Gripe all you want, but deep down, you love tekkies…

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:

The Enduring Popularity of the Technology Industry.

On how listening to NPR can kind of ruin your day if you let it

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?

Right, NPR.

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?

Dead Houses

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.

'Box of Rain' and something of Wolves...sorry, that's a terrible photo. My phone sucks a little.

‘Box of Rain’ and something of Wolves…sorry, that’s a terrible photo. My phone sucks a little.

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.

'Uncle John's Band' complete with an urban veg garden in the front yard.

‘Uncle John’s Band’ complete with an urban veg garden in the front yard.

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.

'Touch of Grey'

‘Touch of Grey’

 

Self reflection

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.

Don't listen to them, Rocinante. You are my noble steed. Together, we shall slay the windmills of preconceptions of appropriate adult commuting methods!

I call her Rocinante.

 

 

On how Silicon Valley can be intimidating to mere mortals

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.

It beckons.

It beckons.

 

 

Budget Vegetarian

Since moving back to America, I’ve started a new life as a Budget Vegetarian. Don’t worry, my dear readers. I’m not going to get all preachy on you. You know that’s not how I roll. I just want to share my dietary experiment with you. I know! Let’s do this Q & A style. Won’t that be fun?

What is a Budget Vegetarian?

Definition:

A dietary plan that limits meat consumption for the purposes of lowering personal expenses. Budget vegetarians do not purchase meat, but won’t refuse it if offered for free. For example, if your friend cooks you dinner with meat in it, you can eat it and that’s totally cool.

I googled this and it doesn’t pop up in the first search screen, so I’m going to declare it a new fad.

Why become a Budget Vegetarian?

It’s a lifestyle choice that you might consider after, say, researching the price of rental housing in Silicon Valley and then looking at your paycheck.

What famous people are doing this?

Me and my brother, who coined the term.  In this blog I am publicly inviting all of my Hollywood friends to also become Budget Vegetarians. Watch this space!

How much money will I save? How healthy will I get?

I cut my food budget by about 30%. I feel pretty healthy, I guess. You should ask your doctor about that stuff. That’s a sort of vague question anyway. Next time maybe think about refining it a little.

Will I lose 53 pounds? 

Dude, look. This is just a blog about my life. How can I tell how much, if any, weight you will lose? I don’t even know you. For all I know, you’re 54 pounds and losing all that weight would kill you! You should talk to like, a dietitian or something.

Will I be cool if I become a Budget Vegetarian?

No. But you may save some money and eat more vegetables.

I’m sold. How do I start? 

I signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme. I love CSAs. I’m lazy and I don’t like shopping, and these lovely people pick all the vegetables and fruit and deliver it in a bag for me. Because they do all that work, I feel guilty for not eating the vegetables, so guilt is an added incentive.

Alternatively, you can just buy a bag of potatoes and a can of beans at the store and you’re good to go.

 

Are you considering the upward trending lifestyle that is Budget Vegetarianism? Welcome. You’re part of a growing fad that has already nominally changed the lives  of at least 2 people. 

Budget Vegetarians Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

Transitional Tourist

It’s funny, the way you know that you really belong somewhere is that you never go and see the things that make that place famous.

If you live in New York City, you just don’t go to the Empire State Building, for example. My best friend lived in NYC for years, and I think the only time she went to the Statue of Liberty or any of that stuff was when a starry-eyed friend like me came to visit.

I never understood that about her, until I moved to London. That first year, man, I went EVERYWHERE! Any chance to pass by Big Ben, hop on a train and go to Oxford, wander around the Tower of London, I took it. Fast-forward a couple years, and I barely ventured out of Camberwell, the neighborhood where I lived. I spent 98% of my going-out time in local pubs just sitting around with friends. When people came to visit, I sent them on their own to the Tower.

We’re in the transitional phase now, in Silicon Valley. Before I get all comfy and this tech / beach / California thing gets normal, I’m going to get out there and have some adventures.

Top five so far:

1. Google campus

2. Santa Cruz boardwalk

3. Big Sur

4. L.A.

5. Wine country

Someday, when I’m blogging about life on a sustainable urban windfarm in San Francisco, I’ll look back on these first several months with a chuckle.

Well, if you’re reading this, Future Me, don’t get too smug. You were a tourist once, too.