Are You Somebody?

Actually, in Silicon Valley. "Are you somebody? That's what someone asked my father when he and my mom were at the Apollo 11 space launch at Cape Kennedy in Florida on July 16, 1969.

                          My father apparently looked like he was somebody at the Apollo 11 space launch in 1969.

                          My father apparently looked like he was somebody at the Apollo 11 space launch in 1969.

My father was likely dressed in a navy blazer and button down shirt. He probably had a tie on and maybe khaki trousers. He was tall, balding and had a strong presence. He was then Undersecretary of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under former Governor George Romney in the first Nixon administration, so it was in that capacity that he was invited to be there. I guess he was somebody. When he entered a room, people paid attention. He died at a too-young age 25 years ago having lived a very good, albeit too-short life.

I actually loved that this person was so direct. They didn't bother to ask "Are you somebody...important? famous? I should know? I have seen on TV? Rich?" They left it at "are you somebody?" Maybe my father appeared to be all of the above. I have no idea what he said in response, if anything. Neither does my mother. How would you respond? "Why yes, I am somebody." Or perhaps "No, I'm nobody. But thanks for asking."

My father used to say "You go from who's who to who's that?" And often very precipitously. I observed how quickly that can happen while going to high school in Washington, D.C. and working as a Senate intern one summer.

This calls to mind a recent conversation with friends whose daughter is engaged to a man nearly 20 years her senior. The engaged couple moved back to the Bay Area from out of state. Their original destination was Silicon Valley where she grew up. But when the fiancé learned just how many Teslas there were in Silicon Valley, he decided that he needed to find a place where he could actually stand out driving a Tesla, where he could be somebody. He chose Marin so that is where they landed.

I drive a Prius - a now 10-year-old Prius. I am very happy with it and despite being a proud native of Detroit, I don't care much about cars. When we first got our Prius, it was still a novelty and we even got carpool lane stickers. Then Teslas arrived - in droves. I was no longer somebody. It was as if Teslas were in living color and my Prius was black and white - as in dull, not even a "classic". I wonder if that couple will have to move somewhere new if too many Teslas find their way to Marin. Or is it simply that here in Silicon Valley, we collectively have more grown up toys sooner than anywhere else? The Apple watch, the latest iphone, and Google Glass (remember that?) appear so "normal" that it's hard to get much recognition for one's newest acquisition. Maybe he figures that as long as he can keep pace with Silicon Valley but call Marin home, he'll be ok, he'll retain his "somebody" status because Marin is consistently enough paces behind.

And meanwhile, what does this reaction to Silicon Valley indicate about Silicon Valley? About celebrity culture in general? But what if he can't keep up? What if Marin picks up the pace? Or his coffers dwindle an he can't afford the latest widget? Then what? Then I hope he realizes that he already is somebody. We are all somebody.

In addition to being a serious welder, 80 year-old metal sculptor, Rochelle Ford covers magnets with words of wisdom and shares them with people who come to her open studio in old Palo Alto. This is the one I received yesterday. 

In addition to being a serious welder, 80 year-old metal sculptor, Rochelle Ford covers magnets with words of wisdom and shares them with people who come to her open studio in old Palo Alto. This is the one I received yesterday. 

Last week, I visited the Open Studio of a Palo Alto artist, Rochelle Ford who shifted gears from working with Virginia Satir to becoming a metal sculptor at age 58. Her husband, Henry Ford, is a storied NFL player, partly because he was a standout player and partly because he was a pioneering African American football player. They are an interracial couple soon to be interviewed by the New York Times in that context since Loving has recently elevated the topic. They were serving Henry's famous eggnog in the bright red kitchen, unfazed by pretty much everything as far as I could tell. They were both somebodies of the most unpretentious sort. She was giving away magnets that she had repurposed from her former work bearing a favorite bit of handwritten wisdom. Here's what the one I randomly picked said "To the world you may just be someone, but to someone you may be the world." Someone, somebody. You get the idea. 

With warm regards from one somebody to another, 

Lisa

P.S. You can find previous Actually, in Silicon Valley missives here. And explore drawingsFirst Person interviews and more at lisavandusen.com