A Road Trip with Jack

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Light Bulbs, Cow Magnets, and a Temple to Bottled Water

I continued past the Sunol Water Temple that used to flow with water from Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley bound for San Francisco, 167 miles away. Once it was one of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, today it is under a lake. Much of the Tuolumne River water now sits in Crystal Springs reservoir, formed by an open crack in the San Andreas Fault, just outside The City. On the plus side, it frequently wins awards for its purity and taste. BTW, that stuff in the bottles…it comes from San Francisco’s taps.

I had a vague idea to continue past Sunol bound for Livermore, but turned away. Twenty-five years ago, Livermore was a small ranch town. Today it is home to some of the best and brightest scientists in the world. There is still a feed and grain store and it still sells cow magnets. But, it sits next to trendy shops and restaurants in the middle of a burgeoning wine area. The ranchers are nouveau-riche real estate moguls flush now, with big bucks from ranch land turned tract house farms. The town is famous as the birthplace of Livermorium of periodic table fame and the world’s longest burning light bulb. It has hung in a local fire station since 1901.

Additional Construction Ahead

Instead, I chose to climb into the hills above town. Like many parts of the earthquake Bay Area, the land is too steep to build on and too unstable to hold still. It is the exclusive home to ranches grazed by cattle that my father-in-law used to claim had short legs on one side to keep from falling off the hills.

It can be remote and this road is one of those places. It follows a curvy 1 and 2-lane path along the top of a high ridge. In over an hour, I passed three cars and a handful of insanely fit bicyclists flaunting death on the dangerous curves and sliding, unguarded shoulders.

Every few hundred yards rockslides tumbled onto the roadway. Mist rose from canyons too steep for even the shortest legged cows. In some areas, it was impossible to see the bottom of the canyons from the road. Deer munched tree leaves, huge turkeys stood their ground in the middle of the road, and flocks of fat quail raced the car along the crumbling cliffs. In the gunless Bay Area they were safe — put them in Texas and they’d be Sunday dinner.

Halfway across the trek, signs announced “Road Construction Ahead”. Farther on the signs said, “Additional Construction Ahead”. Giving a clue to the area’s lifestyle, an accompanying, gang-tagged sign reminded drivers the construction would last from 2011-2018. I can’t fathom why gangs were in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest robbery location, drug deal, or turf war just to tag the signs, but they hit every one of them.

Silicon Valley Isn’t a Place; It’s a State of Mind

Entering civilization in Milpitas, the hills are being populated by Silicon Valley executives. They own small ranches with tiny herds of cattle to collect ranch/farm tax credits and host the occasional barbeque and wine tasting. They sell “artisanal” extra virgin olive oil from farms designed more for tax break losses than keeping Rachel Ray in EVO. They epitomize the spirit of Silicon Valley, a place that doesn’t physically exist, in a valley that isn’t there, and that contains nary a speck of natural silica. They are workaholic titans who produce “innovation”, also known as vaporware, that is as real and useful as Silicon Valley.

Motherfuckin’ Burgers on a Plane!

Before turning back north on Interstate 680 (not THE 680, that’s what SoCal philistines call freeways), I stop for a drink at a Burger King. It is tucked away between a white-tablecloth Mediterranean restaurant, a cosmetic dentist, and plastic surgeon’s office. It has the cleanest public restroom I’ve ever seen. Far cleaner than the non-Valley riff-raff get. I buy my drink and suddenly realize I am the only white guy in a place that if it were in any other part of the country would be the exclusive territory of old white guys and trophy wives. There is one black man. He is a well-to-do Samuel L. Jackson doppelganger wearing a backwards Kangol cap and white-framed hipster glasses. But this bunch is a mix of Asian and Indian immigrants speaking Mandarin and Tamil. I can almost smell H1B visas in the air. This is multi-cultural, polyglot California after all.

I-680 is almost empty, which is to say bumper-to-bumper but moving at 80 mph…even on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. At rush hour, this is one of the busiest highways in California, a state known for world-class busy highways. There has been a rash of satanic cattle murders in the well-heeled hills above the freeway over the past few years. If you see the perps, call the Alameda County sheriff, there is a large reward.

I finally wind down across the Pleasanton Pass and into Castro Valley. I turn the corner into Hayward and I am home. I’ve gone about 85 miles by road, but less than 30 the crow fly. It’s been a good trip.

I feel better already.

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