My Town

I have always had a habit of thinking about “today” or “yesterday” or “tomorrow” in relation to when I sleep and wake up again, rather than by the traditional means of following the clock.  In the strictest sense, it is already Saturday and as with all the other’s so far, this post is “late” because it’s for Friday’s prompt.  I say, however, that it’s the thought, the intent, that matters and not the very “letter of the law”, so, whatever.  Here it is.

The Fat Mum Slim Photo-A-Day prompt for Friday, January 3, 2013 is “My Town”, which is actually kind of a neat coincidence, given that the town I live in, Oakland, California, is known as “town” or “the town” because of its geographic location across the bay from San Francisco, commonly referred to by the locals as “the City”.

*Quick side note:  I’ve always held the philosophy that there are hundreds of “the city”s in existence.  When I was attending my one semester of University in 1993, I was attending a relatively small school about 40 minutes east of Oklahoma City and many of the students at this university referred to Oklahoma City as “the city”.  I always thought that was kind of funny, quaint even, because I had often heard people on television refer to New York City as “the city”.  Then I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and heard the locals talking about “the City”.  It didn’t take long for me to adopt the vernacular and begin referring to “the City” myself.

I finally arrived at the inescapable conclusion that it is all accurate, but in its own way; it just depends on how you spell it.  Observe:  Living outside Oklahoma City when my friends and I wanted to go to the nearest metropolis, Oklahoma City, we made plans to go to “the city”.  I suspect that anyone living near a metropolis, could, and many do, refer to that metropolis as “the city”.  I now live in a significant town with a population of over 400,000 people.  With a large downtown business district and new housing and arts and shopping areas popping up all the time, Oakland is a metropolis in it’s own right, however, it is overshadowed by the specter that is its sister city across the bay, San Francisco.  Therefore Oakland isn’t “the city” because there is a larger city within a reasonable distance.  San Francisco is “the City” (notice the capital C).  New York City, however, is the city with the highest population in the country at nearly nine million people.  With the nations financial center and the east coast hub of the entertainment industry, it is easy to see how New York City would be “The City” (also written as THE City).

Anyway, for the part of the country where I live, San Francisco is “the City” and that makes Oakland “the Town”.  (I’m not making this up.  I actually read this recently in a local paper.)  Since today’s prompt was “my town” I decided to go out into “the Town” to get some shots of a few local iconic sites.  There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of things I could have taken pictures of, but I decided to limit myself to three basic concepts.

On the southwest edge of Downtown Oakland, near the Lake Merritt BART station (a name that has always amused me, given it’s distance from Lake Merritt) is a smallish community college campus, which happens to be the location of my swimming classes.  The main, most identifiable building on the campus is a three sided structure, roughly nine or ten stories tall.  Tall enough, that with an unobstructed view it is visible from quite a distance.  If I had been out late enough, I would have attempted some evening shots as well.  The script sign at the top of the building is repeated on all three sides and created out of green neon lights, making the building distinctive, and distinguishable even after the sun has gone down.

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Arguably the most notable and iconic sight in the Downtown Oakland skyline is the Oakland Tribune building’s clock tower.  It’s visible from all directions, again if your view is unobstructed.  Also created using neon lights, this time in red, the Tribune sign at the top of the tower is visible day and night.  There’s a long, rich history, I’m sure, but unfortunately, I don’t personally know anything notable other than the fact that one Sunday afternoon a few years ago, an employee of the paper climbed up to the clock tower and jumped to her death and since that’s not an uplifting story, we’ll just move on to the pictures.

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Next I made my way to the Port of Oakland where there were lots of things to take pictures of.  The iconic view that I wanted to capture was that of the cranes used to off load the shipping containers when the cargo ships come into port.  The entire area is surprisingly bustling with 18 wheeler tractor/trailer trucks rumbling around constantly.  I was standing on one street corner with my camera at my eye, positioned just so and ready to take a crucial picture when a truck pulled up along the curb in front of me completely blocking my view.  The driver got out, detached the trailer from his rig, then climbed right back in the cab and drove away.  That shot was not to be had.  But that’s okay because it forced me to walk a little further down the street and ended up with a better vantage point of what I wanted.

