Tag Archives: East Oakland

New Year’s Day

6 Jan

Here’s a story about what I did on New Year’s Day.

I celebrate this decade because there are no longer those glasses with the year and the 0's for eyes.

I celebrate this decade because there are no longer those glasses that spell out the new year with the 0’s for eyes

My neighbor is in a band. It’s a bluegrassy band.* His band will soon be playing on something called the Jam Cruise. This is a cruise on which a bunch of bands play a bunch of shows all the time and jam band fans buy tickets for the cruise and it’s a big party or something. I guess it’s like a music festival but on a boat instead of a fairgrounds or wherever. A hyper-specific theme cruise is interesting to me. I’ve always been dismissive of cruises in general. Then I read David Foster Wallace’s essay about luxury cruises, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, and I became extremely dismissive of cruises in general. A theme cruise could be interesting, however. If you’re really into the theme. If I were to go on a cruise it would be some kind of theme cruise. Maybe there could be a David Foster Wallace cruise where everyone would be encouraged to criticize cruise ships all the time. I might do that. That’s a very arch concept. I’m glad I thought of it.

*I say bluegrassy because I’m not confident about calling them an actual bluegrass band. They have a drummer and stuff. I get the impression that some bluegrass enthusiasts are very concerned about definitions in this area. So I’m calling them bluegrassy, like highly processed food products that label themselves as “chocolatey” or “peanut buttery” because they don’t contain any actual chocolate or peanut butter, respectively. Maybe that’s not very flattering to the band. I didn’t mean it that way.

So anyway my neighbor and his wife need to get from Oakland to the cruise ship. They’re making a stop in Western New York first. This trip involves airplanes, and requires someone to drive them to the airport. This is where my part of the story starts.

Flying into Oakland is cool. The runways are right on the bay.

Flying into Oakland is cool. The runways are right on the bay.

Especially sharp readers may recall an earlier story of mine in which my precious Volvo overheated. The car was low on coolant, so I added some more. Problem solved. Since then my car had been (very) slowly losing coolant. This is bad news. I had this problem once before, when there was a leak in the expansion tank. This leak resulted in a neon green puddle under my car whenever I parked it. That made me feel bad about local waterways. But the puddle made the problem obvious. This time there were no puddles. Also I never got around to buying more special Volvo coolant, so I didn’t have any more to add to the tank. Even so, the coolant has stayed above the “min” line on the expansion tank. I wasn’t worrying too much about it.

The Cadillac of automobiles

The Cadillac of automobiles

When we got off the highway and approached the airport, I checked my dashboard temperature gauge. Normally the needle sits about halfway. The red line is maybe 9/10 of the way to the right. The needle when I checked it was approaching the red line and wobbling. Yikes. Telling your passengers that you need to pull over for an indeterminate length of time to deal with an impending car problem is not what your passengers want to hear when they’re on their way to the airport. So I didn’t say anything. We were almost there, after all. I became very nervous and let off the gas a bit but we got there without crisis. After I bid them adieu, my brain went into problem-solving mode. I thought the drop-off area of an airport–even a relatively sleepy airport like Oakland’s–would be a bad place to park my car and start poking around under the hood. I decided to leave the airport and pull over at the first convenient spot and come up with a plan.

I left the airport and crossed over I-880 on 98th Ave. I turned off the main drag into a residential neighborhood and pulled over. I should note that some people would simply take their chances rather than get out of their car on 98th Ave. in Oakland. I should also note that by this time my car’s radiator was occasionally making a crazy noise. It was sort of a moaning. Hard to describe. Maybe a little like a plaintive Chewbacca. I hoped this was just the radiator working extra hard to keep my engine from bursting into flames. I didn’t have any coolant, but I did have a jug of distilled water in the trunk, so I thought I could add that if nothing else. I checked the coolant expansion tank and it wasn’t empty, as I had feared. Nonetheless, I added a bit of water. The radiator was also whirring loudly. I worked pretty slowly. I wanted to give the engine a little time off. The radiator stopped whirring presently and after another few minutes I started the car back up.

I think I see a single tear running down his cheek

I think I see a single tear running down his cheek

My goal was to make it home. I was on 98th Ave. I live on 14th Ave. That’s 84 blocks. I was pretty nervous.

