RWC Locals: An Interview with Greg Wilson
We recently spent the morning with Greg Wilson, the author of local favorite blog Walking Redwood City. Greg spends his time walking through almost every neighborhood in the city from Emerald Hills, to Woodside Road, all the way down to Docktown. Each week he chronicles his sidewalk-level view and updates readers on what's going on around town. We've been fans of Greg's writing since we stumbled upon his blog a couple years ago and have found out about everything from restaurant openings to the latest construction projects through his blog. We joined him for a stroll around Courthouse Square on a sunny Tuesday morning and got to chatting about how he started writing about his walking adventures, the changes taking place in Redwood City, and his upcoming group walk.
We’ve been following your blog for a little while now and are so curious to know more about you and your story. Can you tell us about the path that brought you to where you are now?
I’ve been in tech, or have been interested in tech, since I was a kid. So I went to college and got a degree in Computer Science, and then after a short stint in Texas, I came here and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve worked at a number of companies throughout the Valley. I actually came back here to do games for Atari. I’ve also worked at Apple, Next, and Palm, so I’ve gotten around quite a bit.
I was a programmer for a long time. Then I was working at this little start-up company who was having financial issues and got rid of their technical writers. I had written the software, so I thought I could write the manual for it. So I sort of figured out how to do that and got into technical writing that way.
I did a lot of writing for software developers and started teaching them to write for different platforms. I ended up working for Motorola. Then when Google bought Motorola they held on to everyone for awhile, and then decided to lay most of us off. So I decided to take the rather generous package they gave me and take some time off to think about what I wanted to do next.
At that point I had been commuting on the train pretty much every day. No matter where I was working, I always figured out how to take the train there. And then not having to commute, I kind of missed that. I also missed walking since I would walk from home to the train, which was just over a mile. I needed the exercise and I missed being out and about and seeing what was up. So I thought, if I have the time, why not just keep walking. I can do that! So I just started walking.
What inspired you to start writing about your walking adventures?
After I had started walking again, I was telling a friend about something I had seen downtown and she was like, “Gee, you ought to write this down for your friends so they know what’s going on!” So I started the blog and told a handful of friends about it. It’s grown organically ever since. I’ve never advertised or done anything to promote it. It’s just grown naturally into what it is today.
I feel very fortunate that I’m able to do this. I have the time and I don’t need to worry about making it a source of income. It’s nice because it gives me the freedom to write about whatever I want to write about. When I started blogging, I would write fairly randomly. I might have a week where I did three posts, some short, some long. And then I might not write anything for a few weeks. It took about a year and a half before I decided that I needed to take it seriously or start doing something else. So I made a New Year resolution that I was going to write every single week. That was 2014. I did it every single week that year and have been doing it ever since.
Before I started the Walking Redwood City blog, I had actually written about some traveling I had done. One of the things I like to do is take train trips. I’m an Amtrak guy, and I had taken two major trips that I ended up sort of blogging about.
Oh wow! That sounds like such an interesting way to travel. Where did you go on your train trips?
I took the first trip during a sabbatical I had while I was working at Palm. I had three or four weeks, so I took from Thanksgiving to New Years off. I had always wanted to take a full loop around the country on the train, so that’s what I did. I went from here to Los Angeles, and then went the southern route, which follows the Mexico border. At the time, the tracks still went all the way through to Florida. (In Hurricane Katrina the tracks got washed out and they never rebuilt them so now Amtrak stops in New Orleans.) So I got to Florida and spent a couple days in Disney World. And then I went up to New York and spent a couple days wandering around, taking pictures and writing about it. Then I went to Chicago and back home.
It’s a great way to travel, you meet a lot of interesting people. And you get to see things that you just normally wouldn’t see. You go through the back sides of everything, so you see towns from a whole different perspective. There’s another route that goes from Emeryville to Denver, and then on to Chicago. You get to go over the Sierras and it’s just magnificent. They’ve timed it perfectly so you go over the mountains during the day and then you sleep through Nevada. It’s only overnight to Denver and then you can fly home or take the train home. And it’s fun for kids. They can run pretty free because they can’t really go anywhere. They’re limited to 8 cars and that’s about it. My kids loved it!
What are some of the most surprising things you’ve seen on your walks?
I don’t think I’ve seen too many surprising things. Little things maybe. When I first started, one of the things that fascinated me the most was this house I found that has a garage that opens at the corner. So the doors roll sideways and meet at the corner. I had never seen anything like that. It’s up in the hills there. Somebody made the best use of the space they had, I guess. It was a little teeny thing, but I just thought wow that’s really cool.
It’s not surprising, but I’ve just been watching all the new construction and it’s been a lot of fun to see them dig the holes and then see the buildings go up. Watching some people’s attitudes change as the buildings have gone up has been interesting too. It’s like oh neat, a new building. So I’ll start writing about it and taking pictures. And then the building goes up and people start getting upset.
