Archive | Oakland RSS feed for this section

Rename your streets after presidents and watch your city thrive

26 Sep

I have an idea. It’s a small idea, but I think it’s a terrific one. It’s an urban planning idea and I think Oakland should do it. You might have guessed what it is from the title. The idea is to name city streets after US presidents.

I can’t remember when I first had this idea, but it was before I moved to Oakland. I was probably living in Minneapolis or Chicago. This would work in both of those cities too, but I’m endorsing it for Oakland. I had the idea because a lot of cities have a problem. A dumb problem. They have numbered streets that intersect with numbered avenues. This is confusing. You can’t say to someone “I live at 14th and 27th” because those coordinates specify two different locations in the city. 2700 14th St and 2700 14th Ave are two different places. This is a problem, like when my old employer tried to send me my W2 form and it went to the wrong place because they didn’t know they had to specify St or Ave. This is so obvious that it amazes me the people who first laid out grids in our nation’s cities allowed it to happen. But there aren’t any simple and obvious solutions. In Chicago, the South Side has this numbering problem. On the North Side, both the north/south streets and the east/west streets have names. The names are random, and you have to know where every street is to get places. The best solution I’ve seen first-hand is Southwest Minneapolis, which has numbered streets and alphabetical avenues. That is, the north/south avenues have names, the first starting with A, until you get to Z and it repeats. But. If you did this over the whole city, you’d have to repeat several times and it would get confusing.

So here we are, with suboptimal street naming protocols everywhere. In East Oakland, the avenues start at Lake Merritt and are numbered 1-110ish. The streets start at the bay and are numbered 1-35ish until you get to the hills. This is a vast oversimplification for some parts of East Oakland. The grid is fucked up in all kinds of dumb ways. I could go on about it for days. But whatever. Here’s my suggestion that would make Oakland or any other city great.

Rename 1st Avenue to Washington Avenue. Then Adams Ave. Jefferson Ave. Etc. Up until Obama Ave for 44th. This would be so great. It would reduce confusion. It would get people to learn the presidents. History would come alive. You get the idea. Plus, every four years, people would get excited about a new street name. You could have a big unveiling ceremony. Maybe the President-elect would attend the dedication ceremony. There would be great press for Oakland.

There would be problems. But they would be stupid problems for stupid people. Would Oakland residents protest George W. Bush Ave? Probably. So what. Would real estate values on Reagan Ave drop? Would people clamor for an Obama Ave address? Interesting questions. It would be fun to see.

I’ve been talking about Oakland. This would also work on the South Side of Chicago and South Minneapolis east of Nicollet. There are probably countless other cities that would benefit from this scheme. I will also mention here that as per usual, I did no research into this. Maybe there’s a municipality out there that does this already. If so, good for them and sorry for stealing your idea.

Fruitvale Station

25 Jul

I don’t know if I have a lot to say about Fruitvale Station. It’s one of those movies that critics like to talk and write about. It was at Sundance and Cannes and critics have been talking about it since. I think for the intelligentsia the movie is old news and it hasn’t even opened nationwide yet. Most of what I’m going to write is little more than a summary of other reviews. Wesley Morris at Grantland wrote the best thing I’ve read. He also weaves in some Trayvon Martin/President Obama stuff in a way that worked well. I don’t have anything to add to that angle.

On the other hand, I feel like this is the one movie where I might be expected to have a strong opinion or have something interesting to say. This movie is set in my neighborhood. It’s (indirectly) about large social issues that Oakland is often at the epicenter of. Issues that someone smart might be able to say something deep about. Should I have some profound insight into “what this movie is about” because I live across the street from the hospital where Oscar Grant died? Is it a personal failing to avoid the inevitable political questions raised by the movie even though I sometimes board BART trains at Fruitvale? I don’t know.

On the topic of political questions, I’ll repeat what most other reviewers have said. I was expecting this movie to be overt. Polemical. I expected to see a much more negative depiction of the poor sections of the East Bay and the impact of crime/poverty/racism/police on people living in them. That wasn’t at all the case. Naturalistic is an overused new buzzword in film criticism, but I think it fits here as well as it fits anywhere. Where the movie is contrived and emotionally manipulative, it’s in the service of character development, not social conditions or race relations. That was a very pleasant surprise.

