Tag Archives: oakland

A Walk in Oakland

Small Bits of Beauty Between Temescal and West Oakland

My friend Jennifer has a tumblog, Mission Walks, where she chronicles the stuff she sees when she walks her dog (Poe) through the Mission. One thing I love about her blog is the spontaneity. It’s not that she sees the most interesting things you’ll find in the city. Instead each small item captures the weird and random detritus of a bustling metropolitan ecosystem. Maybe you didn’t know, but I too have a Bay Area tumblr blog wherein I strive to take a photograph of everything I see that makes me excited to live in the San Francisco Bay area. Sometimes I feel like the photographs I take on my own tumblog can’t capture how amazing NorCal is because each photo of each item is isolated. The odd things I find could be miles and weeks apart. But they’re not. Today on my walk to the post office and I decided to document all the little things. Many of these things aren’t spectacular on their own, but together these tiny things fill my world with joy on a daily basis.

vine grows on a wall in Oakland
Near where Shattuck meets Tele

For example, I was pleased by how thick and strong this vine was (just South of the post office near 51st and Shattuck). It was so thick I imagined a skinny girl could climb right up the wall. Is this worth photographing? Probably not, but seeing this lush vine made me one point happier. The vine was enough, but I was equally amused that this tightly entrenched plant, which basically covered the majority of the building, was not on the hallowed brick halls of a fraternity house, but on the side of a parking garage. A FREAKING PARKING GARAGE. I can tell you, in Florida they don’t grow vines on the side of parking garages. I don’t know why. But California is relentlessly verdant. The Berkeley Wal-Greens actually has a green wall, because it too is covered in vines. Passion flowers, their odd stamen waggling like the antennae on an alien specie, frequently grow on the wire fences of parking lots. Few people keep lawns; you’re more likely to see an abandoned garden that’s continued to thrive and is slowly taking over the property.

A short walk in Oakland will reveal attention to beauty. When I reach the post office, there’s a small shady bench surrounded by mosaics tucked away behind an otherwise generic shopping plaza. On the way back I pass the huge building that the owner allowed muralists to cover.  There’s graffiti and sticker art everywhere. All of these things were created by fellow humans, expressing themselves. The city itself is speaking to me, through the voice of its art, from the writing in the sidewalk to the architecture.

My desire to capture the random awesome of an Oakland walk started with this truck. The art on the truck isn’t outstanding compared to some of the paint you see in Oakland, but I was intrigued by the random WTFness of the artist’s placement of the ice cream cone.

painted truck seen on a walk in Oakland Caption: The art on the truck is not the only random thing in this picture.
The art on the truck is not the only random thing in this picture.

Though I like the quick and dirty nature of this graffiti (in style, it reminds me a bit of Josh Petker), there’s tons of great street art in Oakland so normally it wouldn’t make the cut of stuff I’d blog about. But there’s something else going on in this moment, and it’s that for no explainable reason there’s a toy rabbit chilling on the ledge of the truck.

The next thing I spot that’s photo-worthy is this art car. By far not the most elaborate art car I’ve seen around here, but really a car that’s been used as a canvas is a rare enough thing in the rest of the US that any art car is worth noting. The hood of the car had a painting of Munsch’s The Scream (sorry bad photo doesn’t do it justice…too much sunshine).

But here’s the thing. You might think this random bit of awesome was several blocks from the previous one…but in fact that truck you can see in the second picture is the same one with the beanie baby and the ice cream king. And when I look up in the distance, I get the Oakland hills.

The Oakland hills looking East from near Telegraph Ave
Any given glance North or East will give you a view like this.

Again, this isn’t a breathtaking view that you would download and set as the background on your desktop. But it is quite nice. So this is one sweeping moment in Oakland: two very different kinds of street art and lush vistas in the distance. Here are some of the houses I passed on my walk, which Map My Walk tells me was .88 miles.

With the fancy houses and artsy cars and hella hills and beanie babies, life is feeling good. Like Alice in Wonderland, Oakland is a Fairyland of whimsy. Curious and curiouser… But what’s this? While standing across the street from the second house, I realize someone has left a note wedged to a telephone pole. Remember how exciting it was in grade school to get the opportunity to read a note someone meant to pass along to another classmate? This is like that. It’s exactly how the protagonist of To Kill A Mockingbird would hide notes in the hollow of a tree, if Scout Finch were older and maybe a homeless junkie.

Of course I read it. Most of it contained professions of love, written in handwriting I’d associate with a thirteen year-old girl. The rest of the note indicates that she is going to purchase some entertainment for the evening, and has already acquired an evening coat appropriate to the occasion. Ah the rumblings of sweet love. How she woos!

Note stuck to telephone pole
Not for my eyes, but I read it anyway


Private note reads "Bought you a jacket already I'm still going to buy some speed. =)"
“Bought you a jacket already! I’m still going to buy some speed!” To be fair, the rest of the note was very romantic.

OK, I admit that maybe this note is an example of the kind of thing that drives the baby-mamas to live in Berkeley and shout “NIMBY!” And true, this isn’t thought of as a “good” neighborhood. I think of the miles upon miles of boring, good neighborhoods in the monoculture where I grew up, and tiny bits of beauty like this were few and far between. It’s worth mentioning that even when Oakland is filthy, on the same streets with the soiled condoms and the broken glass, there is so much culture and beauty.

