Oakland Noir

Oakland Noir

Three of the last five years, my wife and I have Christmased in the San Francisco Bay Area. We visit our son, my brother, and a niece. Our routine is similar: movies every night and dinners at an eclectic collection of restaurants.

We choose to stay in Oakland near the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART. Our hotel is close to the 12th Street station. No driving for us. The trains are gritty but reliable most days. If we can’t walk or BART to our destination, Uber/Lyft is an efficient alternative.

Chinatown intersection close to our hotel in Oakland.

Over the course of five days and four nights we saw Roma, Shoplifters, The Favourite, and Vice. Dinners afterwards were Sushi, a Southern Louisiana Kitchen, Hunan Cuisine, and Thai food. One morning, we had a late breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, Doña Tomás, and on another we feasted at the renowned Oakland Grill. Christmas Day we crossed the Bay Bridge to join my brother at San Francisco’s Yank Sing for a Dim Sum brunch.

In between movies and meals, we walked Oakland’s neighborhoods from the warehouse district through Chinatown to Lake Merritt. The ambience is blue collar. The city’s work ethic still breathes here. 

Mural at the world renowned Oakland Grill

Our preference for the east side of the bay evolved over time. San Francisco, my hometown no less, has lost its cool. The tech tsunami floods the city in money. Unless you are “grandfathered” into a rent controlled apartment, who can afford to live there? Housing costs in the city exclude the service class, the middle class, and the upper middle class. Buying a house? If you have to ask the price, well …

Mural in Oakland. The city’s wall art is remarkable.

Finally, though, it was the dystopia of the homeless on Market Street that pushed us away. No one seems able to imagine a solution. Locals wear blinders of resignation. Tourists, like us, gawk at the scrabble of destitute individuals. Last year, we side-stepped the feces, the urine, and the trash from a warren of panhandlers. Who, I wondered, is happy with this environment? 

Oakland street scene looking west from Broadway.

Co-incident with our most recent visit, the funding debate for “Trump’s Wall” reached an impasse and a portion of the federal government shut down. Thirty four days later, thousands of employees remain furloughed or working without pay. Seeds for a resolution have been planted. Yet, there’s little hope for germination.

The Bay Area’s high cost of living makes this shutdown a particularly onerous burden to bear. Many people harbor legitimate fears of being one crisis away from the street. And, should the shutdown continue, this may be that crisis.

Grand Lake Theater in Oakland

Congress passed a bill to reimburse government workers when the shutdown ends. Eventually, that should soften the blow of the president’s temper tantrum. Others, however, affected by the trickle down effects of the temporarily unemployed, will suffer without recompense.  

Suffering and fear and fear of more suffering seem to be defining tactics of the current administration. Family separations, Charlottesville, and Puerto Rico, come to mind. This is the style of our president, Captain Chaos. It’s a ruthless business ethic. It may play well in the world of high end New York real estate. But, probably not a good way to run a country … 

Inside the paywall of the Bart. Underground, things look clean. The elevators that get you there? Uh, not so much …

Nonetheless, we vacationed. Oakland’s version of the gentrification virus spreads. Zoning restrictions must change in order to address the housing shortage. But political will is ephemeral. Slowly, affluenza squeezes out those with modest paying jobs that once seemed adequate.

With the innocent aplomb of country bumpkins, we navigated the hassles of city life. Planes, trains, and Uber transported us through the wonders of the urban landscape. More and more, though, it resembles the prophetic sci-fi noir, Blade Runner.

The Albany Theater.

Politicians, elected to solve problems and to govern, have flipped the script. Now, they are the problem and refuse to govern. Perhaps the newly elected Congress can write another, different, screenplay in time for our next visit to the Bay Area. That’s the movie I really want to see.