Michael Portillo's thousand-mile Californian rail journey continues. At tech giant Intel, Michael glimpses the future on a test drive in an autonomous car.
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I have crossed the Atlantic to ride the railroads of North America,
with my faithful Appleton's Guide.
Published in the late 19th century,
it will direct me to everything that's novel, beautiful,
memorable and curious
in the United States.
As I travel through this vast continent,
I'll discover gold and silver,
movies and microchips,
oil and oranges,
and learn how America's most famous railroad conquered
the wild landscapes of the west.
My journey through California now turns southwards.
Railway tracks and telegraph lines were technologies that transformed
society around the world,
but their impact was greatest in California
because it had been cut off from the rest of the United States.
Suddenly, news became virtually instantaneous,
and goods and people could arrive from the east in days
rather than months.
Today's transformative technologies include the microchip,
e-mail and mobile-phone-based apps,
and many of the breakthroughs have come from California,
from Silicon Valley.
I'm making a 1000-mile railway
journey from Reno, Nevada
to San Diego
in southern California.
This leg begins just south of San Francisco in Silicon Valley,
from where I'll use some of California's
most picturesque rail lines to return to the Pacific Coast.
Along the way, my head will grapple with
California's Japanese heritage...
It's a very odd feeling, being hit on the head repeatedly!
I'll marvel at the world's tallest trees...
People come from all over the world to enjoy these trees.
To see them from the train, Phil, is special.
..and face total wipe-out.
I'm now riding Amtrak's Capitol Corridor service,
a railroad that runs 170 miles through northern California,
from Auburn down to San Jose.
Appleton's tells me that the Santa Clara Valley lies between
the coast and the Santa Cruz mountains.
It is watered by the Coyote and Guadalupe rivers,
and by artesian wells,
and claims to be the most fertile in the world.
I'm leaving the train at Santa Clara,
in the heart of what's now known as Silicon Valley.
To trace the evolution of this area from farmland to the powerhouse of
the digital revolution,
I've come to a hi-tech hotel bar beyond the wildest dreams
of Appleton's readers.
-Hey! How are you doing?
I'm meeting Justin Kuykendall,
from the Silicon Valley Historical Association,
with novel waiting staff in attendance.
Well, I never! What is this?
"I'm running a delivery," it says.
ROBOT CHIMES, MICHAEL LAUGHS
"Hello, Michael and Justin, please remove your items."
There's one for you, Justin.
And one for me.
Oh! Thank you very much indeed.
How far back do you trace the connection between the valley
and the development of technology,
what we now think of IT, information technology?
Sure, sure. Um...
I think it's really starts with the university -
you know, the starting of Stanford.
My Appleton's Guide, written in 1891, says,
"Senator Leland Stanford's great Palo Alto ranch
"is the site of the Leland Stanford Junior University, founded in 1885."
Well, it started as a ranch,
but then, you know, he created a university,
you know, after the death of his son.
He had a vision that, you know,
his son came to him and that he was supposed to have a university,
so that's really where the university idea came,
and that would be the education for this...California
and the students of California.
Railroad baron Leland Stanford had helped to build the trailblazing
Transcontinental Route in the 1860s.
By the mid-20th century,
the university that he had founded was helping to ferment a new
Technology start-ups arrived,
encouraged by Stanford engineering professor Frederick Terman,
who established an industrial park on the campus.
The Santa Clara Valley became a hi-tech hub,
producing silicon semiconductors, which form part of the chips
that are the brains of our modern electronic devices.
Why does Silicon Valley work?
You have the university, you have this semi-conductor industry,
you have great weather,
and you also have, kind of, that western entrepreneurial
idea of, you know, pioneering.
Something really... We want to do something new.
We want to do something that's cool. We want to change the world.
In the 21st century,
Silicon Valley is synonymous with the disruptive technologies of the
internet age, from search engines to social networks -
now its innovators want to change the way we travel.
At Intel, which pioneered the microchip back in the 1960s,
engineers are giving cars
the data processing power
to drive themselves.
I'm joining Grant Mahler on a test drive.
