Spaghetti-less At Costco

My barometer for when the economy is doing better is when I can afford to renew my Costco membership. This month I got the chance to do that and get some bulk items that I needed, such as the chocolate-chip muffins (dozen), garbage bags (90-count) and fish oil pills (500-count). The one thing that I wasn’t able to find was an eight-pack of spaghetti. The two local Costco stores had spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese, but no spaghetti to complete the meal.

My favorite Costco is on Coleman Ave in San Jose. Driving there is a bit tricky if you miss the left-hand turn off to the side street for the parking lot entrance. Miss the left-hand turn off and drive past Costco, you’re on the ramp to De La Cruz Boulevard that goes straight into downtown Santa Clara, where returning to Coleman wasn’t a simple U-turn due to the keeping driving straight signs. Getting out of the street maze of Santa Clara is a trick in itself.

Although I haven’t been at this location for several years, the store layout hasn’t changed much and I found the items I was looking for. Except for the spaghetti. I found the spaghetti sauce, Parmesan cheese, and the other pasta that goes better with Alfredo sauce. I walked up and down the food aisles looking for spaghetti.

Was spaghetti a seasonal item at Costco?

The Costco store in Sunnyvale is at the intersection of Lawrence Expressway and the Caltrain tracks that didn’t intersect. You have to make a tricky right-hand U-turn from Lawrence to get into the parking lot. If you want to practice your Christmas holiday shopping parking skills, come here as the parking lot is always full, the drivers are always ruthless and shoppers with their carts are always in the way.

I haven’t been to this particular location since my parents retired to Sacramento in the early 1990’s. The store layout has changed since then, and organized much differently than the Coleman store. Once I got into the food aisles, I found the Spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese. Still no spaghetti. There was an empty space that a pallet of spaghetti could go into. This store was so busy that I couldn’t find an employee to check the loading dock to see if such a pallet came in.

How can Costco sell Spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese without the spaghetti? No clue.

The BART Video Game Arcade (Circa 1976)

Gary Fong / The Chronicle
Gary Fong / The Chronicle / December 1, 1976

While at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple personality disorders), I had to trained fresh out of high school graduates on being video game testers. These youngsters didn’t believe I played video games in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. So I introduced them to a tester who tested video games for the original Atari in the 1980’s, and then introduced them to a tester who tested pen-and-paper games in the 1970’s. Their young heads often exploded in amazement that video games existed before the Sony PlayStation in 1995. As further proof that early video games existed, SFGate recently noted that the Powell Street BART Station installed video arcade games in 1976.

The first time I ever played a video game was Atari Pong in the basement of the Sear’s building in downtown San Jose—where the Midtown Safeway is today—during the Bicentennial (1975/76). I was five- or six-years-old at the time. My mother was returning something at the exchange desk. My father slipped a quarter into the arcade machine and we played a short game. Several years later I got a TV pong game for Christmas, the first of several early video game consoles that would prepare me for the working world.

Most arcade machines were hidden away in pizza parlors, bowling alleys and public venues like the BART station throughout the 1970’s. Arcades with wall-to-wall machines didn’t happen until the early 1980’s. The arcade that I grew up in was at Oakridge Mall in South San Jose. A dark hole in the wall that sucked in kids and their quarters like nothing else, and quickly doubled in size after taking over the storefront next door. This was my favorite after school activity.

My parents didn’t approve that I split my weekly allowance—a princely $30 USD that I didn’t know was a small fortune for a teenager—between the arcade and the bookstore. Video games were much worse than the pinball machines that they grew up on. Reading inspires all kinds of subversive behaviors, such as being smarter than anyone else. On the bright side, I wasn’t buying drugs like so many of friends who got stoned out of their mind in class.

After the Atari E.T. cartridge scandal killed the video game revolution, the wall-to-wall arcades started fading away in popularity. Newer video game consoles and PC’s brought the video games back into the home. Arcade machines are still tucked away at various locations today. The only real arcades left in Silicon Valley are Chuck E. Cheese’sDave & Buster’s or Nickel City. I don’t play arcade machines anymore, as any five-year-old youngster can beat my sorry ass with faster reflexes.