This was an intense movie. It opens with a clip of the most famous cell phone video of the Oscar Grant shooting. It then goes back and covers the day leading up to it. The tension builds and builds as the inevitable ending approaches. The tone and pacing were generally very restrained. I was very impressed by the director Ryan Coogler. He didn’t try to score easy emotional points–the prison flashback was the only place where the emotion was really dialed up before the big climax. I thought that was the perfect strategy. By not creating points for the audience to release tension throughout, he kept it building. And it did build. The big BART platform scene was executed really well. That’s a big feat since that scene is so well-known at this point. And even here, there was no big catharsis. People forget that Mr. Grant didn’t die until the next morning. The overnight hospital waiting room sequence was very strong. This is where the emotion all came out. There was a fair crowd in theater when I saw the movie, and there were a lot of people audibly crying. That is not a common occurrence at the movies. At least not at the movies I go to. And then it was over. There was a little title-card epilogue, but there was no depiction of the aftermath. That was a very smart decision. That’s where things could have gotten away from the director and made for a muddy unfocused movie. Once more, this was an intense movie.

Three plot contrivances detracted from things. The dog at the gas station, the fish fry girl who reappears, and the prison guy who reappears. They all felt unnecessary and distracting. It wasn’t a perfect movie. Most of the non-perfection comes from little things like this that are maybe a little too on-the-nose. The intent was obviously to capture real life in a realistic way, and real life is messy. Always. Sometimes Mr. Coogler shied away from that. I can understand why he did things the way he did for the sake of the narrative and keeping things interesting, but it didn’t always work. Maybe some of the problem was the choice to dramatize a single day. That’s an unexpected way to tell this story, and overall I think it was a very good decision, but the fact is that any single day doesn’t have all that much drama in it. Maybe things would have been boring if not for the little narrative touches. I don’t know.

A few local notes. My understanding of and appreciation for this movie was most definitely enhanced because I live in Oakland. Mr. Coogler is from Oakland and did a very good job of creating a sense of place and placing the story in a geographic context that I thought added to it. I know I wouldn’t feel that as strongly if I’d seen this movie before I moved here. Little things like street signs are a nice touch wherever a movie is set. That this was all filmed on location was apparent. That always adds a bit of juice. My fear going in was that there was going to be a lot of depressing East Oakland footage–some ”look how terrible the ghetto is” kind of nonsense. As I mentioned earlier there wasn’t any of that. Oakland as I know it was very well-portrayed. It’s a beautiful city. There are big industrial zones. There’s a lot of graffiti. Etc. One thing that I thought was a perfect touch was the repeated use of BART trains. Both the images and the sounds of BART trains. It’s such a distinct Bay Area touch. And, of course, it was a great narrative device. It kept the audience focused on the direction of the story.

The acting was very good. Michael B. Jordan seems to be getting a lot of plaudits, and he was good. Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend matched him. I like Octavia Spencer. I’ve been a fan since she was Serenity on Halfway Home, a short-lived and probably-forgotten show on Comedy Central. That kind of acting is about the polar opposite of this. I hope she gets a chance to do more interesting movies because I think she has a lot more range than your average moviegoer who only knows her from The Help would guess.

So I don’t have any big thesis or whatever. I liked Fruitvale Station a lot. A lot more than I thought I would. I’d recommend it. Go see it.

My parents came to visit last weekend

6 May

Last weekend my parents came to visit. I hadn’t seen them since I moved to California last year. They were pretty excited about the whole thing. And they should have been excited. Visiting me would be exciting for anyone. I’m going to go ahead and give a weekend recap just to give everyone a taste of what awaits you if you’re in your 60s and decide to visit me in the most exciting city in America.*

*This post might end up being really really boring.

My parents wanted to see me, but they also wanted to see some sights, because why fly across the country if you’re not going to see some famous bridges and stuff? So on Thursday we set out for San Francisco.

First stop, the de Young museum. I should write a full review of said museum, because I know how much blog readers love reviews of museums in cities where they don’t live. It’s a pretty good museum. There was an exhibition of Dutch paintings on display, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a painting so good it was made into a movie. When you’re a family of Dutch descent, a display of Dutch paintings in a museum called the de Young is a no-brainer. They even had Grolsch in the museum café. We had lunch in said café. A lot better than expected. The museum’s in Golden Gate Park. There aren’t any good places to eat there. This is a shame, since SF has countless highly-regarded food trucks. Can none of them park in the park? (HA see what I did there.) There are only a couple scattered hot dog carts. Seems like a no-brainer. The de Young also has a really cool observation deck, which is only nine stories up but has a more or less unobstructed view of most of the city. Mom and Dad enjoyed that.

