In the words of of Old Blue Eyes, it was a very good year for Silicon Alleys. As we put the lid on 2018, it is time yet again for me to review some of the most memorable material that crystallized on this page over the last 52 weeks, including local history, literature, music, sports, travel and the interstices between them all.
Even though I hit 700 weekly columns last September, that reflective screed was only one of my most grateful moments. Many others throughout the year seemed to resonate across demographic boundaries, enabling me to at least pretend I knocked something out of the park.
I’ll begin with history. Since I never once cared about the prune orchards, I instead wrote about punk rock, Neal Cassady and Krazy George. San Jose’s legendary skate punk band, The Faction, made another appearance, this time via the suburban wastelands of Campbell circa 1983 and Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, all of whom played a gig together. In another case, the motormouth hero of the Beat Generation, the proto-punk legend Neal Cassady showed up again, this time via an entire column about his old house on Santa Clara Street, which still exists. San Jose’s own Krazy George, somewhere between punk and hippie at the ripe old age of 74, and a troublemaker who tens of thousands of us grew up with at Earthquakes games in the ’70s, was finally inducted into the SJSU Sports Hall of Fame. From what I could tell, each one of those columns reverberated across the country.
And speaking of history, sometimes it makes more sense to scour the past in order to contemplate one’s own relationship to the present. Several other columns this year attempted to do just that, the physical San Jose landscape seeming to merge with the columnist’s own inner landscape in ways that were intended to be humorous, but not everyone has my sense of humor, so the results were never predictable.
For example, Cask ‘n’ Flask Liquors at Camden and Leigh powered one of the best columns I ever wrote, incorporating Jungian psychology to analyze my time at that dump as a lowly teenage stockperson running booze to a drunk down the street. Similarly, when Gordon Biersch on San Fernando finally bit the dust, I wrote a column, also one of my best ever. The piece surveyed GB history, my time there as a steinholder, as well as the restaurant’s downfall in the context of other downtown failures over the last 30 years.
GB wasn’t the only three-decade run. Britannia Arms Almaden hit 30 without closing, so I wrote a similar column about my relationship to the place over the years. Same deal with Stevens Music in Willow Glen, which closed 35 years ago, but when the time came to toss out the old Lowrey organ from my youth, I wrote about its history on Lincoln Avenue.
Much of Silicon Alleys for 13 years now has dealt with such polarities: beginnings and endings; creation and destruction; inner and outer; home and abroad; native and foreign; and the resulting relativity of time due to one never escaping his hometown. As someone part South Asian and part Willow Glen, I’ll deem mystical the ways in which the evolution of both San Jose and the columnist are inseparable from each other. Make sense? Of course it does.
All of which logically leads to travel. Travel writing, regardless of what the snobbish upmarket writers will tell you, can be as simple as merging the home turf with foreign turf. If you’re a natural at writing, this happens automatically, so in my case San Jose gets grafted onto any place I travel and vice versa. I never really leave my own city, my own corner of the world, as Cavafy wrote. This year it was Chiang Mai, Thailand, Dublin, Ireland, and Trieste, Italy. In each case, the trip helped me further understand the San Jose predicament.
Lastly, let’s not forget literature: 2018 was a banner year for women novelists, especially of the international daughter-of-immigrant demographic, a handful of which made it into this column. I am grateful to be interconnected with all of the above subjects and ideas. Here’s to a rip-roaring 2019!