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I Grew Up in Oakland

I grew up in Oakland.

A sunny-green town with a man made lake among other things.

Many Oaklanders will give you their own accounts of the best part of the city, but my favorite is Children’s Fairyland.

You can’t get in the park without a child so offer your services to a very grateful parent and have a ball!

Buy a key and listen to the fairytale dioramas.

Buy pink popcorn.

Watch the puppet show–after you visited the Alice in Wonderland sculpture garden via the White Rabbit’s warren of course.

I was particularly fond of the art contests. Everybody wins. It was my introduction to oil pastels which was a great successor to my treasured crayola collection—even with a sharpener!

After you leave Fairyland, drop off the child at home to its pouting parent and have trot around the lake. As a girl scout I used to spend my Saturdays at the Rotary Science Center and care for the snakes. My favorite snake was an 8 foot python name ‘bambino”. She was a wonderful snake and would scare the heck out of my mum who would come to collect me at the end of day. There was a rat snake I liked too. I used to try my best to train the rat snake to slither through tubular objects to no avail, only to find that would explore tunnels and such on its own. Snakes are like cats. They don’t do as they’re told or come when they’re called. However, I find they have the uses: toy snakes planted in my bed while I was away kept my mom out of my room!

Trick or treating in Oakland takes place in two neighborhoods: Trestle Glen…

…and Hayden ( formerly China) Hill. Hayden Hill has the best “haunted houses” though. Trestle Glen is in the Glenview district which borders the inland polis of Piedmont and Hayden Hill is near Highland Hospital and over looks the lake on it’s north side.

Both neighborhoods have huge houses and manors that make perfect haunted houses. The trek between the two settings creates a sort of silent block party every Hallowe’en. So far there has been no danger on this night these many years. I should hope not, it’s a time honored Oakland tradition that is as fiercely guarded by parents as the no kid-no admittance rule for entry into Fairyland. Savvy parents with money have ways of keeping their kids safe in a city notorious for violent crime.

Crime in Oakland has marred it’s reputation, but it’s a haven for people who want to live a stone’s throw from from San Francisco yet not pay crazy high rent. Oakland is a working class haven and if you’re clever you can avoid the crime. I grew up there and I dodged every bad influence the inner city could throw at me. Here’s the trick. Although, there are variables ( of course!) the trick to living in Oakland is to live east of Mac Arthur Blvd. Mac Arthur is the great divide between the flatlands and hills. Even if you live below Mac Arthur you have quite a ways to go before you’re in danger. Flatlanders pretty much live east of E.14th street, now called International Blvd.

West of E.14th street a.k.a International Boulevard is the region to avoid if you are new, dress expensively or traveling alone. This is where the tenements are, as well as the crime. But you know what? There was a lady who used to groom my hair who lived in one of those tenements and her floors were cleaner than mine, so not all lives in squalor. Unfortunately, the crime is very real and inescapable, so don’t venture west of Mac Arthur Blvd unless you are guided. I also feel the same way about rural areas. Poverty has a way of turning people into xenophobes. Be smart and be careful where you go in Oakland.

The areas where the hip and well-heeled go in Oakland are the Rockridge and Temescal neighborhoods.

Montclair, Glenview, Oakdale and Chabot are the other areas that sport terrific houses perched on idealis cliffs with great views of the bridges, but Rockridge and Temescal is where people go to shop.

In Rockridge, you’re near CCA ( California College of Arts) and US Berkeley from one end of the shopping district to the other which is Berkeley. Rockridge has Pendragon books and lots of little boutiques and cafes.

Temescal is the arts district where many of warehouses have been converted to lofts as well as neat junk shops.

Be careful though. There was a sucker punch death in this neighborhood years ago. I don’t think the teen intended to kill the man, but not knowing your own strength warrants manslaughter in my book. The punch is probably resentment towards gentrification of this area which neighbors the West Oakland tenements.

There are also many muggings here, again because the residents see gentrification as an invasion and as opportunity for fast cash. This is still Oakland.

Stop walking around with your barking rats. Everyone and their mother knows that small dogs = money. To fool a mugger get a pit or a rottweiller instead.

Our old house in the Glenview district. Mom was renting and didn’t know what to do when the landlord who wanted to sell, and offered her first chance at buying the house, so we had to move.
Siiiighhh…everything happens for a reason

We moved to Adams Point near Fairyland and lived there for a time..

From Life

…until life happened and we ended up on the wrong side of Mac Arthur Blvd. I survived and turned out well though.

Rockridge may be the tax base neighborhood, but Oaklanders, prefer our lake and Jack London square. You don’t have to have pocket money to enjoy the weekends here.There’s nothing like a true blue sky on a Saturday afternoon after seeing a morning matinee at the Grand Lake theatre.

My elementary school, Lakeview is right across the street. My desk was in the corner on the third floor. I used to watch school kids on field trips line up to see E.T. and the re-release of Sleeping Beauty. On rainy afternoons during rest period and art time, I would watch the rain fill up the pond in the park adjacent to the theater. To this day November is a special month to me because the filling of that pond. That pond was eventually paved over to make way for a parking lot to serve the theater and now it’s a site for the Oakland farmers market. Although my pond is sadly gone, I still have a great lake to appreciate. Astro Park is gone too. I used it for the first pass of Dear Jesse. I guess that flying saucer was not safe. Pity, it make the perfect “tree house” once you were inside. I wonder where it lives now? I wonder if the sea monster mural still lives in the lunchroom of Lakeview Elementary?

The flying saucer is gone but the park library is still here. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, A Cricket in Times Square and countless quarters for losing those darn check out cards were borrowed and paid here. But I couldn’t stay too long. The bus was on it’s way and I have to be home immediately after school. I now know this is how my mom made sure that I did not run into trouble on the way home as a latchkey kid. I was to be at home at 3:30pm and call her at work. That was fine with me. I wanted to be home in time to watch Bugs Bunny and the Pink Panther anyway.

Oakland also reminds of my very painful childhood of living with an angry single mother.Lost bus passes, beatings and groundings that ensued and the development of my allergies run through my mind whenever I see the 57 bus.

Then again, there were Saturdays, and by the time I was 11, I was allowed to ride the 57 bus by myself every Saturday morning to spend the say by Lake Merritt.

As a girl scout, I knew how to have fun for free and I always took a pad of paper to draw on and a book to ready to keep myself company and away from my mom.

I could never afford to play on the paddle boats, but people watching was fun and free on the banks of the lake.

To round out my day, I would turn toward Piedmont and spend the afternoon writing in my diary in the rose garden. I cried out many a fight between me and my mom there. Sometimes if I got there around 3pm, I would get a free bouquet from the days pruning which made the bus trip on the 57 endurable:)

So ends a girl scout, school girl field trip of Oakland. The news can say whatever they want about this town with it’s jewel of a lake at it’s center. The fearful can make their inferences from the 6 o’clock news and stay away. Just remember for every thug that mars the screen there is an Ashanti who is never shown. This is Oakland. I grew up here.

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