I think Herzog & de Meuron are the only architects allowed to design museums now

I think Herzog & de Meuron are the only architects allowed to design museums now

Adjacent to the museum is the Japanese Tea Garden. Mom and Dad were big fans. There are a lot of plants/flowers/trees in this garden. Both of my parents love plants/flowers/trees. They spent much of the weekend pointing out various kinds of plants that don’t grow in Minnesota. That seemed like their favorite part of the trip sometimes.

There's no denying that this is a good garden

There’s no denying that this is a good garden

We then took our leave of the park and headed toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Driving through the city gave me a chance to show off my tour guide skills. I don’t want to brag, but I was a fucking great tour guide. This was the first time I had ever driven in SF, but my parents were none the wiser–they were super impressed at how well I knew my way around. The big highlight of the drive to the wharf was going down Lombard Street. This is the street that is steep and windy for a block. Right before we crested the hill to reach the top, I said, “Get ready to wave to all the tourists!” What a great quip! Because there are a LOT of idiot tourists walking up and down Lombard with cameras. There are even some in cars leaning out the windows with cameras. Luckily Mom restrained from doing that. Although she and Dad both seemed to enjoy gawking at the gawkers. And driving down the street is pretty cool, truth be told.

Fanny packs

Fanny packs

Fisherman’s Wharf is a huge touristy place. Good thing my parents were tourists! LOL! We walked from Ghirardelli Square to the actual wharf and back. Nothing too exciting, honestly. Then we walked out on one of the piers that has a really good view of the bay. Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin county, etc. SF has more places with good views than any other city I’ve been in.

When we were finished at the wharf, it was a little past 5pm. We had 8pm dinner reservations, which meant a couple hours to kill. Mom and Dad had done a lot of walking at this point, so I thought we’d drive around a bit. SF is a fun city to drive around in. We went along the water into the Presidio. I hadn’t planned on going to the GG Bridge, but that’s where we ended up. I don’t know my way around that well. Don’t tell Mom and Dad. We stopped at the GG lookout point or whatever, which was cool. They had a cross-section of a bridge cable and some other stuff. And, you’ll never guess, a spectacular view. That was a good stop. Glad I thought of it.

I bet you thought I was going to post a photo of the bridge

I bet you thought I was going to post a photo of the bridge

After we left the bridge, we drove through a couple ritzy neighborhoods into Lincoln Park. This is the site of the Legion of Honor and a nine-hole golf course. Pretty scenic. We went past the Legion of Honor and went out to the USS San Francisco Memorial. Beautiful ocean views. I was hoping to time it so we’d be there to see the sun set over the Pacific, but we were a little early. Too bad. We left the park and set out to dinner. We were still a bit early, so I took the scenic route. Down past Ocean Beach and back through GG Park. This was as close as I got to getting lost. I didn’t really know how the streets in the park worked. They’re curvy and when they spit me out of the park I was on the south side. I was totally turned around and thought I was on the north side. Oops. I figured it out when I made a turn and saw the towers of the GG Bridge where I did not expect to see them. I played the whole thing off like a champ.

Dinnertime. We ate at Chapeau!, which has an exclamation point in its name. Now we all know that chapeau means hat in French, but apparently with an exclamation point it means wow!. If they say so. Chapeau! is a really fucking good restaurant. A French waiter and everything. Dad had the cassoulet. He declared the duck contained within as the best duck he’s ever had, and he’s a man who’s eaten a lot of duck. I had a lamb shank. French toast with caramel ice cream for dessert. Highly recommended.

People who take pictures of their food at restaurants are the worst. Nevertheless, thanks to the guy on Yelp who captured the cassoulet.

People who take pictures of their food at restaurants are the worst. Nevertheless, thanks to the guy on Yelp who took this cassoulet photo.

We swung by my apartment and Mom and Dad marvelled at the backyard garden filled with flowers and fruit trees. I hustled them past the rest of the place, which is a shithole. I avoided mentioning the various manhunts that have occurred on my block since I moved here. We drove around the neighborhood a bit. I didn’t go to any actually bad parts of Oakland, but it’s hard to avoid huge tags on walls and piles of trash on curbs. I’d be interested to hear my parents’ candid thoughts about my neighborhood. I think they were expecting the worst and were pleasantly surprised.

