Everyone had heard of Alviso, had a vague notion of where it was but like
me, even though born not that far away from it never had gone there. Its
reputation put it on the best skipped list. After class Monday, following his
directions with a map for backup, I drove to Santa Clara then headed north on
Leaving Santa Clara the scenery shifted from small industrial to spotty agricultural, to the small village of Agnew on the left and the 1930's pink stucco and red tile roof buildings of its vast state mental hospital complex on the right. Agnew was a place the State of California put the "nuts" who were locked up like in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Its mature palm tree entrance and oak tree landscape gave it a proper spooky impression of, “Enter at your own risk”. It gave the spooks.
Agnew was another place everyone knew about but avoided. The joke, about a driver losing the lug nuts while fixing a flat in front of the hospital, was stale but known by all. The lug nuts supposedly fell into a flooded road ditch and the driver didn’t know what to do. A “nut” from the hospital comes and tells him to take a lug nut off the other 3 tires and explains.
“I’m nuts but not stupid.”
A stale joke, which once heard, becomes one of the inconsequential tidbits
wedged in a memory cavity near one’s mental conscious entrance one can never
get cleared out.
Relieved to be past Agnew, the road continued past smelly dairies, pear
orchards, a city dump, the start of wet lands and finally to the hump of
Highway 237. Highway 237 was elevated to prevent its flooding. It blocked the
view of Alviso. As my Desoto crested the highway to the stop sign atop, Alviso
revealed itself, poor, rundown and unprotected from flooding.
Lafayette Street in a twist of irony turns into Gold Street entering Alviso.
I passed ramshackle, abandoned, low lying buildings and drove to Taylor Street
with growing apprehension then went one block left to another misnomer, El
Fronting it on the left corner was Val's. Like he said you couldn't miss it.
I thought of Dad's coming here in search of his El Dorado. Gary sat in his GTO,
parked in front. Instead I parked in a secluded rear corner. Dad usually stayed
home Mondays after a weekend of carousing but I didn't want to take a chance.
Gary re-parked next to me.
He came to my door dressed for hiking, no longer dressed like a hippy to let
me out. I explained it was jammed and exited the other side. I still wore my
school uniform skirt, blouse and tennis shoes but had put on lipstick and
brought a nylon wind breaker.
Val's was much nicer than my apprehension expected. It was an island of
clean respectability among the surrounding decay. It had fresh exterior paint,
neon lights, and served Italian food in a formal dining area and drinks in a
separate piano lounge on the main floor, all of 1950's vintage. There was a
partial second story illegal gambling den with interior stairs access off the
I learned later there was also a small brothel in back but didn't think Dad was a patron based on his charm in attracting women. Older now, I don't know. Men often have unexpected secret irrational sexual puppet shadows such as Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s need to solicit and abase himself with odious prostitutes while having a beautiful wife.
Entering the front foyer and passing the lounge we were greeted by the
owner, an elderly, stocky, obviously Italian woman. As the sole diners at this
time she fussed over us like a grandmother. I requested a booth in the far back
in the unlikely event Dad entered. When we ordered Cioppino she asked if we
wanted a bottle of wine even though neither of us was 21 and I wore my high
school uniform. She looked askance with our coke requests. It was obvious
things were different in Alviso.