Hella West Oakland

Every morning when if bike or drive to work – about a two-mile distance – I’m struck by the shift of energy between my neighborhood and where I work.

My neighborhood is mostly apartments, with single-family houses here and there. I’m noticing  a weird uptick in crime in the area, everything from police-involved homicides to smash-and-grab among the vehicles that line every street. The task of finding a parking space within a one-block radius of home diminishes exponentially as afternoon becomes night. At various times, often at the end of the month, sidewalks sprout all the unwanted sofas, chairs and futons of my neighbors. Occasionally, some moron tags the furniture, rendering it useless because the tag is not even remotely artistic.

On my street, are a halfway house for formerly incarcerated and a home for mentally handicapped adults. Lots of dogs walk their owners in the morning. We do duck-duck-goose for parking every month on the second and fourth Mondays and Tuesdays  when street cleaning is done one surfaces in a dramatic state of decay. Between potholes and railroad spurs, it’s gotten dangerous to ride a bike (not even counting the unpredictability of motorists).

Things randomly go bang and boom in the night. In the wee hours,I hear trains howling in the distance. A family of blonde raccoons lives on the garage roof in a mini-jungle of ivy. My neighbors sometimes argue loudly, one verbally abuses her mother, the couple across the driveway takes showers together (leaving the frosted chest-high window open), and sometime a very creepy missing person case or suicide occurs. I do not feel threatened. I’m observant during my movements outside, and have rehearsed my response to various human calamities. An interesting use of mental energy.

I ride down Vernon St to its dead-end at 27th St, the corner home of the Whole Foods evil empire. Site of a security guard’s recent bloody assault on a young black man. Never heard the whole story… altercation…escalation…bloody-photo ‘journalism’ but I hope the dude has the presence of mind and sufficient grounds to sue the bloody bastards.

Middle-school kids from a private school lay siege to the 7-11 at Harrison (across the street from Whole Foods). Buying junk food, talking trash.

On past the Broadway Auto Row Dealerships, where the street sign has been altered to read ‘Bro Way.’ Past the Humanist Church that’s felt the wrath of neighbors – hence the City – for hosting loud events that don’t end till 11 or so.

At San Pablo, I begin viewing of the ass-end of Oakland. A check-cashing store with an old Cadillac always parked in the lot; a miserable little Asian meat market, its public phone reduced to depositary for garbage. A few blocks south, drug dealers and prostitutes own this street. Four blocks north is the scariest corner of W Oakland: St Andrew’s Plaza, one of Oakland’s smallest parks, and much-debated home of a group of drug-addled or traumatized homeless persons. DoNut Shop on the corner. St. Mary’s Center for the elderly (among other services) across the street. Not much else.

27th St vanishes at Market. The City settled with calling it 26th St. A grocery on the corner run by Middle-Easterners or Pakistanis features a big hand-painted sign for “Fried Chicken.” The kids from McClymonds High School hang here after school, packed together smoking weed, loudly calling each other ‘nigger’ or ‘bitch.’ Eating junk food, throwing the wrappers in the street.

From here on, random piles of garbage appear like a plague of pustules. The small neglected MyClymonds Mini-Park, consumes a corner lot across from a complex of Section 8 housing. The climbing equipment is faded and worn, the grass always a bit ragged.

Down another block,  a new private school for ages 4-8. Clean and neat as you please, but of hideous architecture, like an unholy mating of shipping container and airport terminal. Golden-Gate-Bridge red with bright yellow trim. Fortunately, the happy noise of children playing escapes the metal gates.

WCI’s office and Oakland Women’s Center is a block-and-a-half away. Katy-corner across the street is a mental health clinic. Occasional site of raving and arguments. People off their meds.

Furry Beetle
Beetle on the block by the office

Directly across the street to the south is the Coast Sausage Company, a massive derelict two-story building that’s been abandoned for years. Seems the City decided to sue the owner. He came and removed truckloads of construction debris, garbage, household effluvia – and several squatting homeless people. Every Monday, I’m eager to see who’s winning – the taggers or the owner. Dozens of coats of paint have been applied during their ongoing match: red brick paint vs. tacky graffiti. This week, several new trash heaps restore the site to its former ingloriousness.

The women calling and coming to the Oakland Women’s Center present an incredible array of problems, histories and personal foibles. Takes me a while to make sense of it all. Never dull.

Meanwhile, the Baraka Center saga would be the stuff of telenovelas if it were not so drenched in the mean-spiritedness of one person. He released another tirade today with the subject line “Grow Up Racist Pig.” I skim but turn away from his vitriol. One of the great mysteries of relationships draws from the dark side of humans – when, not if, it will emerge – and will it destroy all that the good side has wrought?

Some insights about race and poverty. Posting here soon.

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