The Broken Man of the Silicon Valley

Emerald Ip had just left a San Jose City Council meeting where she spoke about the need for stable housing and shared that she had been left without a roof over her head after her SJSU admission was rescinded, when an interaction at the bus stop left her asking, what are we really innovating here in Silicon Valley? At the bus stop outside city hall, Ip and a friend turn a good deed into an impromptu interview with a man who could have been anyone - a man chewed up, spit out and forgotten by Silicon Valley.

He sits, hunched over, at the 22 bus stop in front of City Hall.

“You think I’m homeless?” he asks me. 

My first instinct is to say yes because I’ve just handed him two slices of pizza and a cup of water. 

His back bends over in a permanent stoop. His bald spot looks greasy, as if it hasn’t been washed in a while, and what little tufts of white hair he has left haven’t been combed. His clothes are business casual, stained, and heavily crumpled

“You looking for stories?”  he asks. “I can tell you one. Want to know how much I used to make?”

I dig my phone out of my backpack to try and record a bit, because I know I might forget.

“Twenty million dollars,” he continues. “I used to run a financial advice firm, right here, in the Silicon Valley. We were one of the best.”

In the back of my head, the ‘08 crash looms in my mind.

“And then one day, it all just slipped,” he says. He tells me about how he used to work 18-hour days.

I still don’t understand. How did he end up here? 

“I sent my kids to Santa Clara, then NYU,” he says. “Raised two kids. They love me to pieces. I still have those super dad plaques they gave me.”

“You know hockey?”

I admit I’m not much of a sports fan.

“Have you ever seen the Sharks? I followed them for 15 years. Even tried to coach them a couple of times.”  

A real San Jose man. That takes dedication, I thought.

The question remains: If his kids love him so much though, why aren’t they helping him?

“I told my kids not to help me. I know they would, in a heartbeat,” he answers. 

Something in his eyes stops me from asking more. Maybe it was the aura of defeat that clung to him like a physical stink. Maybe it was my own inability to understand why no one else would have helped him. 

Several other people at the bus stop told us that we were good people for giving him food, while they didn’t offer to get him anything. If they could tell he needed a bite, and good people feed hungry people, why didn’t they do anything?

The bus arrives. “I’m sorry, I have to go now,” I tell him.

“I’ll be dead before you see me again,” he says to me, as I get on the bus.

“I won’t forget you,” I say.

What else could I do?  How else could I have helped him?

I don’t know his name, but I do remember who he was: a broken man. 

This is what the Silicon Valley does to people. It chews people, spits them out, and forgets them at a bus stop in front of City Hall. 

What kind of place are we living in where a person’s spirit is so broken he cannot accept help from his own family? What are we really innovating and inventing here? 

If you’re ever sitting at that stop, remember him. Remember the Broken Man of the Silicon Valley, and how in the end, none of us could help him.

This article is part of the categories: Audio  / Community 
This article is part of the tags: Homelessness  / Silicon Valley  / Tech 

Comments

I talk to homeless people. Like they're human beings or something. An astounding number come from tech backgrounds. We're talking they were engineers.

You wanna know where John Galt is? He busted his back working in a warehouse and now lives under a bridge. His job was offshored and he was in his 40s and he can't get a job because he's old. He's living in a warehouse with no running water and helps sell off the scraps of the tech economy because ace electronics techs are no longer able to get jobs - he earns less than he did right out of high school, over thirty years ago. He's out playing a flute for the odd dollars people toss, because he had to train his replacement then was fired, never to find a job again.

You know where John Galt is, he's all over the place. He's probably you in a few years.

It's sad and it happens to many people which is why it is important to know and retell these stories so that we won't forget when it happens to us.

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