Hi, Grant. I'm Michael.
Nice to meet you, Michael.
The project is a collaboration with BMW and Mobileye,
a sensor and mapping company.
In the back is Carl,
whose computer is tracking what the car is seeing.
As we hit the freeway, we're about to go into autonomous drive.
Grant, I have to tell you, this is a very exciting moment for me.
I have never been in this situation,
and, for me, it is a glimpse of the future.
Grant, what's happening now?
The car is steering itself.
It has taken over from you?
Right now the car is making the adjustments to speed,
to direction and so on?
Amazing, for me, for the first time, to experience autonomous driving.
This is going to change our way of living -
whether you need to own a car, whether you need a driving licence,
how many cars we need on the roads,
whether people are going to live longer
because they don't die in motor accidents.
It's an absolutely transformative technology.
In the here and now, I'm reverting to a form of transport
readers of my guidebook would have recognised.
Appleton's tells me that one of the excursions most frequently
recommended to the stranger is that to San Jose.
Having reached this outpost of the American Far West,
I want to consider a community that came from across the Pacific to the
Far East, and which at one time had the misfortune to be regarded as
an enemy of the United States.
This is San Jose, our final stop. This is San Jose.
Today, San Jose is Silicon Valley's biggest city
and one of the most affluent places in the United States.
A couple of miles north of the station
is the Japanese quarter, or Nihonmachi.
At the Buddhist church founded by some of the city's
earliest Japanese immigrants,
I'm meeting Jim Nagareda of San Jose's Japanese-American Museum.
Jim, I'm Michael.
Good to see you.
-Lovely temple. Beautiful.
What is the origin of the Japanese community in the San Jose area?
The Japanese started coming to this area in the late 1800s,
and they came here looking for jobs in agriculture,
and most of the Japanese intended on going back -
you know, making their money and going back to Japan -
but a lot of them stayed and formed this great community.
By 1940, California was home to three quarters of
the Japanese population of the United States,
but within two years, the growth of Japantown came to a stop
when Japan attacked America.
Tell me about the impact on the community of
December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor.
After the bombing,
they knew that there was going to be some type of backlash.
They burned all of their family photos cos they wanted to disconnect
themselves with anything from Japan,
along with a lot of their other possessions.
When they actually had to go to, actually, incarceration camps,
they could only take what they could carry.
In May, 1942, across the United States,
people of Japanese descent were interned in camps.
Most of San Jose's Japantown residents were sent
1,000 miles away to Wyoming.
They would not return for three years.
And they ceased to be US citizens.
Basically, their rights were taken away.
They said that the camps were for their protection,
yet the guns were pointed inward.
How easily could they reintegrate after 1945?
It was not easy for them.
A lot of people lost their property and lost their businesses,
lost their homes,
and so they had to rebuild.
MAN SINGS IN OWN LANGUAGE
Today, Japantown is thriving once more,
and its residents are passing on their traditions
to the next generation.
DRUMBEAT SPEEDS UP
THEY CONTINUE YELLING Extraordinary sight.
In Japantown, just next to the temple, is this gymnasium,
and these youngsters, male and female,
are learning kendo, a martial art,
which I suppose tells us the strength of the Japanese community.
Instructor Dale Hatakeyama is initiating me
in the art of Japanese fencing.
Dale, sorry, sir, may I interrupt you a moment?
-I'm Michael. Hi.
-Nice to meet you, Michael.
-And this is kendo?
-This is kendo.
We teach the Japanese culture, as far as respect,
perseverance and carrying yourself with dignity.
So, it's not about only about fighting each other,
but it's also about trying to make yourself a better person.
Would it be crazy if I attempted to have a go?
Certainly, if you wanted.
First, a traditional Japanese costume and some body armour.
Arggh! Quite tight.
My opponent is less than a third of my age,
and I think has been doing this forever.
Not that I'm intimidated. No, no, no.
The way you swing this is you push it up with your left hand,
and over your head, straight over your head,
and then you swing it down and take a step forward
and you're going to hit him right here.
-And I won't hurt him?
