Monday, March 14, 2011

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

As a matter of fact, yes, I do, thank you very little. Having spent the previous weekend in Seattle (and yes, I know I haven't finished writing up the details of that journey), I then drove to San Jose and back this past weekend. Unlike my recent Los Angeles trips, however, yes, I stayed over in San Jose. Actually, I stayed 2 nights, because it is a long drive (about 540 miles one way), and I'd never been there before, so I thought I'd check it out a bit.

The drive is one I have done before, but never in this direction. Since you can't get there from here, you have to actually travel a little south from Las Vegas first in order to get to San Jose, which is actually quite a bit north. Welcome to America.

It's a lot of desert from here to Barstow, with not a hell of a lot of interesting landscape to look at along the way, outside of some nice hills and mountains that you climb thru almost immediately upon entering California. Once you get to the other side of Barstow, you now have to leave I-15, the main freeway (the same road you take from Las Vegas nearly all the way to Los Angeles), and go to CA 58, which initially resembles I-15 quite a lot, but eventually morphs into something quite different. By the time you're leaving CA 58, you've driven thru lush, green, rolling hillsides that seem as though someone severely misplaced parts of the Scottish Highlands. It's a beautiful section of country, made even more so by the fact that it comes as such a juxtaposition to the countless thousands of acres of desert that surround it.

In the vicinity of the town of Tehachapi (yes, that's spelled right), is the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm, a collection of giant fans/windmills used to harness the power of naturally flowing winds and convert them into energy used to power parts of Southern California. It also makes for a uniquely stunning visual sight, seeing row upon row of spinning propellers perched high upon mountaintops. Not the sort of thing you see on a daily basis...unless, of course, you happen to live in Tehachapi.

The day I drove to San Jose (Friday the 11th of March) was a beautiful sunny day, so I was a little surprised to see a sign warning of heavy dense fog ahead. There were clouds around, especially one seemingly low-lying patch that looked as if it ended not much after it began, but they were outnumbered by the vast blue sky. Once I'd driven thru that, I forgot about it, and continued the ascent up CA 58. Upon beginning the descent, however, is when I realized the warning that had been posted earlier had been accurate.

The bright sunny day very rapidly disappeared as I, and the other drivers in my vicinity, went into a near solid wall of fog. Whereas we'd all been travelling close to 80MPH for the duration of the trip, with plenty of gaps between us, everyone now became bunched up in an effort to find the road at about half the velocity. Since visibility had been reduced to nil, it forced us to bunch together, as everyone was relying on the vehicle in front of them to help find the road. Cars were no more than 2 or 3 lengths apart, and even then the brake lights and a hazy outline were barely visible. This was made all the more interesting by being a downhill, twisty section of mountain road. Great fun! Which, for me, is the truth. I enjoy driving in those kind of situations where you're forced to sit up and REALLY pay attention. Something about that is really enjoyable to me.

Finally emerging from the cloud a while later, it was smooth, fogless sailing the rest of the jaunt to San Jose. CA 58 runs into I-5, which is then pretty much a straight shot northwest up to the Silicon Valley area, so named for the vast number of high-tech corporations which are based there. Getting to my hotel in the mid-afternoon, I checked the iPhone and paperwork provided by the hotel for nearby restaurants, of which there were an immense number within walking distance. Settling on a safe bet of an Italian restaurant, I sat down to a terrific meal of chicken parmigiana and vegetables coated with garlic butter at a nice place called Bella Mia. Gilroy, a town about 30 miles to the south, is apparently built around the garlic industry. The vegetables were fantastic, an excellent compliment to the chicken, which had a good amount of cheese and a nice marinara sauce on it.

Saturday morning I spent wandering around the downtown area, just exploring and admiring the monuments to computer technology that had been constructed. Many of the bigger technology firms in the world have their large corporate headquarters located within a few blocks of each other, along with quite a number of large financial institutions...and each with a uniquely designed building. I'm a fan of interesting architecture, and there was definitely some of that on display in downtown San Jose. Made for an interesting morning's stroll and picture taking.

I then headed over to the San Jose Museum Of Art in the early afternoon, which was located pretty much around the block from my hotel. While it was a nice place, and had some interesting displays (a display of Robert Mapplethorpe celebrity portraits, recent photographic pieces from other artists, and my personal favorite, a display of recent paintings by artists from India), having grown up in New York City, this museum paled in comparison. It's kinda tough to go visit museums in other places, unless they are MAJOR cities, when you've grown up with The Metropolitan Museum Of Art as your local museum. Again, I don't mean to knock the San Jose one; I liked what they had, but even taking my time, I wasn't there for much more than an hour. At The Met, an hour would get you thru maybe 2 rooms, leaving about 150 more to go. Still, I enjoyed what was in the San Jose Museum, and I'm glad I did it.

This was all a preamble though, as the main reason for my trip was Saturday night's National Hockey League game with the San Jose Sharks hosting the visiting New York Rangers. When I looked at the schedule many months earlier and saw that this was the week after the comic convention in Seattle, I figured taking a week off for the 2 events would be a great idea. Again, my hotel was within walking distance of the Shark Tank, which is what the locals have dubbed the arena with the ever-changing corporate branding that the Sharks play in. Seems that everything there is right on top of everything else, which is good if your visiting. There doesn't seem to be much living space right in downtown, as it's mostly corporate castles, upscale hotels, eateries, shopping, and spaces for the arts (theater, comedy clubs, etc.). Yet there were literally hundreds of people walking right along with me to the game, and I was going early, because I wanted to take in warm-ups, as well as have some extra time to explore and soak in a new-to-me hockey arena. It's possible many of them had taken either buses or trains that run with amazing frequency thru the downtown area that would have left them in the vicinity of my hotel, which was about a 15 or 20 minute walk away.

I don't like to let these entries get too long, so I'm shutting this one down here, with obviously more to come...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Björk (live), Tom Paxton, Tricky, Unida, TV On The Radio, Monster Magnet, The Chemical Brothers, Faith No More, Soundgarden, John Lee Hooker, Corrosion Of Conformity, Fu Manchu (live), Hermano, Tomoyasu Hotei, Misfits, The Lively Ones, Les Claypool, Ozzy Osbourne, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, John Frusciante, Galactic, The Doors (live, covering Van Morrison)

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