Thursday, June 7, 2018
As I cruised by the home of the richest man on the planet, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, I already knew that he was never going to pick Santa Barbara as Amazon’s second mega-headquarters. Bezos is shopping for a lucky (?) city where he plans to invest $5 billion and create 50,000 high-paying jobs. But even if we did get the nod, why would we want to be squashed like an Amazon package dropped from a truck on Highway 101?
As our family station wagon rolled down Evergreen Point Road in the tiny Seattle suburb of Medina (pronounced “Me-dye-na”), past Bezos’s hidden five-acre estate, I knew security cameras were peering at us at each intersection. I’d been warned that we would likely be stopped and questioned by police if we dared to venture into the tiny town, an easy commute to corporate mecca Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from Seattle. But I was curious what kind of a neighborhood a man worth $130 billion would choose as home turf.
No one paid the slightest attention to us. Woodsy Medina reminded me a lot of Hope Ranch. Fellow billionaire Bill Gates lives about a half mile away from Bezos, but you can’t see his $125 million compound from the road, either. I wondered if the two tech bosses bumped into one another while strolling around the neighborhood.
Bezos? Where’d that name come from? How’d a genuine all-American billionaire get that name? Cuba, actually. For those who have no use for immigrants, here’s a story to ponder while prying open the Amazon box on your front porch. It goes back to a pregnant 16-year-old high school girl in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As soon as Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen was born, Jacklyn Gise divorced her husband, Ted Jorgensen, who then split.
Gise soon wed immigrant (take that, you haters) Miguel “Mike” Bezos, who only a few years before had arrived from Cuba at 15, alone, broke and reportedly knowing only one word of English: “hamburger.”
Mike adopted Jeff, then 4. Turned out that Mike was one smart cookie and a heck of a father, and he went on to earn an engineering degree at the University of New Mexico. Jeff was a bright, innovative kid who rigged up an alarm system to keep his younger siblings out of his room. In high school, he worked the McDonald’s breakfast shift. After making Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton, Jeff went to work in Manhattan. During a coast-to-coast driving trip to Seattle, he famously cranked out the business plan that led to Amazon and polished it off in his garage.
The corporate Amazon already has something of a presence in Santa Barbara, including its ownership of Whole Foods, Amazon@IslaVista pickup location, and acquisition last year of S.B. start-up Graphiq (formerly FindTheBest) to work on its Alexa virtual assistant. I think Bezos would find friends here, if he hasn’t already. This isn’t exactly Trump Country, and the president has no use for the owner of the Washington Post, a critic of all things Trumpery.
Bezos, visit all you want; just don’t bring the whole Amazon package.