I moved to West Oakland in 2013. The bottom floor of a duplex, carved white trim on the windows. 4 bdr. / 1.5 ba. Three roommates and my girlfriend. Young gentrifiers, bringing up the rear. We were dismayed the windows didn’t have bars. Half the homes on the block had bars. “They looked ugly so we took them off” our landlord said.
The corner store was a short walk away. The sidewalk littered with lotto tickets, chip bags and Newport packs. Graf on the fences. At first the price of beer would always change. The White price. We had to call the Yemenis out on it until they got to know us. Six-packs on weekend nights. Leaving, I’d shuffle past a man at the counter. Legs wide, hunched over a scratcher. “Pardon me” I’d say. He’d look up, sizing me up. “What’s goin’ on?” he’d say.
Sometimes I’d go get a Coke on Sundays. And just down Adeline I’d see the churchgoers. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptist, Baptist. Churches up to the projects. Where Jack London’s Pinkerton officer lived in 1907: “‘on Adeline, near Tenth—fine neighborhood an’ fine two-storied house.’” Families in their Sunday best. Old Black ladies in elaborate hats. I’d look while waiting at the crosswalk. Cars double-parked in sheer sunlight.
We’d get the pamphlets at our door, wedged in the white frame. “What is the Meaning of Life?” or “Who is He?” Questions like that. Strewn across the granite counter with the mail. We kept one on the fridge for a while. Most we recycled.
Gambling and God. Lucky 7 and sermons. A postcard from West Oakland.