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.




Where the hackers roam

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, 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.