We drove around Lake Merritt and up to Berkeley for lunch. First we stopped by Cesar Chavez Park, which is a park I like a lot. We ate at 900 Grayson, which is said to have one of the best burgers in the country, and is neither a diner, a drive-in, nor a dive. I had the burger. Very good. The brioche bun was the highlight. A little fancy for my taste. Ahn’s ¼ Pound Burger is more my style.

A+ burgers in a style similar to midwestern favorite Culver's

A+ burgers in a style similar to midwestern favorite Culver’s

Next stop, Tilden Park in Berkeley. I spend a lot of time up in the hills, and Mom and Dad wanted to see what it was all about. I decided on Tilden because there’s a nice easy trail through the eucalyptus trees. I maybe should have gone with Joaquin Miller or Redwoods, but I wanted to go to 900 Grayson and this was more on the way. I think Mom and Dad were fine with eucalyptus instead of redwoods. They’re probably the more exotic of the two. Really cool-looking. Another point for Tilden is Lake Anza, which is a really cool spot. If I thought my parents had the gas to make it to Wildcat Peak, it would have been a slam dunk afternoon. As it was, not too shabby. We drove back to Oakland through the Berkeley hills. Grizzly Peak Boulevard. We stopped at one of the lookouts on the road. Pretty good view.

Eucalyptus bark is wild

Eucalyptus bark is wild

I dropped Mom and Dad off at their hotel for a nap. They were pretty tired from all the walking and the time change. The time adjustment from Eastern/Central to Pacific is often underestimated. It’s tougher than most people think.

Dinner at Champa Garden. Dad suggested some kind of Asian cuisine not readily available in Minneapolis. I thought about hitting one of the good local pho joints, but there are plenty of those in Mpls and I think Mom would have been put off by the ambience of a good pho house. (Ambience is inversely proportional to the quality of the soup, generally speaking–see Oakland’s best pho pictured below.) So Champa Garden. I don’t think there are any Lao restaurants in Mpls. Maybe there are. There probably are, now that I think of it. Anyway, I like Champa Garden. It was packed. A good meal was had by all.

Sounds like "fucking" hahaha I'm 13 years old

Sounds like “fucking” hahaha I’m 12 years old

Mom and Dad wanted to go back and see downtown SF. Dad especially wanted to ride the BART. So that was our big plan. Mom had coffee with an old friend of hers in the morning and then we set out around 11. Mom and Dad were kind of fascinated by my descriptions of eating tacos served from trucks, so that was my great idea for lunch. We got some tacos and burritos and headed out for a picnic at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.

Oakland's best park, non-hills division

Oakland’s best park, non-hills division

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is a crazy and awesome park. It’s right in the middle of the HUGE Port of Oakland. Driving there through the shipyards, surrounded by semi trucks, is pretty intimidating. It is a great park. Great views of SF, the Bay Bridge, the abandoned Alameda Navy base, and gigantic unloading container ships. The port was more or less dead, it being Saturday, which was disappointing. It’s cool to be in the middle of the action.

After our highly successful picnic, we set out for SF once again. Dad’s plan was to get out downtown and just walk around. He and Mom were both surprised at the number of tourists. I was surprised at their surprise. We walked from the Powell Street BART station down to City Hall. We went through a couple highly sketchy Tenderloin blocks. I wanted to let Mom and Dad execute their plan of walking around, but I should have exerted more control over the route. No harm done in the end. We walked back up to Union Square. Mom wanted to do some shopping. She specifically planned to buy something for my sister. She wanted to stop at Forever 21 to do so. I am totally baffled by that impulse. She had just told me about the huge new Forever 21 at the Mall of America. Why waste your time at the one in SF? I steered her toward Uniqlo, and she bought a couple shirts.

I hear this is a cool store

I hear this is a cool store

Then we stopped at the mall on Market Street. Mom was blown away. This was maybe her favorite stop of the whole weekend. I was, again, baffled. This isn’t an especially large or impressive mall. I guess it’s just the fact that it’s downtown and is several stories tall. I don’t know. It has curving escalators and an atrium I guess.

