The San Jose Grand Prix

The San Jose Grand Prix was so loud I could hear it as an angry buzzing here in my home, five miles away. This is the third year the city of San Jose has hosted this farce, and I hate it. I can’t go near downtown from Thursday on, because the streets are blocked off, and I’m careful to work my schedule so I’m nowhere near downtown during it. Given how loud it was, if we were downtown to say, go to the Tech Museum, or watch a movie, I don’t think we could have heard a thing other than BRRRRRRRRRMMMMM BRRRRRRRRRMMM.

I can tell you exactly the thinking that brought a car race to downtown San Jose. One of the all-time classic car racing video games features a chase through the streets of San Francisco. With a very few exceptions, the streets of San Francisco are very straight, but so hilly that even driving over them at normal speed is a hair-raising experience (in fact I think going up and over Nob Hill with a stick-shift car is kind of a death wish.) Undoubtedly, race car promoters have probably fantasized about having a car race in San Francisco.

Happily for San Francisco though, it doesn’t need a car race. It has plenty of visitors to fill its hotels and restaurants, and it already has events taking up its streets and sidewalks every weekend from May through October, be it Avon Walkers, AIDS bikers, gay revellers, marathon runners, or street festivals.

By promoter thinking, they might think the next best thing is another major Bay Area city. Oakland has lesser hills, but it’s not scenic in the way a promoter might want. Hey, I love Oakland, and I used to live there, but even I have to admit that as the cars dash past Jug Liquors, angry pimps, and irate Chinese vegetable vendors, it’s bound to look more like Grand Theft Auto than a Grand Prix.

So, enter San Jose. The management of the City of San Jose has a massive inferiority complex. I can’t blame them: the San Jose Mercury News reports on San Francisco more than on San Jose, but I attribute that to lazy journalism than to real facts. There’s plenty going on downtown in the parks all the time, and there’s plenty of neat places to explore, like the Paseo de San Antonio walk, Guadalupe Park from top to bottom, the ciphers on the Adobe building, and the art integrated into the downtown library. I guess I also like it because we don’t have tourists crowding up these places: as it is, the many locals (San Jose is one of the largest cities in the U.S.) make it crowded enough, and I’m lucky to find parking downtown in the evenings these days.

But our hotels and restaurants prefer visitors, and so we have the Grand Prix on the last July weekend. So who cares that San Jose looks nothing like San Francisco, and is virtually hill-free? The race loses money and the city has to subsidize it, but the promoters get the ersatz San Francisco, and supposedly San Jose gets international recognition. Yeah, right.

I’m just glad it coincides with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which is out of town far enough away for me not to hear the Grand Prix.

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