This week I’m doing something every good Portlander does once or twice a year: I’m leaving Portland to visit my hometown in California. I’m in San Jose, just 50 minutes south of San Francisco, in the heart of Silicon Valley. If you’ve seen the TV show Silicon Valley, you know pretty much all you need to know about this area: It’s completely overrun by programmer nerds that not only design every high-tech product that will invade and consume our lives, but also somehow find a few hours every day to masturbate to tentacle porn. Silicon Valley proves you really can make billions doing what you love, as long as you have a few millions when you start out, and as long as what you love is compressing data and not getting laid.
My dad moved our family to San Jose to seek such billions and compress such data in the early ’80s. My sister Lark and I had spent our early childhood in New York City, and our new friends in California teased us relentlessly—mostly about our East Coast accents, especially the way we pronounced water (“wah-tah”)—similar to the way Portland residents tease Los Angeles transplants for leaving a city that has just about run out of water. Lark and I may have sounded weird and looked pale compared to our West Coast counterparts, but we were soon assimilated: We bleached our hair with Sun-In, started wearing T&C Surf Designs T-shirts, learned how to act like we knew how to skateboard, and got as tan as two kids with Jewish and Irish roots could.
Everyone is a gangster is San Jose. That is to say, some people are actually gangsters, and a lot more people just think they are gangsters. The real gangsters are children of immigrants who sell dirt weed and still listen to DJ Quik’s “Tonite.” The fake gangsters are children of immigrants who plan corporate retreats for PayPal employees and mainly listen to Drake, or maybe the Weeknd if it’s the weekend. But both real and fake gangsters can be found cruising Santa Clara street in their Raiders gear on Saturday nights searching for that still elusive piece of the American dream puzzle: The drunk and horny white girl.
The last job I had in San Jose before I moved away was filling orders at a lowrider parts warehouse just south of downtown. I would mostly box up switches for wannabe G’s in small Midwestern towns who wanted to lower their Honda Accords and roll around Dubuque like an even whiter Vanilla Ice. I learned what hydraulics were and how they could be used to make topless hoopties bounce, and even how to cut whitewalls on tires without vomiting due to massive Natty Ice-inflicted hangovers. My father, who worked for Adobe in their halcyon days and helped design Illustrator and PhotoShop, must have been so proud of me.
I don’t relate to San Jose as much now as I did growing up. I’ve been in Portland almost 20 years now, and the slow, rainy gloom suits me much better than the South Bay’s culture of sun and money ever did. But on some clear days, you can still catch me driving around in my Civic, bumpin’ “Tonite” on my Alpine pullout, Raiders cap tilted to the side.