When I was growing up, Oakland was getting a lot of notoriety. It was poverty stricken, the crime rate was high and, as this was the dawn of rap, all of the difficulties of life on its streets were being articulated in this new and exciting way. Oakland’s danger took on a gritty glamour in this music, made it mythological to me. Somehow, in those years, it didn’t occur to me that it was the same Oakland I went to to watch A’s games, that normal place just a short little car ride away.
As you may have noticed, Oakland is back in the news again lately. Why it’s the most violent of all the Occupy camps is a question for a sociologist and not anything I want to speculate on here; what I want to say is that, just like when I was a kid, the real Oakland is so much different from what you see on TV. It’s on my mind because it’s on TV, I admit, but it’s because it’s looking so apocalyptic and scary in the news that I want to tell you all to go.
I was there yesterday with my brother. It was sunny, and warm enough to take our jackets off. We walked around Lake Merritt, watching birds and joggers, trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes Oakland feel so comfortable. We talked about its diversity, which feels, in a way that I’ve never seen anyplace else, complete. It’s also in this very sweet spot between urban and suburban, where you feel like you get the good things of each, without any of that pesky alienation. It’s affordable. It’s warm. There are views of the bay and the hills.
I’m asking you to go because it’s one of the treasures of the Bay Area and well worth an afternoon’s trip. I’m asking you to go now because it’s a treasure whose small businesses will suffer in the next months because it looks like Armageddon on the nightly news.