While I’m sure this is anything but common knowledge around the country, it is commonly held lore around these parts that some of these cranes were George Lucas’ inspiration for the design of the AT-AT Walkers seen in Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back.  (I am a bit disappointed to have just read this article which seems to definitively debunk that theory.)

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Of course, my town wouldn’t be my town without the equally iconic views looking out.  From my vantage point at a public park located in the midst of all the activity at the Port of Oakland, I was able to get some nice shots of “the City” (my City – or so I wish!).

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One last shot worth sharing.  This sign was posted at every pedestrian and mobile entrance to the park.  Guess what I spent the entire time avoiding walking in…

No Dogs Allowed posted at every entrance to the park.  Spent the entire time dodging petrified dog poop.

No Dogs Allowed posted at every entrance to the park. Spent the entire time dodging petrified dog poop.

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Probably Not So Popular Opinion

I usually look forward to Fridays here on ye old blog.  Well let’s not kid ourselves.  I look forward to Fridays in general and I know I’m not alone in that.  Fridays are meant to be wind down days.  If you can work from home you probably do (I, sadly, do not have that luxury).  Certainly you work with less vim and vigor than you probably do the rest of the week.

I have been looking forward to Fridays here on the blog lately though, because that’s when Write on Edge posts the link-up for the Red Writing Hood prompts that I’ve been participating in lately.  It is not my intention to be bragging (so if it sounds that way, I’m sorry) when I say that I usually bust those short fiction pieces out in the course of an hour or so.  The hard part with those prompts isn’t writing the pieces, it’s deciding what I’m going to write about.  Sometimes the prompts seem so vague and indecipherable.  I usually figure out something eventually though.  Most of the time I just have to kick my literal thinking mind out of the way and let it be a little more – well, vague.

This week though, that just didn’t work out.  This week’s prompt goes something like this:

This week we’d like you to stir up some conflict, using the following quote as inspiration.

“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

Well…  Not “something like” that.  That’s a cut and paste, so it goes exactly like that.  Only the problem is I’m not sure if I truly understand the quote, and what I think I understand of it, I do not agree with.

Honestly, the quote seems to be self-contradictory.

I do not believe in violence, period.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  I do not believe in violence.

I also do not really see a connection between “be violent, if there is violence in your heart” and a “cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”  How these two things even relate to each other, I do not know.

When I read the quote though, the first thing that comes to mind is some of the recent political protest activity that has happened around this here country of ours.  Thinking specifically of the “occupy” protests or, going back a little further, the Oscar Grant riots that happened here in Oakland a while back.  Things that were supposed to be “peaceful” but turn violent without much provocation.  Things that I heard lots of people argue in favor of, under the guise that “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”  Sounds like a “cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence” to me.

Only we aren’t impotent.  We can do something.  There are steps we can take that don’t involve breaking laws and destroying public or private property.  There are ways we can get our point across without belligerently disobeying the police.

Angry does not have to mean violent.  It does not have to mean disruptive.  It does not have to be destructive.

Impotence is laziness.

Impotence is an excuse.

If anything we tend to use violence, not nonviolence, as the cover for impotence.

Grilled

Strangely, I’m almost as nervous writing this as I was as it was happening.

I had a date last night.  Well, anyway, I think I had a date last night.  It kind of felt like a date, not that I can be counted on, reliably, to say what a date feels like.  I don’t know if he felt like it was a date.  Maybe I just met a friend for dinner…  I think it was a date… A nice date.

There is a gentleman, Gene,  that I have been acquainted with through various forms of social media for close to two years, I would say.  We became acquainted on Twitter and struck up a friendly banter.  He started reading my blog and responding to what he saw directly on twitter and eventually we began e-mailing each other.

Gene is a very kind man and he made a great impression on me.  About 18 months ago, I had a dream in which he played a prominent (though relatively innocent role) and I tweeted about dreaming about my “twitter crush”.  This resulted in a series of e-mails between us in which it was clear that we were both interested in knowing the other better.  The problem is, we are “geographically undesirable” (He lives in San Diego, I live in Oakland, approximately 500 miles apart) and, both of us being practically minded people, a long distance relationship is simply not in the cards.    But we made it clear that if ever and whenever we were in each others back yards we should get together for dinner or coffee or something.

