I was born. Here.
At Good Samaritan Hospital, less that 10 miles from where I sit. Then it was called “The Valley Of The Heart’s Delight.” My father was a mechanic for United Airlines, and my mother raised us kids. For the first few years of my life we lived in Sunnyvale. It was my mother who had the vision and the energy to move us to Cupertino, which in the early 70s had one foot firmly planted in cherry and apricot orchards while the other began creeping toward technology and semiconductors.
I was kid. Here.
Our small house on Kirwin Lane, was located less than 2 blocks from De Anza college. Where Cupertino Town Center now sits, I once rode my 20" bike across an open field, discovering the hard way that it was being graded and developed for office buildings. My front wheel fell in to the ditch that had been cut for water and sewer pipes. Blood and stitches in my upper lip followed.
Me and Cole, and the other neighborhood kids played baseball in the street in the spring and summer, football in the fall and winter, coming in when the street lights came on. We built a skateboard ramp at the bottom of the driveway at Eric’s house and learned to ride it by practicing every day until one night a car didn’t make the turn at the end of the street and destroyed our beloved ramp.
We skateboarded to Spinnin’ Wheels skatepark on the corner of Homestead and Stelling, rode our BMX bikes at the dry creek bed Calabasas park, and awakened to the sight and sounds of hot air balloons one Sunday every summer during “De Anza Days.”
The property behind our house was an old farm. Just over the backyard fence was a field with squash growing in it. I don’t much like squash but to this day, their smell reminds me of childhood. Not far from that old field thousands of cars drive daily on highway 85.
I learned. Here.
I played Little League baseball, PAL Football, AYSO soccer. I learned to play the trumpet at Hoover Elementary School. I poured molten aluminum in to a sand form at John F. Kennedy Jr. High to make an ashtray (an ashtray? For a 7th grader? It was one of the options). At Monta Vista High School I was in marching band, jazz band, symphonic band, jazz choir, and speech and debate. I was far from valedictorian, but still spoke at my graduation, surfing the typical teenage tropes, citing Conrad, “only a moment…” and quoting Eddie Murphy.
I grew. Here.
In the 80s, the city of San Jose and its namesake state university were far from the gleaming and grown up it is now. I rode my scooter to class every morning, passing adult movie theaters, strip clubs and vacant buildings. When I arrived on campus the halls were dirty and homeless people often times walked in to class, took a seat at the rear and muttered loudly during lectures. But there was a symphony and musicals at the Center For The Performing Arts. De Anza College’s Flint Center regularly hosted world class jazz musicians, thanks to Dr. Patnoe’s close relationship with Stan Kenton. Buddy Rich’s Big Band once performed at Vallco Fashion Park! I was a member of the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps, an activity which has proven to be almost more rewarding decades later than it was when I was 18. We appreciate youth so much better when we’re no longer young.
I learned to ski with Rob and Andrew, taking nearly weekly trips to Squaw Valley with their father Jim. We shot BB guns, rode motorcycles at Hollister and Metcalf, sneaked out at night during sleep overs, and wandered empty streets, creating no mischief or mayhem but exploring a world devoid of its daily rattle and hum. At 3am a 16 year old is the ruler of his universe.
I accomplished. Here.
I earned my Private Pilot Rating at San Jose and Palo Alto airports, and am the first and only member of my family to earn a college degree. As a food server and bartender at Lion & Compass, I met many Bay Area technology entrepreneurs, overheard their scandalous conversations (“well it’s simple, if he doesn’t come around, we’ll just buy him out,”) I also learned that a much more fruitful future was possible in software sales than as a commercial airline pilot. I was educated at De Anza College, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree at San Jose State, and later an MBA at CalState Hayward
I got lucky. Here.
After graduation I noticed an ad in the Employment section of the San Jose Mercury News. It was for a Telemarketing Representative at a company and I knew the CEO. At “the Compass” I’d poured him drinks, served him dinner (“the halibut is excellent this evening, Herb”) and parked his Rolls-Royce. I called the main number, and left him a voicemail, “hey Herb, it’s your bartender TJ….” After an interview or two I was offered the position despite having no background in technology or software. That company built and sold some of the very first commercially available software on which the internet is built. It was ostensibly the perfect stepping stone to a lifelong career.
