“Remember when Atari was big? We went to that place, I forget the name, but you have to ask for ‘the library,’ and it was the place everyone from Atari went.” My mom told me, across the table at Ideale, an Italian place in North Beach. “Well, we were there for something important, I forget what. And they came to my table with the phone, on a tray. Very fancy. I think it was Sally or someone, saying they were going to be late.”
I couldn’t stop laughing. Not sure why- just something hilarious. Maybe because I could remember when Atari was big, that Atari, this icon of the early software/video game world, was big at one point, commandeering the best rooms at the best restaurants in Silicon Valley? The idea of these Japanese moguls getting a reputation for even where they ate, and my Mom knowing about it? She owned a business in Sunnyvale and maybe through my dad and her friends, got the up and up on who was where (and where they were eating?). Whenever I think my Mom’s out of it, I remind myself that for a long time she was on that Apple founder’s Christmas list, and did her time working in a garage at a startup.
I’m sitting at Cafe Claude next to a friend, joking about “When Atari was big.” “What did Atari even make?” She asked me. “Was it Space Invaders? You twitted me about that last night.” I replied. “I lost a lot of money at QBert, I remember that.”
On the phone to my sister, recounting the “When Atari was big” anecdote. “I spent a lot of money on Ms. Pacman at the froyo place next to Egghead Software. Remember? On Sunnyvale-Saratoga.” I groaned. I remembered that, going with my older sisters to play video games the moment someone learned to drive, or we convinced an older sister to drive us to yogurt.
I was out to dinner with my mom, when I told her that the challenge of the Gatsby novel is setting an exposition. Explaining, or making people remember somehow, just what it was like back then. “I mean, imagine, getting a call at a restaurant that someone is late.”
She remembered another strange time. “When I worked at Interop, and we were out here in San Francisco, maybe Pacific Heights, that’s right, on Fillmore,” she has a distractingly good memory for geographic locations, “And Ollie was the only one with a cell phone. It was as big as a shoebox. He pulled it out and called the restaurant- the one we were standing in front of- and asked when the table would be ready.”
“That’s obnoxious even now, in the age of cell phones.” Then she told me the Atari story, and we tried to remember the name of the restaurant.
“It’s North of San Jose, east of 101…”
“Velvet Turtle? That place with the pink sugar?”
“No, Mountain View. Oh I know! Lion & Compass.”
No story of Silicon Valley is complete without a note of obsolescence. My mom and one of her friends went to MacWorld one year and realized that their entire business, a graphics pre-press shop, was made obsolete by the invention of the personal computer and, namely, PageMaker. The drive back was glum, and they ended up closing the business.