I've lived long enough in Palo Alto, my favorite city, that my starry-eyed observations of yesteryear have taken on just a hint of cynicism. Everywhere these days in Silicon Valley, especially here in Palo Alto, life moves faster than the proverbial speed of light. Don't hesitate or you'll miss designing that new app. Or risk not getting that venture capital funding.
"These 35- and 25-mph zones are way too slow. Besides, they're not meant for me. I'll just gun it at 40 or 50. If I'm really in a hurry, I can race down the middle-lane divider or the bike lane, on Charleston, passing all those cars stopped for the Alma light. Those two sets of double yellow lines don't bother me."
What's it like to live in Silicon Valley when you're not really involved directly in the technology-driven buzz and vibrancy that surround you? When you're retired (really retired) and can enjoy that latte (or a Zaviva carmel) at Peet's? It's great to relax, but it's hard to get a table when so many people with time on their hands get to the tables first. Are they unemployed? Retired? Exercising their stock options? Or, are the ones sipping lattes while hunched over their computers deep in "design mode"?
There's the real estate market. We have "über-glitterati" real estate agents who reap huge commissions from cash transactions. Some of them support the local Tesla and McLaren dealerships. That's in addition to a private plane or two that ferry around international clients.
We're considered "modest home dwellers" by Palo Alto's standards, but that's all relative. "Modest" accurately describes the Palo Alto residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, largely service workers who are trying to save themselves from eviction.
We've lived for years in our Eichler -- 1,400 square feet on a 9,500-square-foot lot. Small house, big lot. It amuses us that they're now a hot commodity in the local market. Realistically, when our home is eventually sold, many years from now we hope, new owners most likely will want to get the biggest bang for their buck by building a one-story, 3,500-square-foot residence.
"Let us handle your home sale. Don't touch those original mahogany walls or those Formica counter tops." Original is in. We have grass-papered the living room walls and completely remodeled the kitchen; and we regularly update the rest. There's only so much '50s style one can stand.
We are grateful that the City Council is spearheading the "bike- and pedestrian-friendly" design along the Charleston corridor. Students from seven schools daily use the corridor. Seniors bike between the Charleston Shopping Center/Cubberley area and their homes, often crossing the tracks toward El Camino Real.
Those who live on Charleston have our own crosses to bear. Either way, we have to drive to the next intersection and make a U-turn to get back into our driveway. Or, we can back out (carefully!) into the curb lane and wait until a friendly motorist allows us to merge left into the traffic. Is it worth it? Yes.
Our neighbors started and finished their careers, for example, in engineering, theoretical physics, academia, and research. At SRI International, Stanford, Lockheed, Fairchild, Applied Materials and so on. That was well before nearby Google or Facebook appeared on the scene.
We discuss today's Palo Alto. Sometimes, we muse about the City Council and its loose interpretation of the city's zoning ordinances and why accommodations to the real estate developers need to be reined in. We remember when the early developers figured out how to game the zoning laws and the council. Their playbook has served them well.
What about the ways in which Palo Alto is paying a price for that real-estate-driven energy? Some of our favorite stores have disappeared -- restaurants, service establishments, art supplies and framing, and more. It continues. It's usually the small, local businesses that take the brunt of steep lease increases or lost leases. I'm grateful that my favorite Mediterranean Wraps takeout on California Avenue still thrives.
Palo Altans live near Stanford with its vibrancy and famous medical center. Lush green hills. Foothill Park. Sixty minutes from San Francisco's "cable cars to the stars." No, make that 90 minutes now that U.S. Highway 101 regularly resembles a parking lot. I used to make it to San Francisco International Airport in about 19 minutes, midday. Not anymore.
Today, our city is vibrant, whereas in the 1970s (and '80s, and some of the '90s) the streets rolled up at 6 p.m. We enjoy the new restaurants and their buzz, although we're strictly in the minority at the tables. We sip our wine while conversations about Androids, app monetization, etc., surround us. Our spirited conversations usually center on national or international politics, and anything in between.
We admire Palo Alto's millennials who bring excitement to "push the envelope" and take risks. But Gen Xers, young boomers, old boomers, and, before them, the Lost Generation, have produced the material and economic wealth upon which they build their futures. As Vice President Joe Biden said in his recent Yale commencement address, be careful of that self-referential bubble.
We continue to survive and thrive. One of the area papers reported from a recent City Council meeting that council members are, in fact, going to consider interpreting the zoning laws by the books.
Gloria Pyszka is a longtime Palo Alto resident and a retired program director at Stanford Law School.