Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Failure of the Day: My So-Called Silicon Valley

The first thing you notice is how suburban it is. Having grown up within 10 miles of just about any spot where one can now find a tech company’s corporate “campus,” I can say without hesitation that then, as now, the manicured lawns aren’t fooling anybody. No one here thinks they work in a pastoral paradise. Sprawl is sprawl, whether it’s an enormous parking lot or lump that someone unrolled some sod over.

Then there are the geese. You never really see it discussed anywhere, but there are geese everywhere. I first saw them when I worked in Redmond, and being so far north, the fact that they were Canada Geese made sense. (That they were not “Canadian” geese made less sense, but I’m willing to let that go.) There weren’t any in Seattle, though—only in Redmond. Now I’m in Redwood Shores, and again, Canada Geese sheet the sidewalks. There aren’t any in San Jose or San Francisco. They are huge brown birds, and I have it on good authority that they make an interesting noise when you hit them accidentally with a golf ball. However, I no longer believe they came from Canada. I now believe that geese are somehow a byproduct of the software industry. I think geese are the natural result of the love between socially stunted men and high-paying math jobs.

Fountains are very popular. On my shuttle route from Caltrain to my building, we make stops at Macromedia, Electronic Arts, and several other big firms. All the buildings have fountains and ponds in front of their main entrances. Most of the ponds are about 10 feet in diameter and have several 18-inch-tall bubbling fountains in the middle of them. They are all pretty, in that makes-you-have-to-pee kind of way. And then you curve around to the end of the street and see Lake Larry and it’s 20-foot geyser. I don’t know if it’s the same body of water where Shamu used to hurl himself at the pool’s surface and drench all the squealing, sticky children, but I get the very same sense of bigness from looking at it—a slightly frightened and hyper anticipation.

The San Mateo County airport is across the street from here. It’s a rinky-dink couple of landing strips and a sort of parking lot for airplanes that are slightly smaller than most of the neighborhood SUVs, but the approaches and the descents to it come to within about a foot and half of our roof. Which adds a fair bit of, y’know, spice to the day.

In a personal and specific way, I relate to Silicon Valley. Although I pass for reasonably responsible and together professional woman, very often, I’m actually a nutbag with barely the wherewithal to navigate the murky waters of my own emotional weather. But the point, as near as I can figure, of adulthood is to effectively hide your own fuckwittedness from the other grups as much and as well as possible. And it turns out that I am pretty damn good at it.

Likewise, the South Bay and Peninsula is an acne of bad restaurants, hidden poverty, and an almost pathological sense of entitlement lightly dusted by a sheen of money to be made and innovation. The suburban Bay Area is a pretty fucked up place, and I should know—I was born here. But I don’t hate it here anymore, which surprises no one more than me. And I think it’s because "Silicon Valley" is the show people put on here to hide their fuckwittedness. Like me, Silicon Valley passes for something much more together than it is.


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