With all the changes unfolding in San Jose this year, the Alley denizen remained committed to transforming every situation into poetry.
So now, as the year ends, allow me to express my overwhelming gratitude not just for the muses of creativity, but also for the research muses, since in most cases these columns didn’t happen all by themselves.
First, the ghosts. In terms of subject matter, things became otherworldly this year. If one remains in his home town for many years, it becomes natural for the past to weave with the present, leaving no way to keep them separate. The physical and temporal aspects of a place really do begin to merge. Especially in San Jose, where it often feels like every sense of place gets crushed by real estate developers who hope nobody cares about anything that happened five years ago, let alone 50, memories become much more necessary and fun to talk about. Any legitimate local columnist feels driven to reflect. Any new piece of the landscape seems haunted by whatever used to be there. Am I being literal or metaphorical? I don’t know. You decide.
Now, the poetry. As I look back through the columns of 2022, I see that several themes emerged, even if just in the headlines: “A Mall Evolves.” “My Back Pages.” “Razing the Past.” “Cattle to Apple.” “Death and Life.” “The Waste Land.” I could write a whole other column, or a prose poem, based on these headlines. They would make great song titles or writing prompts. A few more: “Slab City.” “Snapped Back.” “Demolition Derby. “Cosmic Mall Memories.”
Which only further reminds me that these columns do not always occur in the vacuum of my own head. It takes serious help sometimes. In many cases, the apparatus of research could not have happened without specific institutions. For example, on the fifth floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Main Library, one finds the California Room and the Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History. The former is part of the public library and open almost every day, while the latter is technically part of SJSU and at least for now requires an appointment. Both are indispensable resources for any transnational beatnik historian. Obviously, not everyone has the time or the privilege to sit there and pore through shelves and shelves of stuff just for the sake of exploration, but if you do, I cannot recommend these people enough.
And then there’s History San Jose. At this point, I’ve almost lost track of the statistics. Is it a million artifacts? Or hundreds of thousands? I don’t even remember, but just the artifacts and photos available online for browsing can occupy one for hours. If you can snag an appointment—that is, if you have something specific to look for—History San Jose is likewise indispensable. You will appreciate this town much more. Seriously.
All three of these institutions—Sourisseau, the California Room and History San Jose—were instrumental in many of the columns you read this year, even if it was something as simple as providing an ancient photo. They are the muses of research. All of them.
Finally, in my view, San Jose has always been an international place, so, more often than not, a worldly perspective came to the forefront of my columns this year. I didn’t plan this. It just happened that way. This is how research works. I didn’t set out to find the secret Slav history of a Willow Glen liquor store. Likewise, I didn’t think some hole in a chain-link fence in Milpitas would lead me from Macedonia to Kathmandu, and I didn’t know ahead of time that the architects behind the San Jose Greyhound Station also designed the Istanbul Hilton in 1955.
Unlike that Istanbul hotel, the Greyhound Station did not attract celebrities, heads of state, sheiks, oligarchs and spies, but after it opened, 6,000 people a day used the station, taking advantage of over 260 schedules that included Greyhound, Peerless Stages and the San Jose to Alviso line. We didn’t have the ancient transportation crossroads of Constantinople, but at least we had Alviso. And that was the funnest sentence I wrote in 2022. Happy New Year.