putting up yet another gargantuan mess of homogeneous condos. Passing them up without even looking, I passed by some wonderful abandoned warehouses at Sunol and made it to Lincoln, a gorgeous intersection graced by AJ's, the dancing girlie place, and Rossetta's Rain Gutters and Sheet Metal.

Finally, I came to where Auzerais dead-ends into an embarrassing minicity of hideous cookie-cutter condos between Race and Meridian, near where the Saddlerack used to be. I escaped through to Meridian and then segued left into the parking lot of Paramount Imports, where I bought my first music T-shirts 24 years ago. Standing there in that famous long skinny parking lot, looking at the doors of the building behind the place, I gazed at a sign above those doors that perfectly befitted the end of this journey: Lost Horizon.

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