California could lift a middle finger to those who put it down but let’s just go with “Hold my beer.”
Our casita was truly in the heart of the hood where I grew up.
We moved here to the Lake Merritt area from East Oakland where we had lived in the back end of a duplex that was, I believe, owned by my Stepfather, Paul. I was eight when I arrived in California, the center of a rope in a parental tug-a-war. But rather than fight it out, my parents stood by and let me decide. It wasn’t too hard to debate, because California is to Iowa as chocolate cake is to an Oreo cookie, both good but one is so lavish, so rich and layered. (Midwesterners can now seize on this ambiguity and triumph.)
I liked that place, the duplex, it’s where I met wild new city friends and where my grades dropped from respectable Bs and As to Us. (Unsatisfactory). Basically, the teacher, a buttoned up, skinny guy with glasses, stood and lectured nonstop and completely ignored that no one, not one student, was listening to him. We tossed stuff, talked, laughed, wrestled and just kept playing. I tried to listen for about a day and then just gave in to the fun.
Trestle Glen—Piedmont adjacent—was not only a move up it was reaching for the top rung. I’m sure my mother and Paul struggled with the bills.
(I’ve included a photo of the house, so redone I passed it and had to circle back to make sure which one was ours.)
From “home” we went the few short blocks by car that I rarely drove as a child. This area of Oakland is festooned with stairways and hidden paths and getting to school was much easier by foot. Of course, most kids went by foot, bike or city bus in those days. Parents didn’t give you rides everywhere.
I became a newspaper boy here, making all the money I would need for sting rays, slot cars and Monkees albums.
We drove by Crocker school and I was mainly looking to see if the four-square lines are still painted on the playground. They are, but the tether ball poles are long gone.
It is a lovely, lovely district, rivaling Cannes in France for beauty.
Then we went over to The City.
This was my first crossing of the new Bay Bridge. It’s kind of ordinary until to get to the suspension portion and that looks like advanced engineering. The balance of forces must have been so carefully worked out—geeks hunched over computers.
I wanted to drive through the City because I’m working on my second novel that takes place in SF from the days back in the 80s when I was a cab driver. Wanted the feel. I also wanted to see if it was as horrible as it is portrayed, to see if it had transformed in some way into two tiers of crazy wealth and rampant filthy, neglected streets peopled with the cast offs of a rich nation with no real plan for all the citizens.
Uh, it looks pretty much the same! Homeless—I counted two in the lower Market area—and more as you get passed Union Square and up to Larkin and Polk on Geary, but, HEY, IT WAS LIKE THAT 40 YEARS AGO. Lots of clean neighborhoods, lots of very dirty ones, lots of people going about their business, some discarded and lost on the streets. I’m sure there are hotbeds of homelessness but this idea that the “entire city” is overrun just ain’t true.
It’s still, for the majority of my drive through, quite lovely. I’m sure we could help our fellow travelers on this quest we are on, help those who need a leg up, and many will somehow rise, and others will fall, but the heart that beats in all our chests is still very much alive. That flame is the ally.
We exit the city into dense fog. You cannot see the Golden Gate Bridge at all except for the deck. There are many tourists walking and biking. The last time I walked here, I came with 500,000 friends to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
North out of the fog and into the gorgeous North Bay and finally leaving the last tidal swamps behind to come to Santa Rosa and all the way on West on Highway 128 towards Mendocino. Vineyards galore! We would have stopped at these, taken a flyer, Michelle and I, back in the day, tasted some rich reds, whites and rose’s. But we drive by now, heading away from the heat eventually dropping into the cool of the giants.
Being in a redwood forest is truly like going back in time.
And finally, we arrive on the bustling coast, fog again hugging the vast blue of the Pacific, we dance from open sunshine to mist, in and out of tsunami warning zones until we arrive in paradise.