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Fear and Loathing in Mountain View

(In tribute to and with apologies to the late Hunter Thompson . . .)

We were just outside San Jose when the technology lifestyle began to kick in. Diploma in hand, I was offered a job in Mountain View, as chief IT monkey for an Internet startup. I was sufficiently underqualified that the job presented a compelling challenge, and a great salary, for a cocky young English major from Illinois, so how could I ever refuse? Fellow alumni and I were recruited by the tens of thousands, and found ourselves settling in the Silicon Valley in quick, overpopulated waves in a mad dash for riches; In my mind, we were the ’99ers, the prospectors from out East who had followed the gold rush to California as the original ’49ers had done a century and a half before.

On Saturday, March 10, 2001, I was to meet the friend of a husband of a coworker about the possibility of starting a mutual friendship that might lead to romantic interest. My colleague had previously broached the subject by asking if I was seeing anyone. Might I be interested in meeting a woman who was a tall Chinese with a Master’s degree, a couple of years my senior? Given that these are all characteristics that I find attractive in women, and that my love life was suffering in the glare of the awful gender ratio brought about by the importation of hordes of eligible bachelor geeks, how would I ever refuse?

A double mocha, a slice of cheesecake, and a short walk in the park later, I had to say that my comrade had good judgement.

Not to sell the whole cow on the first date, I bade this nice, tall, highly-educated, Chinese woman adieu and continued about my weekend, devoid of plans. I had been hoping to maybe go out drinking with my buddy in San Jose, at a bar where handfuls of pretty women gather to be admired and flirted with, where I had previously macked the digits off a 6′ tall beauty. But alas, my buddy had turned his pager off, and he didn’t hear of my ambitions.

Since I wasn’t so hungry, I skipped a Pizza Party that some fellow alumni were holding, a few suburbs drive away, in which deep-dish pizzas were to be imported from Chicago, re-heated, and consumed in a male-dominated orgy of geeky socialization fueled by the shared expatriate appreciation of the world’s greatest cuisine.

Around 9:30 I developed a hankerin’ for some shredded beef in red sauce on a flour tortilla. Where could I get such a thing, close by, convenient, at this hour, I wondered, and quietly, hungrily debated for many minutes. Chile Colorado, is what I want. Let me go by La Fiesta and sate my appetite.

La Fiesta is across from my apartment, off the main drag, between various auto mechanics and the like. Why is it always so crowded with families this late on a weekend?

After waiting too long to seat one poor soul, I got uptight and wandered down the street, towards Mountain View’s cozy little downtown. A few blocks away, Fiesta Del Mar Too seated me promptly at the bar, where I got to watch them making Margaritas. I ordered my Chile Colorado and hey, let’s get a margarita. They had a seperate Margarita Menu: so many to choose from! Well, that first one on the menu, “Top Shelf” … $8! Heck, I’ll have one of those!

“Salt?”

“Hrmm? Oh … yeah, I love salt!”

It wasn’t a very large margarita. It was a very strong margarita. As I downed my Chile Colorado, rice, black beans, flour tortillas, I began to feel the onset of drunkenness. Hey, I’ve come this far down to Castro Street, maybe I should go dancing.

I spotted one of the guys whipping out a Negra Modelo, a good darkish Mexican beer. I had one of those too. Damn, but Negra Modelo is a good beer!

The bill came to $35. For one man!? Damn! That’s insane. But I was nearly finished reading _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_ and so inspired by excess, alcohol, and boredom, I decided that tonight I’d go in search of the American Dream! It seemed reasonable that I might stumble upon it, lurking around the corner, enjoying itself in suburban California, in the middle of an unprecedented, technology-fueled economic boom.

I headed towards Castro Street, passing a coffee shop where a guy flashed two fingers at me from inside. What’s that? I popped my head in the door. “We play acoustic rock. We’ll be doing another set in two minutes.”

I ate the first half, but spilled the rest on the sleeve of my red Pendleton shirt . . . And then, wondering what to do with it, I saw one of the musicians come in. “What’s the trouble,” he said.

“Well,” I said. “All this white stuff on my sleeve is LSD.”

He said nothing: Merely grabbed my arm and began sucking on it. A very gross tableau. I wondered what would happen if some Kingston Trio / young stockbroker type might wander in and catch us in the act. Fuck him, I thought. With a bit of luck, it’ll ruin his life – forever thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red Pendleton shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know. Would he dare to suck a sleeve? Probably not. Play it safe. Pretend you never saw it . . .

I gazed down at the pre-amp on the floor. “If it’s acoustic, how can you have amplifiers?”

“Well, be here in two minutes and you’ll find out.”

“Okay, I’ll be back later.”

I wandered further down the block to Molly McGee’s, a seedy Irish pub, with a seedier dance floor. $5 cover charge. No problem. I just wish the State of California would send me my damn license already so it is easier to get past the door guys. Anyway, the place was still warming up. I got some dancing in, but I wasn’t feeling so great, so I stepped outside.

Across the street is the Limelight, which has the expensive pastel decor, skinny young Asian crowds, uptight dress code, and steep cover charges you’d find at a trendy club in the city of San Francisco, but with the convenient location of being in downtown suburban Mountain View, stumbling distance from my house, with plentiful parking. “What’s the cover tonight,” I asked of the bouncer with the pierced spiky thing sticking out from just under his lip.

“Fifteen dollars.”

“Do I even meet the dress code?”

His eyes travelled down my body, then he said no. “Well that saves me money then,” I said as I stepped back across the street, registering in my mind that he’d been okay ’til he saw the gym shoes on my feet. Ah, the gym shoes had denied me entrance to clubs in the city before. But then I hadn’t really felt like wasting my money, in spite of my half-assed pursuit of the American Dream.

I wandered back by the coffee shop. My second double mocha with whipped cream for the day, served by a big, interesting-looking woman with a piercing on her left nostril. I got nearer to the end of the novel that I had been carrying with me, while listening to pleasingly amplified acoustic rock backed by what looked like an electric bass. I chased the coffee with a bottled water, and a few bucks for the allegedly acoustic rock group, who sounded good enough.

I think I then went back to Molly’s. I don’t really remember. I headed home early because my tummy didn’t feel too good. Something about a big dinner, Mexican food, chocolate, caffeine, dancing. I don’t have the stomach for excess that a Gonzo Journalist had to pursue the American Dream in 1971. Unlike Raoul Duke, I drive a super fuel-efficient hybrid car, and that only when I’m sober, and I hate the entire state of Nevada.

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