Saturday, August 10, 2013

Star Sightings

If you walk down the street in New York City, you keep your eyes wide open to see the sights. Sure, there is the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. But the real sights are the residents. Or more specifically the residents whose names are just as likely to be in The New York Times headlines as opposed to those reading them. Wander through certain neighborhoods and you might see Norah Jones going out for coffee in Brooklyn, or Hugh Jackman grabbing a paper in the West Village, or Tina Fey out for stroll on the Upper West Side.

To be fair, you have probably as good or even better chance of achieving the same kind of sightings in LA, the home of the entertainment business. But this being the Big Apple, you might just as easily see celebrities of another type. Countless CEO's and financial types of every level have a pad in the city. The only thing is that their exploits are more well know than their faces. So while you might know that John Paulson makes millions, even billions a year from his hedge fund, you could be standing next to him in an Upper East Side Starbucks and not even know it. Likewise for Tilman Fertitta, the Texas billionaire who leads Landry's Restaurants, parent to such chains as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Morton's The Steakhouse and the Rainforest Cafe. You could see him strolling from his Tribeca apartment to Whole Foods and walk right on by with nary a gawk.

Of course, New York and LA are not the only places that boldface names call home. Almost every city has well known locals of whom they are justifiably proud, and whom out-of-towners would recognize, albeit with a little help. Such was the story when I was recently in San Jose. When I went out for a walk, I passed a number of banners touting famous people from the city (San Jose-ans?). They include Dave Righetti, who started as a pitcher with the New York Yankees and was Rookie of the Year in 1981, and Peggy Fleming who won the Gold Medal in figure skating in 1968. And it's not just sports: turns out Frank Feranna Jr. was born there as well, but you more likely know him by his stage name of Nikki Sixx, the drummer for Motley Crue.

But these days San Jose is known less for its people than for one particular industry. For if Washington is about government and Houston about energy, San Jose is about technology. As the de facto capital of Silicon Valley, it is the original center of that industry that so dominates everything we see and do every day. To that end there is The Tech, a museum devoted to technology, and Woz Way, a street named after Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It is also where, when I went running in the morning, I passed a homeless man reading a Kindle, though to be fair it was an older model.

In San Jo', the boldface names are less the people than the companies whose products we use hundreds of times every day. As you walk or drive around the area, you see buildings sporting logos that feel like stars in their own right: "Look, there's Adobe!" And the parade continues: Cisco, Evernote, PayPal and Ebay. Not far away you have Sunnyvale, with Yahoo and Advanced Micro Devices. North in Mountain View is Google and its headquarters, known as the Googleplex. And just to west lies Cuppertino and Apple, whose address is the inside gag of 1 Infinite Loop Drive.  

Yes, they are just buildings with nameplates. And with the passing of Steve Jobs, you would be hard pressed to pick the heads of any of them out of a lineup. But just going by the buildings themselves makes you feel like you are in the in the presence of something special. Since their products are the labor of countless hours of work by the collective geeks inside, I guess you could stand by the door and ask any employee going in or out to autograph your smartphone, and you wouldn't really be wrong. And it's true that for most it wouldn't be the same cachet as having a tee shirt signed by Angelina Jolie. But in the circles I travel, if I had a Nexus Tablet with a scribble that read "Sergey" on it, I would be the coolest kid in my class.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves traveling and looking around. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter 

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