Tom Staid sat in the Margaritaville restaurant in Capitola, California grateful for new experiences and admiring the view of the Pacific Ocean from the Monterey Bay. He didn’t know what to marvel at more: that he was in California, that a couple who worked in Silicon Valley decided to have a Valentine’s Day wedding, that the diversity of the crowd was nothing like he ever saw in Pennsylvania, or that he actually knew a few people here other than his wife, Ruth. He looked over to the bar at the animated conversation among the threesome that included his twin brother John, John’s girlfriend, Michele, and his wife, Ruth. I wonder if they’re taking time to smell the roses and enjoy this amazing view.
He lifted a narrow stemmed, wide mouthed margarita glass; licked salt off the rim; and sipped the sweet and sour drink. God, that’s great! I’m getting a taste of this lifestyle. He considered the previous year. February is the grimmest month of winter back in Pennsylvania and here I am: three months in this warm, amazing place. He glanced to the other side of the restaurant and noticed Hank Rudzinski and his wife, Amy. It’s bizarre. I’m here because Ruth works with the groom, Scott Bratson, at Embark Electronics and my brother John and fellow Winston College alums Hank Rudzinski are here because they know the bride, Kim Monroe, from their company: Processed Technologies. Tom had no sooner thought of the bride when she walked straight up to him, took a seat uncomfortably close, and rested a hand on his thigh.
“Listen John!” Kim whispered to Tom in an insistent tone. “I’m afraid Scott’s getting cold feet. I know you’ve been discrete but it’s all the more important that no one hears about us in Ireland.”
What the hell is she talking about? “Ah, Kim …” Before Tom could explain that he was John’s identical twin brother the groom called and Kim departed. Tom’s mind spun away from the scenic view and into the surrounding personal relationships. John has been with his girlfriend Michele for years but … Ireland? John was with Kim in Ireland? He turned and regarded his brother. Kim probably thought John was me because Ruth’s talking to him. He remembered the four year rift with his twin brother over what Tom viewed as John’s self-centered attitude that ran roughshod over everything. Ruth, from the moment she heard of the rift, resolved to fix it and was working that concept at the Margaritaville pre-wedding party.
Tom scanned the diverse crowd and his eyes rested on the twenty-something bride, Kim Monroe. She was a young ball of energy who deserved a great wedding. The question prompted by Kim's visit was a barb. Did John say to hell with Michele and Scott for a lustful moment with Kim? It was inexcusable. It was the epitome of what caused the rift in the first place. Tom saw Hank Rudzinski and his wife, Amy, walk up to Kim and Scott and offer congratulations. He felt a pang. John was going with Amy in college and—look at her—she’s amazing. John let Amy go because of his greed for money and now this wedding might be spoiled because of his unfaithful rapacious lust for a young thing? He pushed down a surge of anger.
The seating at the restaurant was arranged around familial or friendship closeness to the bride and groom. This left a large group of colleagues and coworkers clustered at a large end table. Tom grabbed his brother by the elbow as he was about to sit down. “I need to tell you something.”
“So, what do you think of California little brother?”
“You came out like what, four minutes before me? Cut out the little brother stuff, this is important.” Tom and John Staid walked outside into the warm February air.
John waved his hand around the vista: orange and purple sunset, rhythmic waves crashing in the distance, and palm trees everywhere. “It’s sixty-five degrees! You gotta say this is great.”
“It is and I was enjoying it,” Tom said, “until Kim came up to me, called me John, and told me Scott can’t hear about Ireland.”
John burst out laughing. “That was nothing and the last thing she needs to worry about.”
“Nothing? John, what the hell? She’s worried Scott’s getting cold feet.”
“If he is, it has nothing to do with Ireland. Christ Almighty! She wasn’t even the most memorable.”
“What? John, what about Michele?”
“Michele was seeing a doctor at the time and shit happens.”
“Goddamnit John! Shit happens? You may have wrecked this wedding.”
“I did not. Look, it was a while ago, and it’ll be fine.” John’s brow knitted into a scowl. “Did you see Amy? Can you believe that?”
“Sure, I saw Amy. My wife, Ruth, is her best friend.”
“I know that now but I didn’t know about Ruth in college and I didn’t know until the fire that Amy married the soldier boy.”
“His name is Hank Rudzinski and so what? They’re a great couple.”
“So what? Ruth told me at the bonfire that Amy married him a year after breaking up with me.”
“Again, so what? As I recall you left Amy, not the other way around.”
“She didn’t want to come to California with me in 1983 so in 1984 she marries soldier boy and goes to West Germany? That’s fucked up!”
“John, what the hell? It’s 1995. That was twelve years ago.”
“I need to talk to Amy.”
“You need to make sure you don’t screw up this wedding.”
“Hey you two,” Ruth called from the open door. “Everyone is taking their seats.”
Tom sat next to his wife and watched with concern as John accosted Amy, Hank’s wife and John’s college sweetheart. Why do you always have to be a bull in a china shop? His attention was drawn away from the confrontation to the distinguished Indian in front of him who had just said something. “Pardon me?”
The man introduced himself as Khushal something and Tom’s mind was so fixated on getting the odd first name down that he didn’t hear the last name. He extended his hand. “I’m Tom Staid.”
“Of course,” Khushal said in perfect annunciated Queen’s English, “you’re John’s brother. Identical twins are so rare.”
Tom nodded and smiled. “We’re the only pair I know.”
“And I understand you know Hank Rudzinski.”
