Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stopping at Albertson’s on The Way to The Parkway Movie Theater:

Quite a few people we surveyed listed the Parkway Movie Theater as an East Oakland landmark, so we decided that this would be an appropriately short and flat route on this blistering day. The City has made an temporary bike lane alongside of the lake. Measure DD renovation plans include the construction of a permanent bike route along the lake. For now it is a good effort; just be careful at the entrance/exit on Lakeshore; there is an abrupt merge between the bike lane and street due to the preservation of parking. Our trusty videographer, Erin Melina Stamos, followed us by car to film the journey.

On our way to the Parkway, we decided to visit the Merritt Bakery, another East Oakland icon. The restaurant had recently suffered from a fire; it was open for business while part of it was under reconstruction. We waved to and had brief conversations with the construction workers. The Merritt Bakery, an old time diner, is tucked away in a very suburban looking strip mall.

As we slowly rode around, we thought about where we could set up our rig. Strip malls, often with names like “town square”, “the commons” or “plaza” attempt to recall a time when cities and towns had public space where community gathering was an important part of daily life. Now one is hard pressed to find space in the so-called public domain that isn’t actually under some sort of private jurisdiction. At the risk of getting booted out (as we had been at Fruitvale Village a few weeks ago), we decided to talk to people on the sidewalk outside of the recently renovated Albertson’s. Before we could even turn our rig around, a young shopper stopped us to find out what we were all about. Turns out that his true interest was in hitching a ride from us with his load of groceries back into downtown (central?) Oakland. Since we had just come from that direction, we declined the adventure. He did offer that he thought we weren’t yet in East Oakland, and that he felt that he lived in West Oakland at around 7th and Washington.

After we set up on the sidewalk, people pretty much ignored us. Maybe it was because of the heat, or maybe because people busy with their shopping and driving had no time for an unusual experience. We didn’t go after people; we didn’t want to be mistaken for pollsters, solicitors or petitioners. Just as we were giving up all hope for an interesting encounter at Albertson’s, a woman with her cart stopped to talk to us. At first her expression was very closed; she seemed almost disturbed by what we were doing. Then, after a few minutes of back and forth Q & A, she understood what was going on. She was a long-time resident of this neighborhood, which she told us was not really considered East Oakland. At one time it was called the San Antonio. Then, more recently, it was changed to the Upper East Lake. When we asked her about the significance of the name change, she told us she thought it was all about image. If the name is different or changed, then this will change people’s perceptions too. Once considered dangerous, this neighborhood is now desirable. (According to the Walk Oakland Map, this particular neighborhood has no specific name.) Also, even though she felt that this area was not actually East Oakland, she believed that Lake Merritt was the dividing line between west and east.

She also commented on the name change of 14th Street to International: she’s in favor of both the name change and the changes to the neighborhoods themselves, especially Fruitvale. She attributes the positive trend to influx of Asians and Latinos, as well as Brown’s efforts.

It was interesting to see that the longer we spoke with her, the more she blossomed: it seemed like it had been a long time since someone asked her to express her opinion.


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