Cool place for a bar

Cool place for a bar

Back to Oakland. We stopped and had a drink on the patio of Portal overlooking Lake Merritt. Mom and Dad were both impressed by how nice the east side of Lake Merritt is. I spend a lot of time down that way for the same reason. Dinner at Boot and Shoe Service. What an interesting and offbeat name for a restaurant! Food was good. Fancy pizzas and such on the menu. Dad had a deep-fried rabbit leg. Rabbit is a trendy thing on menus these days. Kind of an interesting phenomenon. It’s the only animal in America that I can think of that’s a) kept as a pet, b) found commonly in the wild, and c) eaten as food. When Dad was a lad, he sometimes visited his grandparents’ farm. They served rabbit that they trapped on said farm. They told the kids it was chicken because the kids, Dad included, wouldn’t eat rabbit. Now Dad spends $20 on it at a hipster restaurant. I can’t even imagine what old Wietse* would think of that.

*This is a Dutch name. Did I tell you my family is Dutch?

Overall a fun weekend. There’s a lot of good food to eat in the Bay Area. A lot of fun things to do. A lot of good views to be had. A lot of interesting vegetation. A lot of good weather if it’s snowing in late April where you live.

OK so here’s what happened

2 Nov

It was last night just past 4am. I was in bed with my headphones on listening to Analyze Phish.* Yeah sometimes I stay up until 4am. Only God can judge me. I heard a squeal of tires on the street outside. This is a major street, and there is usually a lot of traffic, even late at night. Not usually tires squealing, though. This was loud enough that I heard it even with my headphones on.

*This is a podcast featuring this guy Harris Wittels who is hilarious. The premise of the show is that he loves Phish and tries to convince his friend to like them. The fact that Phish is terrible makes it hilarious. See my earlier post about podcasts for more podcast info.

I got out of bed and took a peek out the window. It was very foggy and I couldn’t see much, even though it wasn’t really dark. Living in cities, especially high-traffic areas, you learn to adjust to the fact that it never really gets dark at night. Streetlights, security lights, neon signs, etc. The fog made the whole scene a little eerie. I saw a couple cars on the other side of the boulevard. My first thought was that they had been in an accident. Not a correct thought. Turns out they were police cars. People were talking, and I couldn’t quite make it out. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on. I realized it was cops when I saw them walking up and down the sidewalk with their flashlights on. Now I could hear a couple words here and there.

“Where is he?”

“Dispatch the suspect’s between 26th and 27th…”

Then I got it. I used my detective skills. They were looking for a guy who was apparently on the block. From the way they were looking with their flashlights, they were also scouring the sidewalk. Again, using my detective skills, I deduced that the suspect dropped a gun or some drugs. This is a smart thing to do when running from cops with contraband on your person.

I tried to go back to the podcast. It was almost over and I wanted to go to sleep. Not possible. These cops were loud. I also didn’t want to open the blinds and stand at the window staring like some slack-jawed yokel. And it was too foggy to really see anyways. So I just sat in bed waiting to see how it played out. I thought about going outside to see what was up. Obviously I did not. I know better than to walk into the middle of a police action where firearms are likely to be involved.

A minute or two later I heard some banging outside. My apartment’s on the second floor, and there’s a staircase from the sidewalk to get to the side door. I couldn’t tell what was going on exactly, but someone was on the walkway outside the apartment. Talking to my roommate today confirms that it was indeed the suspect, who ran past his room on his way to our backyard.

There was some more commotion outside. There was a woman’s voice in the mix now, my roommate says this was our neighbor valiantly assisting the police. Presently the cops sprung into action. They were obviously moving quickly.

“Get down, stop running!”

“Don’t make us tase you!”

“We’re letting the dog loose in five seconds!”

And some other stupid nonsense including a lot of cursing. Imagine the most clichéd dialog from the most clichéd cop movie. People think of cops as dispassionate and calm and steely, but this was not the case. I think most of the police officers who find themselves chasing down criminals in East Oakland at 4am are very young and very inexperienced and very caught up in their own machismo.

These guys were not fucking around. Apparently the suspect had jumped from our walkway to our neighbor’s yard, maybe fifteen feet down, and started running. I didn’t get a chance to talk to this suspect, but he didn’t have a very good plan. If he had gone to our backyard and jumped the fence, he would have landed in our back neighbor’s chicken coop, and could have gone from there further away from the street, and unless there were cops waiting on the next street over, he’d have been home free. Come to think of it, I doubt he had a plan at all.