I had a career. Here.
For the next twenty years I was fortunate enough to be associated with some of the most significant companies and technologies in history. I was part of the internet before there as an internet, helped Apple Computer build wireless networking in to its products before it was called “WiFi” and helped build companies build products that enabled “voice over the internet.” I was part of the team that allowed WiFi enabled smartphones connect to the internet. That job took me out of the Bay Area, to Santa Monica, the only time I’d not lived within 20 minutes of “the Bay.” I remember friends asking “WiFi? On a phone? Why would anyone ever want that?”
I loved. Here.
I still drive by the bench at the bus stop where I left the box of chocolates that I’d bought for, but was too nervous to give to, Kim my 4th grade crush. I was also too embarrassed to arrive home with them in my hands. The lawn at Los Gatos City Center where Linda and I drank California Coolers at midnight, listening to Naked Eyes. “Always Something There To Remind me.” Me and Jimmy went to Mother’s disco on Friday nights, met and danced with girls, some of whom gave us their phone numbers when we asked for them. There I met Dee, with whom I shared a brief but typical teenage romance before her father unexpectedly died, ending our relationship. I drive by her old townhouse on a near daily basis. In an ironic turn many years later I would meet the woman who would become my wife on the Internet (Yahoo! Personals), technology that I had helped enable. 21 years later we are still happily married, no swipes needed.
I became irrelevant. Here.
Despite my early involvement in some of the most significant technologies of the late 20th century, (TCP/IP [the IP is for Internet Protocol], WiFi [still 802.11B when I began slinging it to companies like Apple], and WiFi again [this time on mobile devices], and despite earning a master’s degree in business, I ended up “retired” at far too early an age. “The Valley” is not kind to men who’ve reached the 5th decade of life, regardless of their many years of experience. For a long time I couldn’t even get phone interviews. After years of working for no salary, or for young, seeming schizophrenic CEOs armed with little more than the belief that sheer willpower alone will make them successful, I checked out.
Sadly, the place I was born, the place I’ve had all these life changing experiences, has changed so radically, I no longer feel a part of it. My family and I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, our property a haven from the distracted madness of the valley. When we’re here, it’s magical, but trips to San Francisco for a ballet or Giants game no longer feel worth the nearly 5 hour round trip commute. We’d stay here and happily become mountain recluses, but after the numerous wildfires over the past few years (one of which saw us evacuated for 3 days, unsure if we’d ever see our home again) our insurer dropped us, and the only plan we can get is almost as much as our 5 digit property taxes, and it wouldn’t cover replacing our home.
At the risk of ragging on the “back when I was a boy” theme, I remember a business meeting at Netscape, back in 1995. The company that built the first commercially available web browser was the Facebook of its era, attracting young, smart, often arrogant software engineers from all over the country. Before the meeting I chatted with a recent arrival to our state from some place east. I mentioned the escalating high price of real estate in Palo Alto and he replied in haughty fashion, “yeah, well it’s not for everyone.” I wanted to smack him down. Tell him that my Palo Alto was one of going to hear live music at the Varsity Theatre, and maybe taking my date to Liddicoat’s food mall for an ice cream after the show. Palo then, was a town of intellectuals from Stanford and hippies clinging to their own memories. I wonder how he feels about all these bright-eyed young engineers coming to a place he’s called home for the last 30 years. So it goes.
The photo above of the bear hugging my home state is both beautiful and bittersweet. The original California flag was supposed to depict “California grizzly” bear, (now extinct) although its appearance more closely resembles an “American black bear.”Ironically, both brown and grizzly bears have been extinct in my state for almost a century, while roughly 40,000 or so still roam the state.
So it goes that it is time for me and my family, like so many other California natives, to say goodbye to the only place I’ve ever lived. I don’t know how long it will take us to sell the property we affectionately call “Pacific Haven.” I will no doubt shed many tears the day I look for the last time from our deck across the expanse of redwoods and firs clinging to the mountains between our home and the Monterey Bay. But despite the many wonderful things California has to offer, the quality of life is not commensurate with the cost, and the many looming crises.
Like the bear in the photo above I will hold this place where I was born forever in my arms.