I hope not. Hit the top of his head and say, "men" at the same time.
The sword is made of bamboo.
Points are scored for striking parts of the body.
"Men" means face.
-We'll change roles now, so...
Men, men, men!
It's a fairly odd feeling, being hit on the head repeatedly.
"Do" is called for a cut to the chest.
It's better than being hit on the head.
Men, men, men!
He's very good.
Dale, I think I've had enough.
I'm sorry I haven't been a great success.
-Thank you, sir.
-Thank you so much.
I'm continuing my journey from Felton
in the scenic Santa Cruz Mountains.
My guidebook promises a grove of mammoth trees in the vicinity.
How better to experience California's iconic redwoods
than from the footplate of a steam engine?
And with that, our magnificent locomotive is underway.
The three-mile Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad
was built in the 1960s.
Now heritage locomotives haul tourist trains
past some of California's oldest and most majestic trees.
This train affords a terrific opportunity
to see the redwood grove -
because, of course, you're going a bit faster than walking pace,
you're able to cover so much of the terrain.
A certain irony, seeing the forest from the train because, after all,
the demand of the railroad for timber was enormous,
partly to fuel the early locomotives,
and partly for sleepers, what the Americans call ties.
The bits of wood on which the track rides.
We're on narrow-gauge,
and it looks like we've got some quite steep gradients
and quite tight curves.
Yes, Roaring Camp has probably got the steepest grades and
sharpest curves on any narrow-gauge railroad in North America.
When they designed the railroad, they didn't want to take trees out
so they went around them.
That's a lovely thought, isn't it?
-A railroad built around the tree trunks.
People would come from all over the world to enjoy these trees.
I mean, to see them from the train, Phil, is special.
Oh, it really is. I never tire of the view.
Although the narrow-gauge railroad is relatively modern,
tourists have been coming by train to marvel at the redwoods
since the days of my Appleton's Guide.
The trees rise above me on all sides,
like the columns of a giant cathedral,
although probably taller than any cathedral I've seen,
and here below it is quite dark,
and you look up and you see the light filtered through the canopy.
Ranger Steven Elmore is going to tell me more about
the tallest trees on Earth.
Steven, these magnificent coastal redwoods, how tall do they grow?
They can actually get well over 300 feet.
I assume, then, the coastal redwoods are native to
the west coast of the United States.
Yes, that's the only place where they're found naturally.
They have to live on the coast because one of their additional
sources of water is actually the fog.
Because of the design of the needles, it will allow the water
to drip down onto their roots,
as well as actually absorb water from the fog itself.
The United States is infamous for its forest fires.
How have the redwoods survived that?
Well, these trees have actually adapted to live with fires.
There's actually tannic acid in this bark here,
and that actually manages to protect the tree from the fire.
So, even the though they'll get scorched and burned,
most of the time they'll actually survive.
Coast redwoods can live for over 1,500 years,
but in post-gold-rush California,
many were lost to the logging industry.
How has this grove managed to survive man,
and the sort of vandalism of the 19th century?
Well, it didn't happen by accident.
Joseph Welch was the man who owned this particular part of the land,
and he actually decided that he could make more money selling
pictures of these magnificent trees, rather than cutting down the wood
for other purposes.
So, he built a railway station and a hotel and a dance floor
and things like that, and kind of turned it into, basically, a resort.
Profit was his motive,
but when Welch bought this 40-acre grove of virgin redwoods in 1867,
he saved it from the loggers.
Just three years before,
President Lincoln had created the United States' first-ever
publicly protected area of wilderness in the Yosemite Valley.
19th-century Californians were beginning to realise the value of
their natural wonders.
Back on the rails, I'm taking another tourist train,
This line follows the route of the Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad,
a narrow-gauge line which opened in 1875.
My destination is Santa Cruz,
which Appleton's tells me is attractively situated
on the north side of Monterey Bay,
and is one of the principle watering places of California.
This train is actually going to take me down to the boardwalk.
-Hello. How are you?
How are you enjoying your train ride today?
-It's very nice.
-Very good, yeah.
-What are you loving?