This week-end his nephew is participating in a debate tournament at UC Berkeley and Gene made a point of being here early enough to spend some time with me before getting wrapped up in his family stuff.  When he told me he was coming this way, I was really excited.  I wanted to see him.  I wanted to spend some time with him and get to know him better.  Our relationship has been a little one-sided in that he reads my blog, but he doesn’t write one and he’s very private with the stuff he posts on Twitter and Facebook.  I was excited about the prospect of getting his undivided attention and grilling him on all the things I didn’t know about him.

But as the weeks passed and the time drew nearer, I became more and more nervous.  I wanted to meet him, but what if he wasn’t what I was expecting?  What if I wasn’t what he was expecting?  What if I had misjudged him?  What if he wanted something from me that I wasn’t ready to give?  Was I ready?  Did I want to be ready?  Would we?  Wouldn’t we?  What would I do if it…  ahem, came up?  I went back and forth on that and to be honest, I never really arrived at a conclusion.  I don’t know what I would have done if I was faced with that decision last night.  Fortunately, I wasn’t, and I think it’s for the best.

The truth is, Gene was a perfect gentleman.  He was almost everything I thought he would be, and in the ways that he was different, he was better.

We were both nervous.  We decided to meet for a drink before dinner and to be perfectly honest, I was shaking like a leaf (whatever that means.)  Stupidly, I wondered if I would recognize him when I saw him, but the minute I walked in the door, I knew him.  It was comforting to know that he had been as nervous as I was–  well, maybe not as nervous, but he was nervous.  We had a glass of wine at the bar and talked comfortably for a little while.  And then were seated and had dinner.  It was a fascinating experience to be able to talk so comfortably and freely with someone you’ve never been face to face with, but I realized we really already knew each other.  Certainly more than I thought we did.

After dinner, we shared a piece of cheesecake (really the one inevitable outcome of the evening) and then we walked along the boardwalk for a little while as we talked.

It was oddly hard to say good-bye, though it was time and had to be done.  I can’t speak for Gene, but for me, it was that much more disappointing, knowing that while we’ll continue to be friends and hopefully grow closer now that we’re “real” and not just words in a box, there’s still so much distance between us.

This Doesn’t Even Scratch The Surface

It’s kind of amazing to me how some days I can sit here and stare at this screen, racking my brain for something to write about and come up with nothing, and then at other times, I’m so busy experiencing the things about which I would write that there’s no time get it on paper – or computer screen as the case may be.  Things have been kind of crazy the last several days for me.  I can hardly even believe that my last post was written twelve days ago.

Last Thursday, in a somewhat unexpected turn of events the verdict came down for Johannes Mehserle.  Unexpected only in that, due to multiple delays, illnesses, scheduled vacations, and three juror substitutions, the final jury deliberated for a total of only seven hours and then returned with a verdict of Involuntary Manslaughter.  I won’t spend a lot of time talking about this as I’m sure my view-point will be controversial and at the end of the day won’t make any difference anyway.  I’ll just say that I suppose this is probably the correct verdict even though I don’t feel very good about it.  I think what he did was absolutely “involuntary” as I do not believe that he intended to kill Oscar Grant.  On the other hand, he did kill Oscar Grant and I suppose something must be done about it.  My opinion is unlike many other people who were unhappy about the verdict, feeling like it was not severe enough to cover the events of that night.

When the press announced that the verdict was coming it didn’t take long for people to begin congregating in the streets near the courthouse for a “peaceful demonstration.”  As a precaution, my employer authorized the employees in the area to leave work and exit the immediate area for safety.  It was a wise decision, thought it didn’t end up being necessary.  The “peaceful demonstration” lasted until it began getting dark and then many of the demonstrators went home.  Once darkness fell however, those who remained, mostly anarchists, began stirring up trouble, first breaking the windows and through the security gate of a Foot Locker store before looting it and then rolling dumpsters in the streets to set fire to the contents.  Ultimately, they broke into several banks and retail outlets along Broadway, mostly looting the stores, merely for the sake of finding things to burn in the streets.