I turned around and had to wait forever at a stoplight to turn left onto 98th. The temp gauge was holding pretty steady at about halfway. I thought driving fast on the highway gave me a better chance than 84 blocks of stop-and-go through East Oakland. Things were OK. I passed the Coliseum. That’s 66th. My exit is 23rd. My hopes were up. Then the needle started moving. The next exit was High Street, which is at the level of 43rd. I did NOT want my car to stall on the highway. Split-second decision time. I got off. Now the car was making the Chewbacca noise more frequently. The needle was wavering just short of the red line. I was hoping to get into a parking lot before the car died. There was a Burger King on one side of the street and a taco truck on the other. When I saw the food options I decided I would stop and get some lunch. I would let my car cool down for awhile and then set off for home through the city. I wasn’t going to risk the highway again. I went for Burger King. I would have rather eaten at the taco truck. East Oakland has many terrific taco trucks. However, they don’t have much seating where you can hang out and take your time while your car’s engine cools down.

I enjoyed Google image searching "East Oakland"

I enjoyed Google image searching “East Oakland”

I don’t like to indulge in lazy stereotypes about East Oakland. I live there and I like it. It’s a much more diverse and vibrant place than a lot of people give it credit for. However, the simple truth is that a Burger King in East Oakland is not the same as a Burger King in Suburbia, USA. It was around 1pm. The Burger King was pretty busy. I was the only white person there. There was a homeless guy panhandling at the door. The line moved very slowly when it moved at all. The floor was so sticky that I can only assume someone had mopped the floor with Coke instead of water. The crew was calling out the order numbers in Spanish. Et cetera.

This video of a fight in the parking lot of the Burger King in question does not dispel negative stereotypes about East Oakland

This video of a fight in the parking lot of the Burger King in question reinforces negative stereotypes about East Oakland

After I ordered, I was standing and waiting for my food. Fast-food restaurants really need to designate a place where people who have already ordered can stand and wait. This is a universal problem. I was standing in a place where I thought it would be clear I wasn’t in line to order when a guy came in. He was maybe 20 years old. He was very obviously drunk. He bypassed the line and went up to the counter. He was talking about how he had McDonald’s and it was better than Burger King and other such nonsense. I didn’t get a very good look at him because the number one rule in this kind of situation is not to make eye contact. If you do that it’s all over. Then the drunk guy at Burger King will not be talking to the whole Burger King, he’ll be talking to you. My order came up and I took it to a table very far away from the counter.

This is the point where Drunk Guy asked for a job application. There were signs advertising that Burger King was hiring on the counter. I don’t doubt that Drunk Guy genuinely wanted to apply. I just don’t think he realized what a bad idea it is to be drunk when you apply for a job, even at Burger King. The Burger King employees (who were all working hard and seemed pretty competent, I should point out) managed to dissuade him somehow. I wasn’t close enough to make out the details. I turned back to my Whopper and my thoughts returned to my car.

After a minute or two I realize that Drunk Guy had occupied a table near me. He was trying to chat up a couple who was eating at the next table. They were doing a pretty good job of deflecting him and he was mostly just sitting there. He had a big McDonald’s bag. This really explicated his McDonald’s screed from earlier. Maybe ol’ Drunk Guy wasn’t so bad after all. That’s when I saw him take a pull from his vodka bottle. Not an inconspicuous pull from one of those little flat bottles that you associate with alcoholics, but a regular 750ml bottle that he was brandishing around like some kind of weapon. Yes, this dude was just sitting in Burger King, eating McDonald’s, and taking swigs from a bottle of vodka. No one said a word to him.

I wonder if they serve vodka at McDonald's in Russia

I wonder if they serve vodka at McDonald’s in Russia

I was in Burger King for at least half an hour. I calculated that I was something like 40 blocks from home. I turned out of the parking lot and hoped for the best. The temp gauge held steady at halfway for maybe 20 blocks. Then it started rising, but not steadily. Up and down, still for a bit, up a little more. It never got to the red line, but it got pretty fucking close. The car didn’t stall. There was no smoke from under the hood. The Chewbacca noises didn’t get any worse. I had successfully driven home from the airport. I was quite relieved.

This detailed map will make you feel like you were there

This detailed map will make you feel like you were there


I took the car to a mechanic yesterday. Apparently the problem was a leaky radiator hose or hoses. At least that’s what the mechanic told me he thought it was. They’re not done with it yet. We’ll see. I’m hoping to get it back tomorrow. I’m hoping it will be as good as new.

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.

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.