I have to take a few minutes to give some props to my home town, Oakland, CA. Now, I know what you’re thinking when I mention that name. Everybody seems to think that. I think the reputation of this city ranks third, trailing just behind Newark, NJ and Detroit, MI. It’s funny, because when it comes to dangerous cities, Oakland doesn’t even make the top 15. Tiny little Stockton, CA, a suburb north of Oakland is actually number 5 on the most dangerous cities list. Yeah, Stockton. I’d claim I never heard of it either, but I’ve actually been there. I know you’re not buying this, so check it out. I’m not lying about this.
Okay, so now that you’re not afraid anymore, let’s go visit Oakland!
Oakland is the eighth largest city in California, and the 44th largest city in America. We have a population of 404,155 living in a really small space. We’re dense. Not dense as in dumb, but let’s say we rub elbows with each other frequently. Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, with whites actually being the minority race. (I appreciate the help, Wikipedia, but put down the brochure. This trip is supposed to be fun.)
For ease of administration, let’s just limit the number of districts to 5: Central Business District, East Oakland, West Oakland, Oakland Hills and North Oakland. There are districts within districts within districts in Oakland. The West side is known as the “Flatlands,” and that’s the portion with the Port of Oakland and the nasty reputation. I had a conversation with a friend recently that went a little something like this:
Friend: “Are you going to the party Saturday?”
Me: “Yeah, are you?”
Friend: “I’m not sure. I mean…it’s in… (whispers) Oakland.”
Me: “What’s wrong with Oakland?”
Friend: “I just don’t want to drive to…Oakland. Especially not the flatlands.”
Me: “I used to live in the flatlands.”
Friend: “I know, and it’s no wonder you moved.”
Me: “I moved because the landlord was a psychotic asshole who sold the house out from under us. The area was okay. So are you going?”
Friend: “What are you going to do?”
Me: “Well, I’m going to drive to West Oakland, and nothing’s going to happen. When the party is over, I’m going to drive back to my neighborhood, and nothing’s going to happen.”
I drove to the party. Nothing happened. I left the party. Nothing happened. Well, I won some cash layin’ down the bones, but that’s a different story. Let the white girl rock. I’m getting distracted, so let’s get back to Oakland. I want to reiterate this: nothing happened.
So, where does all this come from? I don’t know. I do know that Oakland, like your average little shanty town, has some areas that are less safe than others. Generally if you’re not a gangsta doing gangsta shit (thanks, Tarantino), you’re going to be alright. Now, Oakland does have a serious property crime problem. All the houses in our neighborhood have been broken into at one time or another. But as a whole, the city isn’t that bad. We even have a zoo.
Living in the O has its perks. We have lots of great local restaurants, awesome clubs, the zoo, the Port, the Rose Garden and Jack London Square to name a few. We have amazing international markets and our own Chinatown. You don’t have to be armed to enjoy Oakland; you can even bring the kids.
Colorful, isn’t it? Yes, the city has some problems, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. The neighborhoods all have their own distinct local flavor, so a day in Oakland is like visiting a bunch of little cities within a city. If you get really bored, there’s no shame in crossing the bay and going to the other city by The Bay.
NO, NO, NO! Now you stop that. That was an isolated incident during Loma Prieta. We have it under control now. Mostly. It’s gone a little over budget.
Who knows? By the time you get back across that bridge, you may have started to miss Oakland. We missed you (No, not bullets. Will you quit that?). And by the time you leave, you may even be tempted to take home a souvenir or two.