The mysteriously unpeopled city of San Jose

This is not what I expected when I first came here. It is, after all, the third largest city in California (and tenth largest in the US) with a population pushing 1 million. A city that calls itself the capital of one of the most vital economic engines in the world, Silicon Valley, with headquarters of Cisco Systems, Adobe, Hitachi and eBay all located here. And it has a downtown that rivals any in the Bay Area, with wide streets, tall office buildings, major hotels like the Fairmont San Jose, and plenty of high-end and/or big chain restaurants like Il Fornaio, Paolo’s, Gordon Biersch Brewery, PF Changs, Los Gatos Brewing Company, lots of decent bars, a Philz coffee, theater, opera, symphony, cinemas, etc, etc.

Um, so where are all the people? Walking through downtown on a Saturday afternoon the streets are all but empty, save for a pedestrian here, a student there, a few fans waiting at a lonely stop light on their way to HP Pavilion, a sign spinner working the few cars that drive past. Otherwise, tumbleweeds, crickets. There’s not even any homeless people. It’s difficult to explain. There’s no urban blight or crime to scare people away (not even criminals seem to hang out here). The cavernous PF Changs on the corner of one of the main intersections has exactly one table occupied, another brand-new and pleasant-looking Pho restaurant has two.

To be fair, the downtown has its moments, coming to life a little during weekday lunch and Friday happy hour/nights. But never to the level you could call a ‘bustle’. And the wide streets only add to the empty feeling. It’s like a city after the plague (though the type of plague that doesn’t affect maintenance workers, since the streets are well kept, so maybe a college campus during spring break). But one thing’s for sure, spring breakers aren’t coming here, nor are their parents. Then again, if you want to actually find a seat at a Philz, San Jose is your place.

Edit: mystery partially solved. With dozens of empty parking spaces to the left, and dozens more to the right, I get a $40 ticket two minutes after the meter expired (I arrived two minutes after that). I could list all the other towns in the South Bay and on the Peninsula that offer free parking, but it would be pretty much all of them. Suck it, San Jose.

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4 thoughts on “The mysteriously unpeopled city of San Jose”

  1. You got that right! I compare SJ to Toledo, but Toledo actually does have some people. Regardless it’s a shame. SJ comes more alive in the summer, music in the park, and well, that’s all I can think of right now! Loved this post.

    1. Yes, I passed through Toledo once, so I know what you mean. SJ has options, but I’m rarely inspired to go there. If I’m in the South Bay, I tend to visit the smaller downtowns of Campbell or Los Gatos.

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