In Eight Hours I Strike

Sign says you've fueled our fire. Riot police stand behind

The police had slashed our tents; thrown away clothes, food, medical supplies; and arrested the protesters and the reinforcements that were ready to replace us. The police had thrown noxious chemicals and burning gas at us and shot us with rubber bullets. The police had showed their might and erected a flimsy fence to reinforce it. And as they were lying to the media about who did what and when, this sign went up.

Though their numbers had dwindled after Tuesday night’s police brutality, this sign captured the sentiment. The remaining occupiers stood in the street with a banner. They thanked me for coming. Everyone was angry. No one was daunted.

That was on Tuesday. By Wednesday at six the fences were torn down and the camp reestablished. Enough food was donated to feed everyone. A day later there was a library, school tent, and an agreement to have a general strike. My friend got six medical volunteers in a three-hour shift. Not hobos, not teenagers—People who know how to insert a catheter. Constantly there were meetings.

I have never in my life seen such a group of people so diverse, so motivated, so organized and so relentlessly determined. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, we are not quitting. We have been waiting. The time is now.

I say “us” and “we” though it’s unfair to say for I’m not among the campers. My tent wasn’t shredded. My laptop wasn’t “confiscated.” I didn’t have to sleep on the floor in a jail.

I say “us” because Occupy Oakland knows that the movement is much bigger than the campers. It is the farmers who provide the food, the bloggers and publicists  who share the news, the artists who make the t-shirts and photos, the designers and developers who build the website, the thousands who clashed with police on Tuesday. The campers represent us. They are our proxies.

Politicians count active constituents as representative of larger numbers of lazy voters. One email counts for a handful of miffed voters, a letter even more, a phone call counts for many, and you can bet if people are sleeping on your fucking lawn you can count on a crowd with torches and forks.

The campers sit for me. Tomorrow I stand for the protesters. Tomorrow there is no work. Tomorrow there is no shopping. Tomorrow, I strike.

Posted via email from Paperback Pusher

“Specific suggestion: General strike” By Garret Keizer

As for how the strike would be publicized and organized, these would depend on the willingness to strike itself. The greater the willingness, the fewer the logistical requirements. How many Americans does it take to change a lightbulb? How many Web postings, how many emblazoned bedsheets hung from the upper-story windows? Think of it this way: How many hours does it take to learn the results of last night’s American Idol, even when you don’t want to know?

In 1943 the Danes managed to save 7,200 of their 7,800 Jewish neighbors from the Gestapo. They had no blogs, no television, no text messaging—and very little time to prepare. They passed their apartment keys to the hunted on the streets. They formed convoys to the coast. An ambulance driver set out with a phone book, stopping at any address with a Jewish-sounding name. No GPS for directions. No excuse not to try.

But what if it failed? What if the general strike proved to be anything but general? I thought Bush was supposed to be the one afraid of science. Hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusion—are they his hobgoblins or ours? What do we have to fear, except additional evidence that George W. Bush is exactly what he appears to be: the president few of us like and most of us deserve. But science dares to test the obvious. So let us dare.

When I heard that Oakland is planning a general strike for November 2nd, I went and pulled up this fantastic article written by Garret Keizer for Harpers magazine back in 2006. It is among the best essays I’ve ever read.

I will post more excerpts from this on Subversive Soapbox but you should really just go read the rest of it right now.

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

The 800 Bus

The 800 is my favorite bus in the Bay Area. This is the bus that goes back and forth from Downtown San Francisco to Berkeley and Oakland in the wee hours of the morning. You have your bar staff getting off work, one-night stands, forlorn lovers and, mostly, working-class partiers. This is the bus that runs only during the hours it is too late to catch the train. The evening is over and there are a lot of stories in those faces.

Most of the time I ride public transit I wrap myself in a book. But on the 800 I’m usually with a friend, and either too pooped or too pumped to read. Instead I find my plots in the desperation of the singles and the eavesdropped sarcasms of couples. I find my character in the swagger and slick coifs of the lovers and the heavy-lids of the night shift workers.
The first time I caught the 800 I sat behind the tall hair of a drag queen. The second time I sat surrounded by a tourist group from Eastern Europe. The whole ride home they sang Communist Party songs while a drunk hobo ingratiated himself into their clan. The most recent time I caught it was the worst. I caught it after a run-in with some bitches itching for a fight at the Denny’s, post-party (Twelves at the Mezz), post-breakfast, indeed so late it was almost early. It seemed at that hour things were a little less festive, a lot more tired and wolrd-weary. But the stories were still there.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

On a joyride through Oakland yesterday I saw my very first gated church. That is, I saw a huge church with a big electronic gate surrounding the exterior. I’m sure Jesus will make sure that all of those suffering and in need will be administered a gate pass.

Shame on you, Oakland. And shame on Atlanta. As the rumor goes, one of the suburbs outside of that city is now the first to have a gated community… wait, no, could it be? a gated community within a gated community. So that the residents can protect themselves from those other uppidity, white-bread gated community residents.
Who knows? You can’t trust those foks living near the exterior. They could riot. Better
lock down the big screen TV.