The cops took him down in the neighbor’s yard. I’m not clear on whether he was tased or bitten by the police dog, but he must have been in rough shape because an ambulance showed up soon afterwards. I heard the EMT (or whoever, I didn’t look to see who exactly this was) asking him the standard head injury questions. I guess I assume it was an ambulance because I could see the flashers from my room, even with the blinds drawn. I mentioned the cops’ machismo earlier. It was even more apparent now. These guys sat around shooting the shit like a football team in the locker room after a game. Loudly. With the ambulance flashers still on. At 4am. In a residential neighborhood. For like 20 minutes. They finally took off around 4:45. I finished listening to people on the internet laugh at Phish lyrics and went to sleep.

I guess they got their guy so good for them. Thinking about it the next day it seems like a scary ordeal. I think that’s a reasonable opinion. I’ll definitely not be telling my mom about this, for example. To be honest my biggest concern was that my car, parked on the street and surrounded by squad cars, would get fucked up in some major way. I guess I don’t picture run afoul of the law in East Oakland getting themselves into hostage situations or whatever.

I wish this had happened during the say so I could have a better story. Oh well. Never a dull moment ‘round these parts.

Public transportation

25 Oct

I use the Lake Merritt station

I have a car. Where I live it’s a necessity. I wish I didn’t need a car. Cars are a pain in the ass and I don’t like driving. When I lived in Chicago, I didn’t have a car and it was great. It was easy to get almost anywhere on the El or by bus. They’re both run by the CTA, and it’s easy to coördinate trips between bus and train. Occasionally I’d take a cab, but not often. Most places worth going were accessible via El. “Cool” neighborhoods, downtown, stadiums, etc. Public transportation in Chicago is generally terrific. People complain about it a lot, but people will complain about anything. People are idiots.

Living in Oakland makes me pine for the CTA. Public transportation in the Bay Area is a giant clusterfuck. The local transit website is That website lists 21 different bus operators, six rail operators, and five ferry operators. My movement is generally confined to Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, so luckily I don’t have to deal with most of these service providers. The East Bay is serviced by AC Transit buses. To go across to SF you take a BART train. To get around SF, you take trains and buses run by the SFMTA (this is called the Muni).

Let’s provide a real-world example. Say I want to go to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, which is in the City. (People here call SF “the City”, which I enjoy. Maybe more on that another time.) If I don’t want to drive I have to take two buses and a train. First an AC Transit bus, then a BART train, then a SF Muni bus. All of these agencies require a separate fare–there’s no transfer reciprocity. My total fare is $7.25 one way. That’s right, to go anywhere in the City not accessible by BART train costs $14.50 round trip. This is ludicrous. It’s easier to drive to a BART station, but parking there is nearly impossible. Still, it’s more convenient than taking the bus, even though I have to walk close to a mile if I want to park a) in a spot you can park in for more than two hours b) for free and c) in a place where I feel confident my car won’t be broken into. This reduces my round trip fare to $10.30. Still ludicrous. I’d drive if California gas prices, City parking, and bridge tolls weren’t even more ludicrous. The end result is that I don’t go to the City all that often.

Cable car fare is $6. I think only tourists ride them.

Maintaining a tunnel under the Bay is expensive. I get it. Running a fleet of buses is expensive. I get that too. But there’s no common sense in making a person pay almost $15 to make what’s essentially a local trip. I’m not going to San Jose or Sacramento or something. My suspicion is that the people who run these transit authorities are very satisfied with themselves and realize that the best thing for consumers would be to eliminate their own jobs and create one central transit authority. So they’re as territorial as possible and refuse to coöperate in any meaningful way.*

*Opinion not based on any research, evidence, or facts.

The only way the disparate transit authorities do coöperate is with the Clipper Card. This is a card that you can use to pay fares on any system. In theory, this is a good idea. You preload your card with cash at a Clipper Card machine at a station and then touch it to the reader on buses and train stations. In practice, it isn’t always that easy. Acquiring a Clipper Card in the East Bay is not easy. They’re not for sale at BART stations, only at Walgreen’s drugstores for some reason. I can’t think of a logical one. If you don’t live near a Walgreen’s, you have to go to a Muni station in the City to get one. That’s where I bought my Clipper Card. I put in $20 to preload it and the machine spat out my card. Unfortunately, this $20 was credited to me as a Muni “ride book” which means that instead of having $20 on my card to spend on my choice of transit services, it gave me credit for ten Muni rides. This is bogus. Imagine my frustration when I tried to get on the BART before I realized what had happened. I put another $20 on my card at the BART station. (You can add value to your card there but not buy one. Genius.) When I got home I had eight Muni rides and something like $17 cash on my Clipper Card.

