Thursday, January 20, 2011
Silicon Valley Underworld
At 6:30 AM on Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday, there was an announcement over the speaker system on my southbound Caltrain, "There has been a fatality on the tracks and we'll be delayed anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes." The small, sleepy-eyed group on the train looked at each other, and then at the lonely, dark and foggy San Bruno rail stop outside. We all decided to wait it out.
It seems that every time I have worked on a project-based temp job in Silicon Valley over the last 10 years, somebody decides to jump in front of a Caltrain locomotive and end their life. You would think that the Caltrain transportation organization would have a Plan B for that eventuality, since it seems to happen so often, but no. Chaos and "SamTrans bus bridges" and trains going backwards slowly to a nearby station all seem to be part of the mix, and for two hours, it feels like a third-world country in the 19th century.
This state of affairs is particularly bizarre since Caltrain is the main public transportation hub of the suburban Peninsula region, which makes up Silicon Valley, one of the most futuristic hives of mind and capital the world has ever seen. It's a very strange place, though, where most of the people appear oddly denatured in a "Childhood's End" kind of way.
The real joy of this latest job was walking from the Belmont Caltrain station at sunrise to work, usually being the only pedestrian for miles. I would walk through a small commercial district, over the 101 freeway overpass, and then along the sidewalk that abuts the Oracle campus lagoon, with the trees above framing the walkway.
On foggy mornings like last Monday and Tuesday, particularly after the public suicide drama, it felt like one was walking through the underworld, nearer to the land of death than life.