Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Description of My Surroundings Part 1: The Walk to Work.

Somebody recently asked me to write a "day in the life" piece. There simply is no "typical day" upon which I can expound to give a generalized view of my daily life. I will, however, attempt to describe my surroundings.

I walked about 15 blocks to work. Often on these walks I see one or more of the men who come into our center to receive services or to volunteer. On this particular morning I had no such company.

My walk can be broken into three phases. The buildings that dot the first phase of my view on the walk to work are as diverse as the people in Oakland: high density apartments and commercial real estate bump up against convenience stores, coffee shops, abandoned buildings, beauty supply shops, and a SEARS. In this phase I pass some classic-looking office bees in their black trench coats and I hear the click of their leather shoes on pavement; but I also pass a group of young black kids on my corner attending charter school as well as the group of crazy senior citizens chiefing at their cigarates (literally--there is a home for mental senior citizens across my street) . While still in Phase 1 I move quickly into "Oaksterdam," so named for the handful of "marijuana dispensaries." Many mornings during this part of my walk I am reminded of the way people back East speak about California: for them and still for me at times it seems like a foriegn land too hip, cutting edge, fast-paced, alternative and misguided for good Southern folk. There's enough damn variety and change to "worry the warts off a horny toad," as the old Southern expression goes.

I move quickly into Phase 2, aka the "gentrification in progress zone." This is a former ghetto (think wide roads littered with liquor stores, slummy hotels, and, well, litter) turned into downtown office complexes. Construction and "pending demolition" signs are everywhere. The sidewalk is literally being shut down one block at a time as old buildings that used to serve the under class are being remade into daytime hangouts for the middle class office folk finally grown weary of the commute imposed by their own "white flight." The buildings themselves seem unsure of their own placement--hungry for profit, but their placement still a little too "gritty and real" for their own good. Almost as stark as the railroad track that so symbolically separates White and Black American in Natchez, MS, the final phase of the walk is begins when I pass under the freeway.

Welcome to "beautiful downtown Oakland," as my boss likes to say. I work at the corner of two major cross-streets, San Pablo and West Grand. The office bees just four blocks away have suddenly disappeared. Not a single BMW or Mercedez Benz makes its way across this corner. The litter is so prominent I still swear the street cleaners have abandoned this part of town. There is bus stop just outside my facility always full of patrons that never get on the bus. A small open space not more than 50 square feet hosts a constant crowd of loiterers. Papers, cans, bottles, brown paper bags, shopping carts, and mattresses fill the open space--all items have been, are being, or will be used. It was here that a crowd of volunteers from the local college found a half dozen dirty heroin needles.

The street outside my facility is always full of vehicles. Outdated, beatup, and discolored vans and sedans remain parked there all day--many of them the only shelter available the men who come into my center. Their home is literally parked outside and it ain't no RV. Just west of my place "affordable housing" runs right up against industrial parks pinned underneath the swirl of intersecting interstates. The freeways around downtown appear thrown together--the hodgepodge noticeable especially when driving the tighly banked curves. You see, just North of where I work "the bottoms" as they call that particular location is actually a gravesite to the thousands that were crushed when the freeway collapsed during the 1989 Earthquake. That section of the freeway was rerouted and replaced with a non-elevated road "Mandella Parkway" which sports a green-space median through which a sidewalk meanders.

As I approach the entrance--a small blue awning just past the popular bus stop--I am greeted by the men that recognize me. Some will help run the center today, others will just stop by for a shower, a bus pass, or maybe even a couple bucks. A friendly conversation usually ensues before I make it into the building. Pleasantries continue when I enter the facility, only I make sure to say hello to everyone for feelings are hurt far too easily around this place. Everybody, you see, can use a friendly smile and a pat on the back for it may be the only acknowledgement they get all day.

2 Comments:

Blogger answer-man said...

ps I'm having a little trouble sending comments so if I do it twice please excuse me and I apologize.

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