I returned yesterday from a 2-day business trip in Santa Clara. As big cities go, I like the place. The neighborhoods are pleasant, and the people are friendlier than anywhere else in the Bay Area. The first evening I had dinner at a hotel restaurant. My waitress was very young, quite nervous and obviously inexperienced. She tried very hard to smile and to be courteous and attentive. She accidentally spilled my martini, but it didn’t matter. It helped that she looked a little like my own daughter, because that reminded me that she was some other fellow’s daughter, which made me want to make up for the rude and hyper-critical customers who end up sending new waitresses home in tears. By the end of the meal, she was beaming, and I left a thank-you note on the ticket in the hopes that her manager would see it.
The next evening I had my truck serviced at Jiffy Lube, and the young men were just as friendly and helpful as they are here at home. Jiffy Lube has a really good system (in northern California, anyway) and somehow they manage to hire the best. Other services are suggested without any pressure, and sometimes these suggestions are good reminders. A job at Jiffy Lube would be a great place for a young man to get his start in the workforce.
While getting my truck serviced I walked across El Camino Real to OfficeMax for a small purchase. As I was checking out, a woman came in to ask an employee if there was anyone who could help her with an item she needed to return. It was in the trunk of her car, and was too heavy for her to carry by herself. The employees were pretty busy so I told her I’d be happy to do it. She thanked me so profusely for my 2 minutes of help it really caught me off guard. Gratitude for the little things in life: it’s great to see, and it’s infectious.
I was in Santa Clara to attend a certification class for business brokers. Contracts, valuations, financing, and other mundane details were covered extensively. The instructor placed a strong emphasis on business ethics and improving the image of our profession. Unfortunately – this being California and all – much of the seminar had to do with preventing lawsuits from disgruntled buyers after the sale. The business brokers in attendance seemed to be a decent lot. From what I could tell they were well trained and conscientious. The lunches were also excellent, and sure enough, they served fish on Friday. That’s still a common practice in the coastal regions of Catholic California.
It is always amusing when I meet people in the big cities. The first conversation often goes something like this:
“Nice meeting you, Jeff. Where are you from?”
“Orland? Where’s that?”
“It’s about three hours north of here, in Glenn County.”
“Glenn County? Gosh, I haven’t heard of it. What’s the biggest city in the county?”
“Orland. Population 7,000.”
“REALLY? Is it anywhere near Ukiah? Eureka? Yreka?”
“No, the closest real city is Chico, which is about 25 miles to the east.”
“Oooohhhhhhh, I’ve heard of Chico!!!!! That’s where Chico State University is, the party school, right?”
“That’s right. So where are you from?”
In the Silicon Valley, there is a strong sense that one is at the very center of the universe. This, of course, is an illusion, but the people (even visitors like me) can’t help but sense the economic and scientific and technological importance of the place. The median price of a single family home is still over $700K. Everywhere you look you see millions of dollars being spent. Every corporate lobby looks like an ultra-modern hi-tech lounge aboard the Starship Enterprise. People take their laptops and blackberries everywhere. There is an amazing amount of ethnic diversity and relatively little ethnic friction. Many different languages are spoken, but English is still the glue that holds it all together, and it will remain so. The most elevated passion of the Silicon Valley is business. The “all business, all the time” culture is both disturbing and, for me, seductive, because I can see how easy it would be to get caught up in the excitement.
The saddest thing about the place is that children are so scarce.
While driving back home the traffic on I-680 was horrible. I-80 was even more congested. As I headed north on I-505 from Vacaville, the traffic thinned out and the suburbs receded, giving way to unending acres of fields and farmland. Suddenly there wasn’t a Lexus or a BMW or a Jaguar in sight. I was back in the great Central Valley, the land of plain-looking sedans, minivans, pickup trucks, tractors, and ATVs. I located a country music station on the radio just to make sure I was really there.
Driving through dusty old Orland I was glad to see the sign announcing Sunday’s spaghetti feed benefiting the Glenn County Senior Center. Think we’ll stop in for an early dinner after the 2:30 Mass. As I pulled into our gravel driveway I noted the condition of the pasture and the fruit orchard, hoping that they hadn’t browned too much in my absence. Irrigation would be late by a day or two. The chickens were out of their yard, and a few were on the front lawn. Someone must have forgotten to shut the gate last night. I jumped out of the truck and loudly chased the chickens away, exaggerating my displeasure for the benefit of the kids, who always laugh when I do that.
The children came out to tell me, excitedly, that they had a surprise for me. They told me to close my eyes. Two of them grabbed my arms and commanded that I follow them with my eyes closed tight. I obeyed compliantly. A moment or two later I was instructed to open my eyes. When I did so, Amy was holding four tiny black and white kittens in her hands, just inches from my nose.
“Misty had kittens!” they all exclaimed. “You have got to be kidding me!”, I replied in mock despair. That brings St. Isidore’s cat population up to 12, or maybe it’s 15, but either way it is TOO MANY! Nevertheless, it’s good to be home …