Friday, June 24, 2022

"Do you know the way to San Jose?" and how long the trip will take?

With one notable exception, storytellers and songwriters have pretty much ignored San Jose. Even in “Do you know the way,” the point of the song is that there’s not much to the town, small, friendly and unglamorous, presented as the opposite of LA. 


LA is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years, how quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

You can really breathe in San Jose
They've got a lot of space
There'll be a place where I can stay
I was born and raised in San Jose
I'm going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose

San Francisco, one the other hand, has never suffered from lack of attention, It was getting more than its fair share of PR as far back as the turn of the century.

Fancy a novel about Chicago or Buffalo, let us say, or Nashville, Tennessee! There are just three big cities in the United States that are “story cities”—New York, of course, New Orleans, and, best of the lot, San Francisco. —Frank Norris.

East is East, and West is San Francisco, according to Californians. Californians are a race of people; they are not merely inhabitants of a State. They are the Southerners of the West. Now, Chicagoans are no less loyal to their city; but when you ask them why, they stammer and speak of lake fish and the new Odd Fellows Building. But Californians go into detail.

Of course they have, in the climate, an argument that is good for half an hour while you are thinking of your coal bills and heavy underwear. But as soon as they come to mistake your silence for conviction, madness comes upon them, and they picture the city of the Golden Gate as the Bagdad of the New World. So far, as a matter of opinion, no refutation is necessary. But, dear cousins all (from Adam and Eve descended), it is a rash one who will lay his finger on the map and say: “In this town there can be no romance—what could happen here?” Yes, it is a bold and a rash deed to challenge in one sentence history, romance, and Rand and McNally. -- "A Municipal Report" by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)

If you get your news about the West Coast from New York journalists, you might get the impression that nothing much has changed, but the days when SF could claim to dominate even the Bay Area for anything but restaurants and clubs has long passed. The area’s biggest population and employment center is lowly San Jose, and it has been for decades.

But reputations don't die that easily, particularly ones this entrenched. Despite the worship piled on the tech messiahs of the region, cool people still don't want to live in Silicon Valley. They want to live someplace they can brag about, someplace with iconic street scenes or spectacular mountain views, which usually means someplace that requires more than an hour's drive to get to work.

In other words, a functional exurb and when we discuss housing in the Bay Area, we always need to ask how long does it take to get to San Jose without a car.

One thing to be said for SF is that, for the West, it is fairly well served by public transportation. Some other favorites of YIMBY advocates... not so much.

 Even making the 15 mile trip from Mill Valley to SF takes well over an hour if you don't have the option of driving.

Fortunately, there is a lot of construction in San Jose where it is desperately needed. Now if we could just get all these New York Times experts to ask that musical question.


  1. A non-notable exception.

    1. What really stings isn't that I missed another San Jose song, but that it was a Tom Lehrer song.