This week I am enjoying the wonderful experience of connecting with my three granddaughters and feeling the enormous sense of possibility in Palo Alto, California.
This is the town the recession tornado bounced over. Homes sell in weeks, restaurants are crowded, and nannies are at a premium. The huge boulevard, El Camino Real, runs through the city, home of Stanford, Hewlett Packard, Tesla Motors and Facebook.
El Camino Real actually runs from San Diego to Sonoma. It dates back to the founders of the Spanish missions in California in the 1700s. It tied together 21 missions and presidios up the coast of the state.
I walked a section of El Camino this morning. The ability of America to continually rebuild, reinvent and recreate itself shows clearly on Palo Alto’s slice of the road. A bowling alley is awaiting teardown for condos. A new school was recently completed where a few tired retail shops had languished.
Lozana’s Car Wash, a living art deco display, throbs with energy as young Mexicans polish the clean-before-they-started cars that cycle through endlessly during daylight while the patrons munch free popcorn.
A block from a new Whole Foods, the building that used to house Rambus Corporation stands mostly vacant—97,000 square feet, which will soon find a new Silicon Valley tenant or be recycled for housing.
Palo Alto is the America of hope. Immigrants beg to come here. Public schools are excellent, but residents still start alternative private schools because they want their kids to get better than excellent.
In a few days I will return to the other America. I recently drove east on Sibley Blvd. close to Today’s Machining World headquarters in the southern suburbs of Chicago. Also called 147th Street, it’s a street with a history half as long as El Camino. My Sibley experience started with an almost empty Krispy Kreme Donut shop. Old dollar stores, empty storefronts and defunct manufacturing firms flank the potholed road. No schools are coming to Sibley. No condo conversions. The construction (destruction) activity consists of tearing down an old multi story factory for a Metra (commuter train) parking lot.
Question: Is America’s future an El Camino or Sibley? Will the election give us a clue?