My wife and I moved to the Bay Area in 1999, while the bubble was growing. We lived less than a mile from the 101, the highway that cuts through San Jose and goes up through San Francisco. Driving the 101 for the first time was a lot like the first time I got to Yankee stadium as a kid. (I was a Yankee fan at the time. I’m sorry. Fortunately, I’m over it.)
Anyway, it was overwhelming. Being in the technology corridor was a powerful feeling – and every quarter mile there was another billion dollar company’s headquarters or a billboard for the new new thing. In fact, there was only one obvious conclusion to draw based on the 101: technology wasn’t just the heart of Silicon Valley, it was all that mattered.
Well, what a difference two years makes. We had dinner with friends in Mountain View last night, and drove back up to SF on the 101. Nevermind that almost every building has another logo on it, but the billboards were what was really shocking. Gone were the arrogant billboards that proclaimed world dominance in some niche industry you’d never heard of, the breathless announcements about some new product or company you couldn’t live without. Nope, the billboards on the 101 from San Jose north are now:
- Lamont and Tonelli on 107.7
- Hillside Shopping Mall
- Baume and Mercier watches
- Tide laundry detergent
Tide? TIDE? Good Lord. Even 294 out of O’Hare has a couple of token Microsoft billboards. Has it really gotten that bad? I didn’t see a single Bay Area software company on a billboard on the 20 miles of the 101 we drove. One for IBM, one for another hardware company.
Sidenote – when I left in early 2001, a billboard cost $75k for a month on the 101. Ours was just north of 92 on the 101, heading north. Anyone know what a billboard on the 101 costs these days? Somehow, I doubt Tide is paying anywhere near that …