.Cattle to Apple

Berryessa Hills to Tantau Avenue tells San Jose’s history

The story of Silicon Valley can be understood as a road from cattle to Apple. Literally.

If one desires the grand sweep of local history—as it was, as it is now, and also what lurks at the end of the road—the traveler should begin his voyage in the Berryessa Hills. In this case, the journey is not just geographical. It is also historical and transdimensional.

Take, for example, Suncrest Avenue, at the farthest reaches of East San Jose. Up in them thar hills, where cattle ranches, rusty gates and swaths of blooming yellow California goldfields work their magic, one begins a mind-blowing drive westward through the history of the South Bay on multiple levels.

The Gen-Xers who grew up near Suncrest will wax nostalgic about sitting on their skateboards and plummeting along that steep street as it curled down from the hills and turned into Berryessa. Now that street has bike lanes. Go figure.

Yet here’s what no one points out: Berryessa eventually turns into Hedding, which eventually becomes Pruneridge, which then finally concludes right at the Apple Spaceship in Cupertino. Think about that for a second. Without leaving the same contiguous stretch of road, the traveler can start with the ranchlands—a symbol of what the valley used to be—and then descend into San Jose proper, and then continue all the way across town, through industrial wreckage and tract-house suburbia, straight through Santa Clara, and then to the modern-day lands of Silicon, where the new Apple Visitor Center sits directly across from the Spaceship. The grand sweep of history on one stretch of road. The past, present and future for all to experience. Whoa.

Now, especially with gas prices what they are today, only an idiot would do this. But it’s just a 12-mile drive, so I had to. It was like navigating the length of a great river by going back to its source in the hills, and then following the waterway as it traverses various peaks and valleys to its delta.

I’ve done this before, of course. Last year I compared Bascom Avenue to the Danube, inspired by Italian writer Claudio Magris and his book about that river, its history, politics and geography, with emperors, composers, poets, artists and scientists occupying the story right alongside the most obscure nobodies, all of whom contributed to the grand aura of the river, over time. The stretch of Suncrest, Berryessa, Hedding and Pruneridge wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was worth the trip.

Berryessa alone provides a pretty good cross-section of San Jose. You get clunky strip malls, suburban parks, clogged freeway interchanges, polluted commercial zones and new cookiecutter housing projects near the BART station, where people are duped into thinking they’ve acquired something “urban.” It’s about as urban as Hayward.

After 101, the street in question becomes Hedding, named after Elijah Hedding, a Methodist bishop. It is here that yet another cross-section of San Jose emerges: the ugly county government building, the jail and the crime lab, then Bellarmine and the Rose Garden ’hood with its stately mansions. 

At Winchester, Hedding then becomes Pruneridge, reminding me that San Jose was once the prune capital of the world. People were once proud of this. Once.

Pruneridge then barrels through a few miles of Hallmark-card suburbia, with sculpted hedges, finely manicured lawns and obnoxious Tesla owners, plus a few parks and a golf course, before concluding right at Tantau Avenue and the Apple Spaceship, just inside the border of Cupertino. In the pre-Spaceship era, Pruneridge used to go straight through to Wolfe. Now it breaks into pieces.

As I arrived at the Visitor Center and Apple store, Cult of Mac members worked on their laptops underneath olive trees outside. Tourists with large cameras snapped photos left and right. Employees with lanyards came sauntering over for coffee breaks. Inside, a double espresso was $4.50 and the wooden tables were Steve-Jobsian sleek. From the roof deck I gazed across Pruneridge toward tract houses that were now worth a cool million, at least.

It wasn’t quite the Danube expedition I expected, but it was enough. Who the hell needs 17-Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula? We got it all right here, from cattle to Apple.

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