Watching the City Council’s attitude change has been fascinating. Somewhere along the way as I started writing about all these buildings, I realized that I needed to start going to City Council meetings and Planning Commission meetings, or at least watching them online. It’s kind of nice to hear the logic and the discussion behind a particular project. Sometimes they raise issues, and it’s like, huh, I hadn’t thought about that. So it’s interesting to watch people more than anything, really.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming group walk?
The walk I’m planning to do is to go over the freeway and out to The Bay. It’s an interesting walk to go through Docktown and talk about the Inner Harbor Plan and everything that’s going on out there. And then we can walk out to Pete’s Harbor and see everything that’s going on out at Bair Island. I’m thinking we’ll probably start somewhere around the Kmart area to minimize the distance a little bit. Whoever wants to come is welcome to come! I’m curious to see who comes and to meet some of the people who write into the blog. I'll post details about the walk for a few weeks on the blog leading up to the event, so anyone who wants to join should check there.
When I announced that I was going to do a group walk, I actually got contacted by this group called Wider Circle to lead a history walk. It’s a group that meets once a week at Red Morton and does an activity together. There have been some studies lately about the importance of personal connections to your health. Like it improves your chances of surviving cancer and all these amazing things. So they’ve created this group and these people have a lot of fun together and they do some neat things.
One of the things they wanted to do was a walk around the city. Somebody there had read my blog and said, “Can we get this guy?” So they contacted me and asked if I would lead their groups in a walk through Redwood City. I met them over at their place and we decided to do a history walk. It’s fun to walk from plaque to plaque around the city, which is about a mile. So I did two walks with those groups and it was really fun.
How long have you lived in Redwood City? What drew you to the area when you moved here?
We’ve lived here for 26 years. We’ve always been drawn to the Peninsula, originally because my wife got a job here. She’s in the landscaping design business and started out going to community college at the College of San Mateo to get her degree for landscape design. After school, she ended up getting a job with one of her classmates, who was married into the family that owned San Carlos Garden Supply. She ended up working there for more than 15 years, until they closed and moved down to Los Altos. We had been living in Fremont at the time and she was coming across the bridge every day. We were starting to make friends over here, so we decided this is where we wanted to be. We just kept looking at houses over here and eventually sold our place in Fremont.
Since I started the blog, I’ve had some people think that I’m paid by the city, but I’m not. I really just love Redwood City. We kind of lucked into living here. We didn’t choose Redwood City because we were bound and determined to be here. We just wanted to be in this area because we were working here and we wanted a place where we could raise our kids. It turned out to be ideal.
It kind of was Deadwood City then. I mean you could shoot a cannon down Broadway before they built the theater and all this stuff came in. You know, for a long time, I didn’t pay much attention to anything down here because there wasn’t that much going on. It was just the typical routine of go to work every day and then come home to be with your kids. So it’s been interesting getting to know the city. I’m just so happy with the way that it’s going in general.
Not everything is perfect. You know, some of these buildings could look nicer, but I’m just pleased with the success that Redwood City is seeing. I’m loving all the merchants that we’re getting here, the restaurants, the nightlife. We come down here weekly and go out to dinner or go to a movie or something. It’s just nice being able to do that right in your own community. We always had to go somewhere else. We would often go to dinner in San Carlos or Palo Alto. Now we have pretty much everything we want right here.
What are your favorite neighborhoods to walk in? And do you have any favorite spots to hang out in Redwood City?
I like Courthouse Square. I love to walk downtown, of course. There is so much going on down here, which always makes it interesting. I like to walk Woodside Road. I also like to walk Emerald Hills for the exercise and because there’s interesting houses up there. It’s been fun getting to know that area. It’s such a maze of streets. I didn’t really know it and for years I would get lost up there. I knew the main routes and that was about it. Walking has been great and has taught me a lot about that area. I also love walking out on the whole waterfront area. I go out there a lot.
For going out to eat, we like Aly’s on Main and Vesta. We love La Viga and LV Mar, Quinto Sol, Howie’s Pizza, and Timber & Salt. We try all the new restaurants. It would be nice to see more retailers here. It would be nice to get people down here during the day for things other than going to lunch. I’m not a big box person. Like I go to Hassett Hardware on Woodside Road when I can. I like the little guys. It just feels like we could use more of that down here. I’m partial to bookstores but am not going to hold out any hope for that. I go to Encore Books all the time down below the History Museum. We used to have some cute little bookstores down here, but they are all gone. Now that I’m spending a lot of time in Redwood City, I’m really trying to take advantage of the city and do as much as I can here.
I love being around and seeing people. I love what the city has done to encourage people to come downtown and get together. I love the concerts downtown and at the park. We go every week to the concerts at Stafford Park. It’s also been great to watch the Fox get revitalized and now there’s all kinds of interesting things going on there. I really hope more people start walking down here.
RWC Locals is focused on the people that live and work in Redwood City. We believe that small businesses add so much vibrancy and character to the city and are a huge part of what makes Redwood City such a wonderful place to live. We are looking forward to meeting more folks around town and supporting their work and business. If you know of someone or a business you would like to see featured, let us know!