This cactus leaf turned up in my vegetable bag. I cut off the prickles and fried it up. Tossed it with some salsa. I call it Totally Desert Salsa.
Yippee ki yay!
…while eating an avocado with a spoon and discussing my new “detox” with a couple of climate change professionals.
Those subtle, penetrating tendrils of socialization permeate my habits and thoughts even as I observe them. We’re starting to fit in here. Sal says things like, “I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with this right now.” I’m eating quinoa and writing about energy startups. It’s amazing how we remake ourselves, shifting bits around to fit the new environment.
I reckon we’re Californians now. I still say “Cheers” and “Howdy” though. You know, to keep it real.
The data says you do, anyway. Of note: how we feel about the tech industry is nearly the inverse of how we feel about government.
Check it out on priceonomics.com:
To supplement my freelance writing experiment, I’m working part-time at a cafe. Part-time sounds breezy and fun, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is. Some days, though, I spend seven hours on my feet and want to collapse on the floor in a dramatic faint. But I never do. I just get on my bike and ride back to our apartment, flop in a chair, and drink a cup of oolong. Where was I going with this?
So, it’s been a marathon day, and it ain’t over. I hop in the car to pick up the veg bag, and hit Silicon Valley’s infamous rush hour traffic. I mash buttons on the radio, landing on NPR. This guy is talking about organic products, and how maybe they are not organic, and there’s conflict of interest between the farmers and companies that certify organic products.
Are you kidding me, NPR? The organic label is all I have to assure me I’m buying actual food! And now you’re telling me I can’t trust it? That it might be full of pesticides and nano-computers or whatever? That the moral superiority I’ve been feeling in the checkout line has been for naught?
I mash buttons again, landing on “With or Without You” by U2. I wail along happily, cracking the window to release those inconvenient facts into the California breeze.
Some days I just want the radio to be nice to me and not challenge deeply held beliefs, ok?
Is that so much to ask?
Walking home from work, I take a different route down Emerson Street and pass a curious house with nonsense written on it. Wacky Californians, I think. Posting poetry on their houses.
While I’m snapping a photo, a woman stops and smiles.
“Trying to find all the Dead Houses?”
“Sorry?” I look at the house. It doesn’t look deceased. A little love worn, maybe…
“They’re named after Grateful Dead albums,” she explains. “You know, ‘Box of Rain,’ ‘China Cat’…”
I nod slowly, but I don’t understand. I never took to the Grateful Dead.
“This guy bought up all these houses and fills them up with students and they split the costs. They’re like communal living houses. He thought it would be cool to give students a cheap place to live. And I guess he’s a big Grateful Dead fan.”
She points out a few more down the street. I thank her and snap more photos.
According to a recent article in The Stanford Daily online, there are nine of these Dead communes in Palo Alto and a few in San Francisco. The juxtaposition intrigues me. Here in the heart of Silicon Valley, down a stretch of street lined with millions and millions of dollars of real estate, a bunch of Stanford kids are growing organic tomatoes and sharing household chores. I wonder if, in the wee hours of the night, they strum a guitar and sing the Grateful Dead song for which their tiny paradise is named.
I reckon there’s still some of that hippy love left in Palo Alto. Some dude out there is keeping it real. That’s good to know.
Yesterday I had one of those rare moments of self-awareness, when you can see yourself as others see you, and it makes you laugh. Or cry. Whatever.
A little backstory:
While we look for an affordable apartment in Silicon Valley, my husband and I are staying at my mother’s house in Palo Alto. Apartment searching has been tougher than I thought, but we are resilient and stubborn people.
One night, after a couple drinks at our favorite pub (the Rose and Crown), my husband pulls into the driveway and returns with a surprise – a kick scooter!
“I found it for 7 bucks at the thrift store!”
I laugh with delight and ride it around the quiet suburban street, at 10:00 at night. Despite the couple glasses of wine, I do a fair job of keeping it upright. It sits against the garage for several days, until I am running late for a writers’ meeting, and my husband has the car. I decide to give it a go.
It’s hard work, scooter-ing! It’s exercise, actually. Entering the Stanford Mall, I pass shoppers filtering in and out of restaurants, including a child and his father.
“Daddy, look at her! She’s riding a scooter!”
“Yes, son, it’s like yours.”
“But mine is cooler.”
“Ha ha, yes. Yours is cooler.”
I start to feel a bit self-conscious passing Neiman Marcus, when yet another child comments on the scooter. Instead of bringing it into the cafe, I prop the scooter discreetly against the door.
After the meeting, I am whizzing past Palo Alto High School and it hits me: this isn’t London, where you see trendy, green professionals zipping along the Thames path and popping out of the tubes on their scooters.
This is Palo Alto, California, and I’m wearing a backpack, riding a scooter back to my mother’s house. In my thirties. What must these people think of me? Google professionals, no doubt, passing me by in their Prii and Teslas.
In the near-darkness, at 5’2″, I reckon I’m short enough to pass for a high schooler.
I take small comfort in this.
Several months into this West Coast adventure, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe Silicon Valleyites in their natural habitat. Through East Coast eyes they appear casual and openly friendly. Loose cotton clothes, jeans, sandals and flip flops. Chatty but not like, small talk chatty.
My first week in Palo Alto, I was in a thrift store and had a 20-minute life-affirming, deep conversation with a lady in her 70s. I felt we should have hugged or something at the end, but we didn’t. Sal and I had a 20-minute conversation with the owner of a framing company over how technology has ruined dinner party conversations. Afterwards I felt like we should meet up for coffee, but we didn’t. It just seems to be their way, to philosophize and move on.
It ain’t all laid-back intellectual banter, though. Humming just below the surface of Silicon Valley everyday life is a 2 million watt current of tekkie energy. It’s everywhere. It’s not uncommon to overhear conversations about developing apps or software start-up woes in the line at Trader Joe’s. iPads are so everywhere, I thought one came with a California drivers license. (They don’t, sadly.)
As a haunter of coffee shops, I observe the tekkies and wonder about them. Take this guy for instance: jeans ripped clear to the knee, cheeky Calvin and Hobbes knock off tee shirt. Wicked hair – long and curly on one the left side, cropped short on the right. He leans forward, keying in something incredible into his Macbook Air, then leans back and taps amazing things into his iPhone.
What strange digital thoughts buzz through this coffee shop, every second, every day? What wild technotronic dreams rise up from the coffee grounds? Knowing that the surfer-looking dude next to you on the couch could be, right this instant, inventing the new holograph phone, is straight up intimidating.
I have got to get an iPad, just to get some baseline respect.
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