Tom nodded again. “Hank and I went to Winston College together and our wives have been best friends since they were kids.”
“That is so nice. How long has it been since you moved to California?”
“We moved to Needlegrass last November so it’s been three months.”
“Needlegrass, that’s farming country as I recall.”
“We’ll, I’m the city manager and I can tell you most of the residents commute into San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale.”
“Of course,” Khushal replied. “Commuting is the way of the Silicon Valley.”
By this time the large table filled and Tom saw that Amy and Hank were at one end and John and Michele were at the other. I wonder, he mused, if Hank interrupted John’s lively conversation with Amy. He wanted to gawk and muse but noted Khushal was asking him something. He swung his attention back to the distinguished man across from him.
“… after three months you must’ve drawn some conclusions. What do you find most unique about the Silicon Valley?”
“Hmm, that’s a good question. Everything is different.” He looked around the restaurant as the servers offered varieties of quesadillas, wafer thin corn chips, and salsa to go along with the copious alcohol. Tom turned back to Khushal. “The people.”
“The diversity is amazing and everyone takes it in stride.”
“It’s true,” Hank Rudzinski, who was opposite Tom and two over from Khushal at the table, agreed. “In my hometown of DuBois, which has a whopping population of three thousand, three massive catholic churches were built within blocks of each
other: Saint Michael’s for us Polacks, Saint Joseph’s for the Lithuanians, and Saint Catherine's for the rest. Why? Because no way could those immigrant groups sit down together.” Hank waved his hand around the room. “Just look at this.”
“Hank is one of our rising stars at Processed Technologies,” Khushal said with a smile, “most likely because he notices little things.”
Tom regarded Hank’s direct gaze, considered that he was a combat veteran, and thought it best if John keep his distance from Amy. That is not someone to be trifled with. He turned back to Khushal. “So, why did you come here?”
Khushal laughed. “Do you mean from India or New Jersey?” He waved his hands. “I left India for AT&T’s Bell Labs, spent time in Sematech, and, for the last four years, have been in California at Processed Technologies. I have made all those moves for the same reason: opportunity.”
Tom nodded. “I suspect everyone would say that.”
“That definitely is why I’m here,” a female voice to Tom’s right said.
Tom looked over at a young Asian woman with high cheekbones and wide smile. Tom leaned behind Ruth and extended his hand. “Tom Staid.”
“I’m Jiao Lui and I agree with Khushal. My husband and I are from Hong Kong and made plans to move here before the Chinese takeover in 1997. Opportunity is the driver of Silicon Valley.”
Tom smiled. “I think I answered your question right, Khushal. The weather and geography are fantastic in Silicon Valley and California but it’s the people that make it special.”
“It’s like in Atlas Shrugged,” John said from the other side of the table. “People flee the countries and areas with too much government and bureaucracy and come to places where their talents can be best utilized.”
“That is true,” Khushal agreed. “That is why you see so many in Silicon Valley that have fled socialist India.”
Tom glanced around. “That’s probably the largest non-US group here.”
Khushal followed Tom’s glance. “Yes, I see four Indians but the US is such a large country that it’s better to consider other groupings.”
“What about ex-military?” Hank asked. “There’s two ex-soldiers and two former navy nukes here.”
“Yes, ex-military from the ‘peace dividend’ of winning the Cold War have definitely helped the Valley,” Khushal admitted.
“What about native Californians?” Tom asked.
The group looked around. “I can’t point to a single one,” Jiao said, “but, if you lump Mandarin speakers together which includes those from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China; I also count four.”
What an international education this is proving to be, Tom thought. “A number I talked to are from Chicago. They seem to move away from those winters.”
“I’m pretty sure there’s only three from Chicago,” Hank replied, “and I’ve also counted three from Ireland here.” He laughed. “You’re right Tom. This is a great, diverse group.”
“And you two knew each other in Pennsylvania,” Khushal said.
“Well sure,” Amy seated next to Hank and across from Ruth said with a laugh, “Tom, John, Hank and I went to the same college and Ruth and I are best friends.”
Khushal’s interest was piqued. “And you all are from the same part of Pennsylvania?”
Tom laughed. “Western Pennsylvania—the old steel country.”
“I think we’ve found our largest group,” Khushal announced. “It seems we count five from Western Pennsylvania.”
Tom looked right down the table and ticked off Ruth, John, Hank, and Amy and realized Khushal was right. “I’ll be darned. Five are from Western Pennsylvania.”
“And you and your lovely wife Ruth were the last to come.”
“That’s right,” Tom answered. “Ruth works in the Embark Electronics California office with Scott and I’m the city manager of Needlegrass. The two opportunities intersected.”
“But your brother has been here a while,” Khushal said.
“I was the first one out here,” John answered. He turned and stared at Amy. “I came out here solo in 1983.”
Khushal missed the meaningful glance between John and Amy. “And Hank and Amy came out here after Desert Storm in 1991.”
“So when Ruth and I moved out here the trail was well-blazed,” Tom said. He shook his head. “Five, wow, five in this wedding audience are from Western Pennsylvania.”
Hank responded to Khushal’s previous comment. “Although we came to the Silicon Valley in 1991 for training, Amy and I didn’t live here until 1992.” He smiled at Khushal. “Did you forget you sent me to Albuquerque to work on JOSEL’s tungsten for a year?”
“Of course! You’ve done so much since then I’d almost forgotten.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Hank replied. “I thought I was going to get fired at the beginning.”