Dusk in the Oakland hills by Joe Parks via Flickr (CC)

UPDATE: The update is … I’ve essentially stopped updating the “related news, notes, and updates” section at the end of this post. You get the gist! Change continues to reshape the city. Feels both blink-and-you-miss-it fast and super slow-motion, all at once. The Uber building at Broadway and 19th hasn’t opened yet, but is still slated to this year (as far as I know). And I’m still content. For now. Trying to figure out what’s next before I know it’s time to go. If the time comes. — February 21, 2017

Staying Home

Falling for Oakland before it was hip[ster], and weathering its tech-fueled transformation.

Sidewalk sunshine, Oakland. All photos copyright Marisa Allegra Williams unless noted otherwise.

“Where do you stay at?”

At the time I was a super studious seventh grader at Portola Jr. High School in El Cerrito and I didn’t stay anywhere because I lived at home with my family in Kensington, and that’s what I said.

Laughter ensued.

Kensington Hilltop Elementary had equipped me with a superb command of textbook-correct, standard American English (to the point that I successfully broke my Louisiana-born father of his native ain’t; god I was such a little asshole), but none of its various bendy, rule-breaking dialects.

My mastery of English by the book and general love of study was rewarded with a liberal arts education from UCLA. After college, I returned home to the Bay Area for a local beau.

Pretty parking lot graffiti art.

Like everyone else I knew who was moving back (or never left), I got a place near Lake Merritt in Oakland.

The year was 1998.

Artwork adorning the Park Community Garden gate. Artist: I Art Magick
The way it was. Remember?

Outside of trips to Oakland as a kid — Fairyland, Fentons, I. Magnin, A’s games, the Oakland Zoo, OMCA, Grand Lake Theater, Festival at the Lake — I’d never given the city much thought. As an adult, it was the new (old) Berkeley and pre-Uber über affordable, plus hella* familiar(ish). It was also where my father ultimately landed over the Great Migration, before meeting my Berkeley born-and-raised mother and heading for the Kensington hills.

I’ve been staying in Oakland happily now for 17 years.

Favorite piece gracing the Park Community Garden gate. Artist: Katie Klingbeil

All the while, waiting for it to cease being the reluctant long-term home I’ve been too whatever (comfortable? lazy? scared?) to quit, and generally taking certain facets of the city for granted (e.g., its diversity). Were it not for the short-lived relationship that brought me back to the Bay, I like to think that I would have gone directly from L.A. to New York, or someplace similarly new and not in my great, golden home state of California.

Travels abroad and gentrification back home has a way of putting things in perspective.

Starting around about 2000 I endeavored to [ad]venture outside my familiar. Over time and travels to an array of amazing places, I began to consciously appreciate coming home to certain aspects of Oakland; qualities I regarded as fixed: its politics (liberal), its diversity (very), its size (big) vs. its feel (quaint), its cost of living (affordable).

Cielito Lindo, my favorite Moorish Oakland oasis and apartment complex. Yes friends, this is an apartment building!
Back gate at Cielito Lindo.

The city’s DNA is in a full-on state of flux now. It’s wonderful and the worst, all at once (ugh — “Brooklyn by the Bay”). If that makes any sense to those who’ve never been through a similar metropolitan metamorphosis.

Between 2000 and 2010, Oakland’s black population fell by 25 percent … As Oakland’s population changes, so too does the culture that drew so many new residents in the first place … An old Sears department store was recently purchased for renovation into offices for tech companies; sources close to the project say that Google is looking to expand there.
The old Sears building in downtown Oakland begins its tech transformation, slated for a 2017 opening. “It’s like having the Twitter building at 19th and Broadway,” says Bill Cumbelich.

Will Oakland still feel like home in another 5, 10, 20 years? I can’t know.

Old, other worldly charm is everywhere in Oakland.
I love hunting for these (often hidden) gems. Only just “discovered” this one recently on a long turn around town.

Home isn’t a fixed feeling. Sure, people change. But so can a place. And then what do you do? Where do you go?

For now, the thing that might ultimately push me to rethink roots here isn’t the city’s ongoing saga with a high rate of crime, the sky-rocketing price of everything as gentrification goes into high gear (holding on tight to my spacious, rent-controlled 1BR apartment) or the onslaught of tech companies, coworkers and culture; it’s the prolonged lack of water as the drought parches on, with the possibility of going Biblically bad (we’re off to a good start, methinks).

Where I’d go? No idea. Just not New York (you get a little older and Gotham becomes that place you like to visit but are always elated to leave, like Vegas). Or anywhere with a *real* winter, or a hot and humid summer.

In case our water supply does prune up completely … I’m beginning to mull my options for a place I think I could stay indefinitely and be happy, and find (or foster) that distinct feeling we all desire and know to be home.

I’d love to land somewhere in Europe. While I figure that out (or keep dreaming), Oakland daily sates my craving for an Old World-looking life.

We’ll see what happens. If the H2O keeps flowing and I can weather the deluge of DNA/cultural (rather than climate) changes, Oakland will always be home.

Lettering by yours truly.

*One of the first things I did after moving home in ’98 in an effort to “grow up” and “be an adult” was to try harder at sounding like one. This meant giving up hella the way I’d made my father abandon ain’t (my love of like had to go, too). A cornerstone of local lingo since my time at Berkeley High School (and long before), it’s still bizarre to me that the word hella has become such a “thing.” While I hella love Oakland like so many other long-time residents and transplants alike, you’ll never hear me utter those words. I cringed even typing them out together just now — the phrase sounds so desperately “authentic,” “local” and hip. For similar reasons, you’ll never hear me call it The Town. </rant>

Out of the shadows and into the light at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Center. All photos copyright Marisa Allegra Williams unless noted otherwise.

Related News / Notes / Updates …

Progress on the old Sears building’s metamorphosis. Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015.
Shower time at I. Magnin. Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015
Have I told you lately that I hate commuting to the city for work? In my 17 years of riding BART from Oakland into San Francisco, it’s never been more of a jam-packed hot, hellish mess. Imagine this train breaking down, the lights going out, and the air being shut off. Yeah. I’ll wait for the next train or the one after that and just deal with being late for work. Again.