Why does Palo Alto suck so much?

Sometimes, I have conversations that the police really ought not to overhear. Tonight, I ran into my dear friend A, who is from Paris.

A: What are you up to tonight?
P: I’m just going to bed. Unless you guys have anything fun planned? I’m not actually tired, there’s just nothing else to do [except, of course, work, and blog -ed.].
A: Same here. I said “I know this great club in Palo Alto,” but it was a lie.
P: Hah! We’d have to burn the place to the ground, get rid of everyone and replace them with people who don’t suck before Palo Alto could support a good club. We’d have to massacre the whole city.”
A: And be very careful about immigration afterward.
P: Precisely.
A: Let’s do it someday.
P: Ok.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Santa Cruz, which less interesting than San Francisco but much cheaper and with easier parking, and still vastly more interesting than Palo Alto.

But what on earth makes Palo Alto so terrible? It’s really a mystery to me. Let me clarify. I know the features of Palo Alto, in virtue of which it is so terrible (nothing to do, nowhere to go, no music, no art, no theater, naturally no good clubs, nothing open after 11pm except bad clubs and one shitty donut shop, everything overpriced, basically yuppie hell paved from woof to warp with fucking rug stores). But I do not know the cause of the terribleness. Yes, it’s full of .commers. Don’t .commers have lives too, or at least desire to have lives, and consequently create a demand for things that permit one to do so?

Part of the story must be the standard suburban phenomenon: a bunch of rich white people want “good schools” (trans.: schools with no nasty poors or minorities), and so they all congregate in one place and create demand for boring crap, pricing people who are less boring out of the market. Then they do things like kill public transportation so the aforementioned nasty poors and minorities have to stay out, and, not coincidentally, choke off any transportation to and from interesting places or any way for interesting people to be drawn in. (I’m told that the shitty little communities up and down Silicon Valley managed to get together and keep them from extending BART down the peninsula, for example, leaving us with the atrocious, slow, expensive, unreliable, and infrequent caltrain that goes to next-to-nowhere in the city and doesn’t make it out to Berkeley at all — fuck, it doesn’t even go to the airport. NIMBY ought to be a capital crime.)

But it’s still a mystery, because this is a college town. Colleges can usually de-suck a town, at least a little. There’s something… special about Stanford. Special like shortbus, not special like non-debeers diamond. The undergrads, as far as I can tell, basically never leave campus — the bubble is a truly scary phenomenon. I’m not sure why the undergrads never leave campus — perhaps because there’s nothing to do in town, but then we get into this little ugly boring chicken and never-leaving-campus egg causal circle sort of a jive. Or perhaps the locals are so rich that they just create immensely more demand for horrible things than the Stanford students can create for non-horrible things. And the grad students… are mostly engineers. Oh god.

I wonder if the horrible male-female ratio makes things worse (engineers again). One major motivator in civilized places for going out of the house is the potential for romance. When everywhere one might possibly go is a sausage-fest, the men stay home out of futility and the women stay home out of … well, this is more complicated. I have a hypothesis that the horrible male-female ratio plus the predominance of engineers and other undateables actually makes things worse for women too. It’s all about bayesian updating. See, if you’re the one single woman in Palo Alto, you’re constantly getting hit on by trolls. If you update appropriately, sooner or later your subjective probability in a random man’s being a troll is pretty damn close to 1. And then why bother to go out? And this is why there isn’t an equilibrium number of men and women going out.

So it’s really the engineers and the parents that are doing this. That’s the working hypothesis. I wonder if the IRB would let me test it by killing a good 80% of each category and seeing if the lifestyle gets better? Mountain View could be the control.

Incidentally, living in a boring place does not make one productive. Depression and productivity do not go together. I’ve actually done some of my least bad work in jazz clubs and off the side of dance floors with techno going.

If the Obama administration really wanted to improve the general welfare they’d start by popping a nuke over this town.



13 Responses to “Why does Palo Alto suck so much?”

  1. Jeff Albert Says:

    Kidd Jordan plays the Jazz Tent today. I’ll miss it, but Michael is in town and there is a Cosmic Krewe reunion/Sun Ra Tribute at Zeitgeist at 9 tonight. If you get on a plane now, you might make it.


  2. Jennifurret Says:

    Hey, you know what, at least you don’t live in the middle of a corn field. There’s REALLY nothing to do at Purdue!

  3. Paul Gowder Says:

    Jeff… go on, just rub it in. It was bad enough reading Jimbo’s facebook posts. The only way you can make up for your cruel reminder of the fact that I’m not at Jazz Fest, and, vastly worse, not at the Cosmic Krewe reunion, is:

    a) play Of Strange Incident (I do hope your “I’ll miss it” was about Kidd Jordan, not about the Krewe Reunion),

    b) record it,

    c) send me the recording.

    (Also, please do tell Michael I said hello.)

    Jen, I think you should come to Palo Alto to compare the two towns. ;-)

  4. Jeff Albert Says:

    Yeah, I missed Kidd, but I’m about to be on my way to the Krewe sound check/load in/rehearsal. I’m sure “Of Strange Incident” will make the set, and I’ll bring the recorder.

    Now, I might miss some notes in “Of Strange Incident”, but that wouldn’t be anything new.

  5. Paul Gowder Says:

    That would seriously make my day — you have no idea how badly I’ve wanted to hear Of Strange Incident, basically continuously for the last five years.

  6. Jennifurret Says:

    Why did I just I imagine the scene from Borat where he chases down his “wife” with a marriage sack? Maybe I won’t come to Palo Alto… ;P

  7. Paul Gowder Says:

    Hah! Marriage sacks are sooo 2006. I use the Marriagebot Q, extra-grappling-arms model. :-)

  8. Andrey Says:

    Is it really that bad?

    I just moved down from Canadia and am shopping around for a place near downtown Palo Alto, and it doesn’t seem all terrible.

    Lots of life, people walking around, sitting in coffee shops. Especially as the day progresses, younger and younger people come out (starting with the elderly around 11am from the bazillion retirement communities nearby).

    I’d love to hear more about what you think of it. Pop me an email if you feel like ranting. :P

  9. Jeff Albert Says:


    You have to realize that Paul is really just a cranky old fart at heart, despite not actually being that old.


  10. Paul Gowder Says:

    Jeff, I’ll be much less cranky if you tell me that you managed to achieve a recording. :-)

    Andrey, it’s really primarily the suburban thing — everyone here is white, upper-middle-class, drives a Prius… there’s no art, no music (really, really no music), etc.

  11. Jeff Albert Says:

    I did record the first set, but haven’t heard it yet. We didn’t do “Of Strange Incident” but did do “Dance of the Language Barrier.”

  12. Paul Gowder Says:

    Partial-yay! (How was the gig? I really wish I’d been there.)

  13. Uncommon Priors » Observations upon finding myself in a benighted cafe where every damned yuppie family in Palo Alto has brought their screaming child and/or howling dog, and which is also full of pigeons that have completely lost their fear of huma Says:

    [...] Brat: Ok mommy! Have fun shopping for rugs, and be sure to vote against public transportation so that lousy grad student can’t easily escape to San Francisco! [...]

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