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.
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.
To wander the streets of Palo Alto is to walk in the footprints of techies of legend. On our morning walk one day, we pass Steve Jobs’ house. It’s a lovely home but so understated compared to the man’s legacy. What did I expect? I don’t know, a mansion, perhaps. An altar of microchips in the shape of an apple in the front yard.
Along the main streets of downtown every other shop, it seems, is a start-up hovel. I know this because of the ergonomic chairs and white boards. I peer inside, wondering what magic is being conjured there, what wonders those white boards hold.
Dropping in Philz Coffee on Forest Avenue, I’ve never seen so many MacBooks outside an Apple store. They’re like an invasive species. Black screens blip with code. The room is buzzing with strange conversations. I’m sitting next to a couple of Stanford girls discussing some computing language in earnest. I sip my “Ether” coffee (aptly named) and prop my netbook PC on my lap, a bit self-consciously. Will they notice it’s already two years old?
I sign up for a writer’s group on meetup.com, and slip into Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View for my first meeting. There are at least three other meetups going on. One sign reads “Android Developers Casual Meetup”. There are about a dozen at the table, mixed in age, gender, race, etc. There’s no use trying to pin the hacker down to a type of person. They’re everywhere, could be anybody.
As the day slips into evening, I drop into The Rose and Crown for a pint. British-style with an authentic pub vibe – I can tell this is going to be my favorite spot. Down the bar from me is a man in his 50s or so, wild, wiry hair, nerdcore glasses. Having a rousing debate with the bartender over engineering or code or something. I look down at the menu. Curry chips and veggie burger and shepherd’s pie.
I’m so confused.
From Flagstaff, Arizona we make a slight detour north to see “the strip” in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The journey from Vegas to Reno is…eerie. We pass miles of land littered with U.S. Government restricted access signs in varying degrees of unfriendliness. Just as the sun starts to set, a heavy, solemn cloud starts smothering the mountains, diffusing light in patches.
It’s getting quite late, and we’re dog tired. Looking for a hotel is hard work – we stop in a tiny town and all of the motels are booked. There’s a big job or something nearby, and seasonal workers have swarmed in.
Then, suddenly, we’re in Death Valley!
The next day, a freak snowstorm makes the passage to Reno precarious, but lovely.
We drop in on my cousins in Reno, who kindly show us the big city lights. Just a few hours later the next day, we are pulling into Palo Alto, California – our destination.
Horatio sighs as Sal switches off the ignition. It’s time for a rest, for all three of us road warriors.
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My experiences in Egypt from October 2013
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