Imagine my surprise the next time I rode the Muni. Instead of deducting one of my Muni rides, it deducted $2 from my cash value. This is double bogus. The only way I can use my stored Muni rides is if I have less than a $2 cash balance on my card. This makes me angry. If I thought I could accomplish anything by writing a series of angry letters, I would do so. Now what I have to do is to try to anticipate my balance so that when I get to the City I have less than $2 on my card so I can use my Muni rides. This is a huge pain in the ass. But I will absolutely not give the Muni the satisfaction of keeping free money in the form of rides I already paid for that I can’t redeem. Fuck them.

I live on a major thoroughfare one block from a major hospital. You’d think this would be a place with frequent bus service. Nope. There’s one route on my street, and one route a block over. They both come twice an hour. That’s it. That sucks. To get to Berkeley or anywhere in Oakland other than downtown requires at least one transfer. Then coming home, you have to time your trip so you don’t end up waiting 29 minutes for the bus that only comes twice an hour. The end result is that I never take the bus, even though I’d prefer to.

Sometimes this happens on AC Transit buses in my neighborhood

I mentioned earlier. I don’t have much to say about this website except that it’s confusing, slow, and generally unusable. The trip planner will provide you with several options, none of which are close to the fastest, cheapest, or easiest. The maps are so small that they’re pointless. When you view a route schedule, it doesn’t show you a map for that route. The whole thing is a disaster. If you don’t know where you’re going and how to get there on your own, you might as well not even try. The AC Transit and Muni sites are better. Not much better. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Chicago and Minneapolis transit sites, both are easy to use and helpful. It’s not that hard to do.

When even people who want to ride the bus drive instead, your transit system has failed. When taking public transit so expensive that people stay home instead, your transit system has failed. When your websites are so terrible that people give up before they even give public transit a chance, your transit system has failed.

Dogs and mail carriers: mortal enemies

23 Oct

Dogs hate mailmen

I live with two dogs. Neither of them are mine, but sometimes I find myself at home alone with them and that makes me the boss of the dogs. Recently there was an incident. My apartment is part of a small one-floor complex. We share a back yard. The dogs have free reign over the yard. The yard is fenced in, and there is a gate separating the yard from the stairs that lead to the street. Generally, we’ll let the dogs out and keep our back door open so they can come and go at their leisure.

The day I moved in, I was alone with the dogs. I was doing a load of laundry. Our washer and dryer are in the garage under our apartment. When I went down to get my load of laundry, I saw one of the dogs sauntering casually towards me. From across the street. The very busy street we live on. He had gotten out of the yard. I was surprised. I thought I had done something to allow him to get out. Nope. Apparently, he can easily jump over the gate. I was told this later. He’s a fairly large black dog with some white coloration around his face and paws. I like him. He’s some kind of retriever mix I’d guess (I do NOT know about dogs). So, he can get out of the yard. This wasn’t the first time he’d done it, and he did it once more a couple weeks later. His owners told me that he used to do this even more, but it isn’t a problem when he gets enough exercise. Every time he has gotten out he’s soon returned on his own. This mollified me, I suppose.

You can’t wait in there forever, mailman

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was home with the dogs. I let them out and left the door open. A few minutes later I heard barking from the street. I didn’t think much of it. A couple minutes later, I heard more barking. I went outside and sure enough, the dog was coming up the steps. The mail lady was standing maybe 20 yards away. She yelled something at me about the dog, I didn’t really hear. I was pretty embarrassed. I shouted back “Sorry!” and ushered the dog inside.

On Thursday we didn’t get any mail. This made me a little suspicious, since we get a lot of mail. (Including a lot of mail for several different people who no longer live here.) On Friday we got a letter from the Post Office. According to them, our gentle pooch tried to attack the mail lady. I doubt that very much. I don’t doubt that he did some barking and approached her in a friendly way; he’s a friendly dog. But attack is a strong word.

