Frances Dinkelspiel's excellent book Towers of Gold fills in the blanks. Her ancestor's Zelig/Forrest-Gump-like omnipresence meant that, when something exciting went down in the Golden State, Isaias Hellman had a finger (or a wallet) in it. From the founding of USC, to why Leland Stanford started his own university, to why there's a Flood Park in Menlo Park or a Wheeler Hall at Cal or a Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford. (Though I still have no idea why every major CA college has a Cowell Health Clinic.) Or why the Fairmont Hotel is the Fairmont Hotel (named for silver baron James G. Fair). Or how many layers of gauze you need in your face mask to stave off virulent flu bugs (hint: four is not enough).
Reading this book gave me that thrill I had when I read The Kite Runner and found the characters walking around skanky, man-made Lake Elizabeth in Fremont. I know that lake! And then they were working at the Berryessa Flea Market in San Jose. I've bought crap there!
Hellman's firstborn son Marco buys a vacation home near Oakland to escape the nasty San Francisco summers, and after the 1906 earthquake the extended family flees there. What with the backup at the ferry terminal and no Bay or San Mateo or Dumbarton Bridge, they had to drive down and around the bay, passing through Milpitas. My hometown! I don't think I've ever seen it mentioned in a "real" book! This Oakland vacation home is now known as the Dunsmuir House. Uh huh--that one. Where they have weddings and events and where I went one very hot afternoon with my friend Jennifer and someone complimented her on her purple polished-cotton skirt and I felt like dogmeat. Ahh...good times.
In any case, I really enjoyed the book and bombarded Scott with all the facts I was learning. And this post is Stage One in my New Idea for the Day: to increase overall internet positivity by blogging about writing I loved. I'm sure it'll wear off, but here's one in the bag.