Real Life Scenes from Project Moses!
When I wrote Project Moses, I tried as much as possible to set the scenes in places that actually existed and that I knew well. It just seemed to me that if I could picture it clearly in my head – or better yet, go sit in the actual place – I would do a better job of describing it for the book. For example, I spent five years as a reporter for newspapers in Arizona.
I once spent a few weeks in a rural area where there were just a few small towns working on some stories involving the local government officials. When I was looking for a remote location where AgriGenics could locate a clandestine research facility far from prying eyes, I thought of Arizona and thought I could convincing describe what it was like there – the heat, the barrenness of the desert and the kinds of people you might find there.
When my wife and I first moved to San Francisco, we lived in the top flat of an Edwardian double decker home in lower Pacific Heights. It was the kind of neighborhood where you had some of the wealthiest homes a few blocks to the north, subsidized projects a few blocks in the other direction, a small Chinatown to the west and Golden Gate Park within jogging distance.
It had the kind of interior as the flat where Sarah Armstrong lived in Project Moses – tall ceilings, inlaid hardwood floors, wonderful old trim and finishing touches. It also had a fantastic view from the kitchen looking down a hill toward downtown and a pink church directly across the street with a neon cross and a tour bus that often parked next to it.
Outside of Palo Alto, in the section of the Bay Area called the “Peninsula” where Silicon Valley is centered, there is a range of coastal mountains. You go over them to get to the coast and places like Half Moon Bay and, further south, Monterey and Carmel. On certain routes, you pass along winding roads through hillsides that are green in spring and golden in summer until you reach stands of redwoods along the upper ridges. The Alpine Inn is off one of these roads. It’s a favorite beer spot for Stanford graduate students where you can get a reasonable burger and beer and sit outside on picnic tables and enjoy the bucolic setting. There is an athletic field next to it and it’s the kind of place you might choose for an out-of-the-way rendezvous between Enzo Lee and a source, both of whom are wary and somewhat on the run. In Project Moses, it’s where Enzo and Sarah meet Arthur Sendaki, the founder of AgriGenics who was replaced by Brian Graylock.
For its size, San Francisco has a huge Chinatown which probably is a testament to Angel Island’s nearby location in San Francisco Bay. It was the Ellis Island of the Pacific where immigrants passed through on their way from Asia to the United States. Many Chinese just stayed in San Francisco when they arrived while others continued on to other parts of the state or country. The earliest waves of Chinese immigrants worked on the western section of the intercontinental railroad that passes through the Sierra Nevada mountain range near Lake Tahoe or in the mining camps in the foothills of the Sierra.
The population of Chinatown has continued to be replenished by more recent waves of Chinese immigration. That, plus the traditional businesses there – groceries, restaurants, curio stores – that serve the locals and the tourists have kept the unique feel of the community. You still can visit shops that specialize in exotic Chinese herbs and, with some guidance, find the out-of-the-way places of worship that have been serving particular slices of the community for many decades. The main plaza in Chinatown is Portsmouth Square, atop the main city parking garage. It is a major gathering place where people come to perform their tai chi exercises and gather in groups to play cards, chess and other games.
The American Museum of Natural History – where the Night at the Museum movie was based – is on a block of land that juts out from Central Park in Manhattan on the west side. Behind it is a grassy area that runs along Columbus Ave. and gives restaurants along that part of Columbus a view of a grassy lawn and trees – a rarity for that part of Manhattan. During my itinerant years as a journalist, I spent the better part of a year in New York living not too far from the museum. I got to know the neighborhood and some of the establishments there well. What better place for Enzo Lee to propose a meeting with an FBI agent?
Although I grew up outside of Los Angeles and have lived in many places, including several years on the East Coast, I’ve adopted San Francisco and the Bay Area as my home for the past 20 years. It’s an ideal place for Enzo Lee to be based – a mix of picture-perfect settings in an urban community that has the usual tough neighborhoods of any sizable city. There is a lot going on here, from the cutting edge of the technology and biotech industries, to the incredible mélange of ethnic and lifestyle diversity. So many threads to pull and see what amazing stories come tumbling out.
-Robert B. Lowe