This was an assignment I did for my English class, about how my home town is similar to a “palimpsest” Hopefully i pulled it off.
I live in east Oakland, and go to school in Downtown Oakland, so I end up getting to know my surroundings pretty well. I’ll spend my weekends taking the bus or Bart in and out of east Oakland, and spend afternoons afterschool walking around down town, to Chinatown, to lakeshore, all over the place. But this constant routine always leaves out a big gap in my imaginary Oakland map, a big gap where West Oakland should be. I don’t have many friends that hang out there, or any other reason that I would wanna sit on some dumpy bus all to west Oakland. The only reason I would ever need to go there, is to get to Emeryville, which happened to be exactly what I did one Saturday.
On Saturday, August 30, I was waiting for Gus to get to my house so we could head out to Emeryville. I was just waiting around, doing nothing interesting at all. Eventually he got here, and after a few videogames, we left for the Bart station somewhat near my house. We took the Richmond line, and went to downtown Berkeley first to check out some music shops and whatever, where the demographic mostly was Caucasian. We quickly took the Bart to MacArthur, where things took a sharp turn away from the nice looking neighborhoods and stores in Berkeley. The whole station is actually under a highway, which is pretty cool, everything is kinds dark and it’s pretty busy. A smell of marijuana sails by in the wind, and then the smell of incense, then to a smell of urine from the guy in the corner. You can hear dudes walking around talking loudly about how they haven’t seen some guy in a while or whatever, and cars passing overhead. Gus and I begin walking to our destination, and after a while, we realize: It’s gonna be a reaaaally long walk. Gus calls his dad in the middle of our walk at some point, and this how that conversation went;
“Hey Dad, just checking in, we’re walking to bay street right now, and it’s a really long walk”
“Yeah no shit, why didn’t you take the emery go round?”
Huh. Guess I didn’t realize there was an Emery go round. So we walked, and walked, and eventually got to bay street, where we picked up a bunch of stuff, mostly skateboard parts, and we start taking the bus back to the Bart station. At this point, its starting to get late, it’s almost 7, and the sun is dipping in the horizon. We don’t know which bus to take, but I asked some stupid college guy, and he said that the F line would take us straight to the bart station. Okay, cool, we hop on the bus, and we depart for the bart station, or so we thought. I was texting my friend, and wasn’t really paying attention to where we were going, until I look up, and realize that were nowhere near the Bart station, and in fact, we’ve passed it. So The Gus man and I scramble off the bus, and start walking to the general direction of the bart station. So here were are, an Asian guy and a white guy on 50th street, at about 6:45, with no idea where we were going. We aren’t stupid, we’ve heard stories about west Oakland and how bad of a neighborhood it was, this isn’t exactly where we wanted to be, and the panic would soon be settling in. It’s getting dark, we can hear dogs in people’s yards, and smell liquor in bottles broken on the street. There is literally a palimpsest on the side of a corner store, graffiti, covered up by new graffiti.
So yeah, things were looking pretty bad for the two of us,but that’s when the unexpected series of events happened. In a place where we heard stories of muggings, drug busts, shooting and murders, and just constant crime, we left unscathed, with a new perspective on the place. We passed a lady who recognized us from the bus, who laughed,and gave us directions .We thanked her, and continued walking. Unfortunately , two stupids don’t make a smart and neither Gus or myself were paying attention to what she said, so we had to ask someone else for directions, who was very kind and made we sure we heard what he was saying. We passed kids playing in the street, people meeting up with their friends and greeting each other with happiness, we even passed a volunteer cleanup crew cleaning up the street. We realized, that west Oakland isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, not at all.
So in some way, my perspective and the way I see west Oakland is like a palimpsest. I used to think that it was just a really bad part of town, where you never wanted to be after dark, where everyone had a bone to pick with someone. After getting lost and spending time there, that idea of west Oakland is starting to fade, where a new perspective is settling in, where I see it as another part of town, just full of people, that aren’t all bad, and up to trouble. People shouldn’t be worried about having to go through there, because to me, it feels just like any other part of Oakland.