With all the absurdities unfolding in San Jose this last year, the Alley denizen became ever more determined to transform the madness into poetry. That said, allow me to revisit a few favorite columns from 2021.

In most cases, it didn’t take much to reconnect with legendary establishments that persevered between the endless disfigurement of San Jose’s landscape. Music Village, for example, still existed in the Cambrian district after 50-plus years. Similarly, in downtown San Jose, Hammer & Lewis Clothiers still held court at 19 S. First St, while the Caravan likewise remained at the corner of Almaden and San Fernando. Each place filled a column earlier this year.

Any interesting person would instantly juxtapose the enduring legacy of those joints against the closing of the Fairmont and Fry’s Electronics, targets of two other columns this year. Especially as desperate brokers force-cram every last possible resort into downtown, stuff like axe-throwing businesses or indoor miniature golf, heroic places like Music Village, Caravan and Hammer & Lewis should make the rest of us proud.

Hammer & Lewis, for example, was originally started in 1920 by Sig Hammer, a Polish immigrant. When Hammer retired in 1976, the Velez family took over the business and have operated it ever since.

Not far away, The Caravan, San Jose’s most righteous dive bar and longtime spot for underground punk and metal shows, has outlasted every attempt to dumb down the neighborhood. At least three generations of real estate syndicates have tried to smash the rest of that block for their own interests, but it still hasn’t happened.

Over in Cambrian, a neighborhood without the equivalent half-century of botched urban projects, a place like Music Village seems like a massive success story. I know people that went there in the ’60s. Browsing in that store reminds me of the days when music and art were still required in elementary school. Any musician will tell you that growing up with a musical instrument and/or playing music with other people teaches you all sorts of life skills. Plus, one grows up with more authentic cultural tastes. So this is not about nostalgia for the past; it’s more about hoping for a better future in which art and music education are valued again, thus producing a more culturally inclined society.

Sixty years ago, before I was even born, music instrument retail businesses existed all over downtown San Jose. That will never happen again. A store like Music Village has no place in the future of downtown. Tech workers don’t care about culture. Apparently they just want to throw axes.

In 2021, I got to throw a few myself. With CreaTV and WORKS/San Jose moving into the former Zanotto’s space, it was necessary to write a rip-roaring hysterical column explaining all the ways in which young urbanist hotshots have failed to revive that area. So that’s what I did. In a similar column, when destruction loomed on Park Center Plaza, I explained the history of when that neighborhood was destroyed the first time around, back in the ’60s.

Finally, my global literary aspirations emerged in two more columns, both among my favorites of all time, in the entire 16 years of doing this. Back in May, a new character, Raj De Niro, compared San Jose to Palo Alto via the lens of Indian food and social status. Using quotes from Taxi Driver, the story provided dark poetic commentary on the San Jose condition in ways that had not previously been done.

The very next month, a piece called “Blue Bascom” took inspiration from the Claudio Magris book, Danube, which tracked the entire course of that river from the Alps to the Black Sea. Filled with history, politics and geography, Danube was an epic 400-page love letter to Mitteleuropa, so I did the same thing with Bascom Ave—an iconic artery that drew from a syncretism of discarded local history and culture. Bascom was the crucible of Mittelsanjose, I wrote.

As always, the columnist strives to reveal dimensions of his home town that only a native can reveal. That’s the whole point. Now that 2021 has come and gone, I look forward to what the new year brings.