Now the whole world knows the way to San Jose
Once a byword for sleepy rusticity, this California city has been revitalised by the tech industry – with surreal results. Chris Leadbeater gets to grips with Silicon Valley
Do you know the way to San Jose?” Dionne Warwick’s 1968 question was bittersweet. Held aloft by Burt Bacharach’s stirring melody and soaring strings, this global hit single was a soulful sugar-lump, but its tunefulness partially disguised its sense of despondency. It voiced the frustrations of a wannabe who had thrown herself at Los Angeles – only to find herself, her ambitions crushed, hankering for the familiar comforts of her home city.
Half a century on, the flow of the song’s narrative might be reversed. Not because LA has ceased to be a whirlpool that draws in dreamers and desperados; more that San Jose has itself become a magnet for the ambitious and gifted. What was once a woozy figure among fields has become, in some ways, the centre of the Earth; the capital of “Silicon Valley”, where the planet’s prime technology companies hold court. Warwick’s star-chaser might still seek San Jose in 2016 – but she would not be returning to her roots in failure. She would be armed with an Ivy League degree in computer programming, ideas for a digital start-up, and plans for multimillionaire status before turning 30.
This 21st-century mix of commerce and cleverness is one of the reasons British Airways launched the first direct flight between the UK and San Jose earlier this year – a daily service from Heathrow which effectively declares that, although San Francisco lurks a mere 55 miles to the northwest, its Bay Area sibling is now a destination in its own right.
That, at least, is the theory. However, when my flight touches down, I am not immediately convinced that British Airways does know the way to San Jose – or that I have found it. While the approach to San Francisco offers that fabulous blur of skyscraper and oceanic blue, and LAX throbs with the gritty proximity of the metropolis, Mineta International Airport gives just the tireless thrum of the freeway and the hard lines of the railroad yard.
The hotch-potch that lies beyond does little to support the statistic that
Downtown San Jose, the urban gateway to the information revolution