By the end of the night, the Police had arrested 78 people roughly 85% of whom were not even from Oakland.  More than half were not even from the Bay Area.  Sixteen percent of the people were not from California.  One of them wasn’t even from America.  He admitted he came from Canada, just to be part of the rioting and looting after the verdict was announced.

Once again, as a precaution, my employer made the determination not to reopen the buildings on Friday, just to be safe.  Thanks to our founding fathers, and the looters, I had a three-day work week last week.  Well, two and a half days.

It would be nice to believe that this is over now, but Mehserle has not yet been sentenced.  The Jury found him guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter “with a gun enhancement.”  This means that because a gun was used in the killing he could be given additional prison time.  Originally the sentencing was scheduled to take place on August 6th.  It was postponed to September first and then I heard rumor that Mehserle’s attorney was appealing the Gun Enhancement and that the outcome of that appeal will affect the sentence.  I have just read that the sentencing has now been scheduled for 8:30 AM on Friday, November 5th.  Assuming that’s not changed again, I expect I’ll be having a three-day weekend in early November.

I had the best of intentions how I was going to spend my unexpectedly free day off work, but after calling the hot line at 6:00 Friday morning and finding out the building was closed, I went back to sleep and didn’t get up until just before Noon.  When I got up, I fixed some lunch, and sat down to eat and watch a little television while I worked out my bills as well as my menu and grocery list for the week.  I can’t really even begin to explain how the day got away from me, but the next thing I knew it was 8 o’clock in the evening and I had not taken a shower, fixed dinner or left the house.  I took a quick shower and threw some clothes on before heading out to Target to do some of my shopping.

I had thought I might go to the grocery store next, but once I was finished shopping at Target, I decided to pick up some inevitably unhealthy fast food and head back home.  Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, the only Arby’s restaurant I’m aware of in the whole bay area, is right next to the Target I went to so I went through the driveway there and picked up an Arby-Q sandwich with Curly fries and a large Diet Coke.  I can not, however, go to an Arby’s restaurant and not get a Jamocha shake so I picked up one of those as well.  Thirteen hundred calories later I was on my way home.

Saturday, I got up fairly early (9:00-ish) and took about $40.00 worth of bottles and cans to the recycling center to trade in and then I went to Michael’s Craft store to exchange some Yarn I had bought.  I’m making a baby blanket and the yarn I bought was not as soft as I first thought it was and it tended to split when I was working with it.  What I exchanged it for is much better.

My next stop was a near-by mall where I was determined to buy some not terribly expensive dressy pants for work, and a not terribly expensive pair of black shoes for work.  I have two pair now, one of which is too dressy for regular wear; the other of which has soles that seem to be two different heights and when I stand or walk in them I am lopsided, which is not good for my knees or my hips.

I spent three or more hours at this mall, and walked from one end to the other, into every even remotely appropriate store and didn’t find anything that was right.  At my last stop, Sears which I saved for last because I was parked nearest there and because, well, it’s Sears, I found two pair of pants that I was happy with the fit.  They were$19.99 each so I could justify the expense, but they’re made by the same manufacturer who made most of the pants I’ve been wearing, which are now too big for me, but which I’m quite certain I only paid $12.00 a pair for, at Sears!  Inflation takes its toll again, but I had to find some pants.  Many of the pairs I have are just ridiculously too big on me now and I have to start working on trading them out gradually.  It’s an awesome problem to have, but it’s still a problem.

Three hours later, I left the mall having spent only $40.00 plus tax, and with two pair of pants, and no shoes.  At least, I’d racked up quite a few steps on my pedometer.  From there I went to the grocery store where I picked up my weekly produced and the few items I couldn’t get cheaper (or at all) at Target and headed back home.

And oh, my lovely reader, I have so much more to tell, but alas – yes, I said alas – it is 5:30 and I need to go home.  I’ll have to continue my harrowing (or is it boring) story in another post – hopefully tomorrow, but I make no promises.