-So, I've never done this before,
but I love being in the mountains, so I love, like, all the redwoods.
I'm going down to Santa Cruz now to try my hand at some surfing.
-Yeah? Oh, are you really? Wow.
Have you surfed?
-I've tried it once. Yeah.
I've been in Pacifica.
-Wear a wet suit!
Now, how come you've only done it once?
I thought Californians lived on surfboards!
Just because it's too cold.
-Not to scare you, but...
Well, actually, I think you have scared me a bit.
-But never mind.
And now, as the Americans would say,
one of the darnedest things you will ever see,
the train actually goes down the middle of a street,
and there are houses on either side.
HORN HONKS, BELL CHIMES
In the 19th century, tourists flocked to Santa Cruz's beaches,
and in 1907, an amusement park opened, offering thrills and spills.
But, these days, adrenaline junkies are just as likely to be
found on the waves.
Santa Cruz was the birthplace of surfing on the US mainland.
Instructor Ed Guzman is sharing the story.
-Hello, Ed, I'm Michael.
-Hey, Michael. Nice meeting you.
Oh, and a lovely spot as well.
-And I see there are some surfers out there, right now.
Ed, how does surfing come to Northern California?
Well, there were three princes in 1887 from Hawaii.
They were going to college at Santa Clara University
and they came over to Santa Cruz for a little vacation,
and they saw these perfect waves peeling
at the San Lorenzo River-mouth,
right in front of the boardwalk,
and they shaped some boards out of the redwood trees,
and took them out into the ocean at the San Lorenzo River-mouth
and rode waves and made history.
Surfing is an important part of traditional Hawaiian culture,
but Californians have made it their own.
How quickly do you think that then caught on in California?
It wasn't really until the '30s that surfing started becoming
a little bit popular, and, by the '60s, it exploded.
How much experience do you need to go out there?
None. I can take you out on the first time, never surfed,
never seen the ocean, and get you up on a board.
Well, I am exactly in that category. ED LAUGHS
But when you say "get me up on a board",
you'll never get me to stand up on a board.
If... If you fight it, yes, that's true.
But if you go with me and you believe that you can
and you, kind of, open up your mind a little bit,
I can get you on your feet and riding.
-Quite a challenge.
-Yeah. Well, let's go for it.
Hands go low, to the base of your ribs.
Slide up in one smooth motion if you can,
and drop your hands to your chest and stand up.
Yeah, stay low. Excellent!
From sparkling Pacific waters to towering redwood trees,
I've discovered a state of dazzling natural resources.
The United States wanted gold-rich California to be joined to it
politically as a new state in 1850,
and Californians needed to be linked physically by the completion of the
Neither party could foresee what would happen.
The California economy is easily the biggest in the United States,
eclipsing Texas and New York.
Indeed, if it were a country, only America itself, China,
Japan and Germany would be significantly bigger.
The power of Californians' imagination and the vigour of
their enterprise have astonished the world,
and indeed shaped it.
Next time, I'll explore a millionaire's mansion...
We had the largest media empire in the United States
in the mid-20th century.
..learn the secrets of the perfect guacamole...
You want to... You want to just give it a little twist.
Ah! I never knew that.
..and discover a tragic American love story.
It's like Romeo and Juliet,
if they live in southern California in the 1860s.
Michael Portillo's thousand-mile rail journey through California continues south toward Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley and ends in the surf of Santa Cruz. In a high-tech bar, where robots wait on the customers, Michael traces the origins of modern-day search engines and social media to an institution founded by a railroad baron. At tech giant Intel, Michael glimpses the future on a test drive in an autonomous car.
At San Jose, the biggest city in the valley, Michael visits Japantown to meet members of a far eastern community who settled here peacefully during the 19th century but faced hostility during the mid-20th. He is then beaten over the head and body by youngsters a third of his age as he attempts to learn the martial art of kendo. A ride aboard the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad takes Michael through groves of mammoth trees - the magnificent California Redwoods. Emerging from the forest on a second vintage railroad, Michael hits the beach and like a true beach boy, he takes to the waves - on a surfboard.