.Silicon Alleys: Reworked Guide to San Jose Focuses on People Behind the Places

NANNY, NANNY: Susanna Greenwood talked to the animals—or at least their owners—to get the inside scoop on San Jose for her book.

Susanna Greenwood is a one-woman connection machine. This week a new version of her 2015 book, 100 Things to Do In San Jose Before You Die, hits the streets with an October 30th release party at 3Below, formerly the Camera 3 Cinemas.

She rewrote the book with the intention of connecting visitors to events and places where locals hang out, so those visitors could then, in turn, learn more about San Jose.

At the time of Greenwood’s initial publication four years ago, she was an employee of Team San Jose. Reedy Press was just starting to build a catalog of similar titles. Being a native and true believer in her town’s potential, Greenwood took on the project.

“It kind of fell in my lap in terms of who should write this,” she recalls. “I kind of figured, ‘You know what, I work for the convention center, I hear the questions all the time, I know the answers, I live downtown, I happen to like San Jose, so I’d be a good person to write it, so I think I’ll do it.’ So I did. We didn’t have a San Jose-specific guide at that time.”

As a result, the book unfolded as a compendium of blurbs, quick shots and paragraphs, a project designed for people visiting on business or side trips. The new edition, while still following that layout, has a slightly different feel. Greenwood took into account her own perspectives when she travels. That is, instead of looking through a thick detailed guide offering every little piece of giddy advice, she’d rather encounter local characters whose stories help illuminate a place. This became her attitude when choosing the selection of entries. She wanted to introduce her readers to eccentric city denizens and places where those natives would most likely be found. Those natives could be artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, brewmasters, poets or even goats, as long as there’s a story to tell. Such is the philosophy that drove the book.

“The people, for me, are the guides. That’s who you want to talk to,” she says. “The people who live here, the people who are super passionate, the people who are making the art and making the things. That’s who you want to get in touch with. What I found, while I was curating this next edition, was where are the places and events that are going to put someone in touch with that person?”

The book was not just thrown together. Some serious thought went into the curation. As a result, the Arts & Entertainment section includes, among many others, Cafe Stritch, Capitol Drive-in, Art Boutiki, JJ’s and the Dancing Cat Cafe. Thumbing through Shopping and Fashion, one finds Needle to the Groove, Hicklebee’s and the Ao Dai Festival. The food section features 26 must-eats from Mezcal to Mark’s Hot Dogs. Other pages include Silicon Valley Beer Week, the main library, the San Carlos Street antique shops and the city hall falcons, plus gardens, art walks, Ethiopian food and pillow fights. All of these are places and events that should connect visitors to locals with weird stories to tell. Only a native could have organized the selection the way Greenwood did.

“I feel like we are an underground, kind of understated, city because our best asset is the people,” Greenwood says, “and so I tried to put them in the forefront. The San Joseans are the tour guides. They are the secret society. They are the ones that are going to give you the information that I couldn’t possibly put in a book, when given a paragraph to cover something.”

Greenwood now works in Mountain View but still regularly shows up all over San Jose. She’s hoping her book helps alleviate some of the stigmas and inconsistencies in the downtown San Jose experience.

“I think it’s so much easier than people make it out to be,” she says. “I take my 81-year-old mother to events. There is parking, there is accessibility, and there are things that are appropriate for kids, for adults, for millennials, for all of it. I feel like there’s access, and we have to remind people of that.”

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