Rent-A-White-Man Super Bowl

I found the 2015 Super Bowl commercials somewhat lacking in the humor department. Nothing made me barked out aloud in laughter. (Although the Kia Sorento car commercial with Pierce Brosnan, who imagines himself being pitched for a James Bond-style car ride with snipers, missile launchers and explosions that became rather uninteresting, made me smile.) A Satire Bowl commercial that most of America and the world haven’t seen was “Rent-A-White-Man”, where black people can rent a white man to act on their behalf in post-racial American society without getting shot by the police.

Unless you’re living in a cave and watching Fox News TV, this is really funny. If you understand the irony of white privilege that is, which most white people can’t comprehend because they’re never judged by the color of their skin, have to think twice while walking down the street, or followed because someone think they’re up to no good. Being a native Californian with redneck parents from Idaho and living my entire life in the multicultural San Francisco Bay Area, I can appreciate—and laugh at—both sides of the racial divide.

And rent a white man is also a fantastic idea.

As a white man in my mid-forties with graying hair at the temples, I’m deeply concerned about being aged out of the tech industry that favors younger foreign workers over older American workers. That was obvious at a job from several years ago where Indians made up the majority of the workers and only vegan pizza got served at company events. I’m transitioning my career from general information technology (I.T.) into information security (InfoSec) that requires 10+ years of general I.T. experience to get into, a difficult hurdle for anyone from India or fresh of college to overcome. If I do get aged out of my current career, I can always rent myself out as a white man.

Rent a white man isn’t all satire. Chinese companies routinely rent white men in business suits to present their operations with American faces from a non-existent U.S. company and project an international aura over the local competition. Who knew that white privilege was a marketable skill?

Riding The Hotel 22 Bus

When I started my new tech job six months ago, I initially took the 522 from San Jose to Palo Alto that ran the same route as the 22 and makes 75% fewer stops to get across the valley faster. This portion of my two-hour trip each way to work took 45 minute. As the weather got colder, the presence—and the overwhelming smell—of the homeless became more prevalent. Although I knew that the homeless rode the 22 around the clock, I didn’t know it had the nickname of “Hotel 22” until I read The New York Times op-ed piece by Elizabeth Lo on her new documentary by the same name.

Silicon Valley has three different kinds of buses that get workers from the outlying areas of the San Francisco Bay Area to their jobs in Silicon Valley, the Peninsula, Oakland or San Francisco. I’ve ridden on all three buses over the last 15 years as a computer technician in Silicon Valley.

Local buses crisscross the county to connect people from their homes to the major transit centers and thoroughfares for local companies. Minimum wage workers, techies and homeless people all mingled together, the 22 being the most obvious example. A monthly bus pass for Santa Clara County is $70 USD.

Commuter buses connect major transit centers to job-concentrated areas that are typically inaccessible without a vehicle (i.e., no sidewalks back to civilization). Some commuter and express buses are WiFi-enabled to allow Internet access via cellphone and tablets. You’re less likely to find minimum wage workers and the homeless on these buses, as the fastest routes are twice as expensive. A monthly express bus pass in Santa Clara County cost $140 USD.

Tech buses stop at major transit centers and thoroughfares to take them directly to each campus building. These luxury buses features faster WiFi connections, comfortable seats and sometimes a restroom. Access restricted to workers with company badges. Free for full-time employees, and, depending on the company, a nominal fee for contractors. No minimum wage workers or homeless allowed on these buses. These buses made the news when protesters in San Francisco and Oakland rioted against Google buses in 2013.

After riding the 522 for two months, I switched to an express bus that cut my overall commute to an hour each way. I drove the 280/85 freeway route to Mountain View for many years, suffering 45 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening. Driving beyond the 280/85 interchange to Page Mill Road in Palo Alto is much worse. I’m happy to pay someone else to drive while I read an ebook, listen to an audio book or take a snooze. Yes, like many of my fellow techies, I don’t miss dealing with the homeless or their overwhelming smell.

Some people get outraged that Silicon Valley, being richest society in America, can’t take care of the homeless. As I pointed out in the comment on The New York Times website, Californians love to vote on initiatives and propositions that decrease their taxes and increase their services. This is true for most Americans. Everyone wants services; no one wants to pay for it. Until that change, nothing else will change. Something to look forward to as baby boomers retire and the workforce shrinks in the next quarter-century.