Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Separated at Birth?

Somebody once told me, or maybe I read it, or maybe I made it up completely, but in any case, I used to believe that Hong Kong had the largest concentration of Rolls Royces in the world.

I visited Hong Kong in 1989, not long after I learned (or imagined) this statistic. I wasn’t there long enough to confirm anything, but I did notice an awful lot of the luxury cars around, far more than I’d ever seen in my life up to that point.

I wouldn’t have guessed that slightly downtrodden North Oakland had anything in common with the capitalist theme park that was Hong Kong back in the day, but it does: The neighborhood also has an anomalous number of Rolls Royces. Last week I saw two in one day, one under a tarp, and one cruising the streets. That’s at least one more Rolls Royce than I had previously ever seen in one day in any part of Oakland.

Coincidence? Well, obviously, but it’s always interesting to discover the odd things that radically different destinations can have in common.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the Not-So-High Seas

One other interesting thing about North Oakland, which is separated from the San Francisco Bay by the city of Emeryville, is that a large number of residents seem to own boats. I don’t know if there are really more watercraft here than in other parts of the city. It could be that the boats, usually parked in driveways, are just more visible for some reason. In any case this landlocked neighborhood seems to have an unusually strong nautical bent.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Discovering North Oakland

I’m still working on my walking project. I’m in north Oakland right now. Usually when I mention this, the person I’m talking to will ask what the neighborhood is like, although I think what they really want to ask is if I feel safe there.

The safety question is easy enough. The simple answer is yes. If I were part of a gang, or a sex worker, or there to buy drugs, I’d probably feel differently, but my experience so far has reminded me of west Oakland: I leave trouble alone and it ignores me, too. (Of course, I keep my eyes open and my cell phone handy.)

As for what the neighborhood’s like, that’s harder to put into words. It’s not the city’s prettiest enclave. It has a few Victorians but most of the houses are boxy little post-war bungalows. There are some abandoned houses, and for some reason, there’s more litter than in any other part of the city I’ve seen yet.

But it’s far from bleak. There are pocket parks, and community gardens, and chalked hop-scotch courts on the sidewalks—all signs that people aren’t locked in their houses.

So what’s it like? Kind of like this photo, which shows a tiny patch of flowers that someone planted and then made a protective fence around at the base of a no-parking sign: kind of rough and gritty, but not without surprise little slivers of beauty.

Monday, June 21, 2010

R.I.P. Erik Fitzpatrick

Here’s something interesting that I found recently in Oakland, where we’ve raised the impromptu street shrine to an art form. Anyone can put together a soggy collection of flowers and teddy bears for a fallen comrade. In the East Bay, we do it in style. This is one of the more original offerings I’ve ever seen.

This shrine is on MacArthur Boulevard, the commercial strip nearest my house, implying that while I never met Erik, we may have been neighbors. I do feel I know him a little now, judging from the idiosyncratic things mourners have left as offerings, including chalk, vodka, bubble soap, and a dead, flattened turtle.

I don’t know what happened, but I note that he died quite young. (He was, in fact, the same age as my sister, which will probably always seem way too young for bad things, even when I’m 100 and she’s just 95.) My condolences to the family of Mr. Fitzpatrick, and to anyone who cared enough to put together this creative tribute.