This is a humorous situation. Dogs chasing mailmen is a cliché so commonplace that awareness of the cliché overtakes knowledge of actual incidents that it is based on. I’ve certainly never heard of a real-life dangerous encounter between a dog and a mailman. Don’t let that fool you. This is apparently so common that the Post Office has a form letter that they send in such situations. I have taken the liberty of reprinting it below because it made me laugh out loud. The “painful dog bites” line struck me as especially funny for some reason. Maybe I’m not taking this seriously enough. I’m sure being a mail carrier in East Oakland can be a harrowing occupation sometimes. I don’t want my mail lady to be bitten by dogs. I’m sincerely concerned about her well-being and peace of mind; I won’t be letting the dogs out unsupervised any more. That being said, I don’t feel at all bad about finding this whole thing funny. And don’t worry, I called the Post Office and straightened everything out. We’re scheduled to get our mail tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Anyway, enjoy. Grammar and usage errors all sic.

Not quite fast enough, mailman

October 18, 2012

[My address]

Re: Suspended Mail Service/Loose Dog

My carrier recently informed me that a dog in your courtyard attempted to attack her during mail delivery hours. Postal service strives to provide excellent service to our customers. However, loose dogs unrestrained in the yard are a potential hazard and can not be taken lightly. Carriers nationwide have experienced painful dog bites because of owner’s lack of responsibility to restrain dogs during mail delivery hours. Therefore, your mail will be suspended for 10 days until you have contacted us in regards to restraining your dog.

Again unrestricted dogs during mail delivery hours are very serious to us at the Postal Service and can not be taken lightly. This not only protects our carriers from injuries, but the homeowners as well. Please do not hesitate to contact me at [phone number].


[Post Office Boss]
Manager Customer Service
[Their address]

I live in Oakland

12 Oct

Here is a pretty picture of Oakland

I live in Oakland. I used to live in Minneapolis. I moved here two months ago. I didn’t move because I got a new job or because I had a girlfriend here or any of the other reasons that people move. I just packed all my stuff into my car and drove here. I’m 29. It was easy to fit all of my stuff into my car. I think some people would find that admirable, and some people would find that very sad. I can’t really decide how I feel about it.

I like Oakland. I’ve been here for about two months. I like that I’m a fifteen-minute drive from several huge and beautiful parks. I like Lake Merritt. It’s a little reminder of home in a small way. Although Lake Merritt has some problems. I also noticed some of the same issues with a lake I encountered in Denver this summer. They have a really terrible design of bikepaths/traffic/etc. I think other cities could take some tips from Minneapolis on how urban lakes should work.*

*N.B. There will be a lot of stream-of-consciousness rambling like this in my blog. At least for now. I think that’s probably the only way I can write posts that aren’t embarrassingly short. One of the benefits of this blog for you, dear reader, is that you can watch my development as a writer. Oh how I envy you.

People in the Bay Area seem cool. There’s a different feeling in the air here than the Midwest. That sounds like a stupid cliché. Sorry. Small example: Giants fans seemed to mostly be rooting for the A’s in the ALDS and seemed genuinely disappointed when they lost. This is in marked contrast to, say, Chicago, where Cubs and Sox fans actively root for the other team to lose.

Whoever laid out the streets of Oakland was an idiot. It’s almost impossible to get around here, and the street signage is atrocious. I live on 14th Avenue. One block to the west (well, northwest, really. That’s another issue.) is 13th Avenue. One block to the east is 19th Avenue. Good for you if you noticed why this is confusing. On my block there are no 15th-18th Avenues. I live between 26th and 27th Streets. Or rather, where those streets would be. 26th Street doesn’t intersect with 14th Avenue on my side of the street. That didn’t stop the city from putting up a 26th Street sign where it would be if it did. This is like a hundred feet from 26th on the other side of 14th Avenue. I wish I had a camera so I could post a picture because it’s kind of hilarious.

I mentioned that I live on 14th Avenue. That’s in the east part of the city. Yes. I live in East Oakland. A lot of people might think that my neighborhood is pretty rough. I don’t really think so. 70 blocks or so east is a rough neighborhood. My neighborhood does have some ghetto tendencies. There’s a corner store across the street from me. It is not the kind of corner store you find in nice neighborhoods. I think they do most of their business selling individual blunts and cans of beer. I went in to buy a 6-pack. MGD tallboys. I didn’t see anything in bottles and nothing better than MGD. The old lady behind the counter looked at me like no one had ever asked for a 6-pack before. You have to ask for your items, by the way. Everything in the store is behind the counter. And the counter is behind bulletproof glass. If you’re familiar with The Wire, you can probably picture the kind of corner store I’m describing. Across the street from the corner store is a fucking gigantic hospital. You’d think with all the white collar types that a hospital employs that there would be a market for some better local businesses, but I guess not.