When I tell people I have maintained a studio in West Oakland for almost 16 years, sometimes I can observe a certain enlargement in their eyes. Yes, it is a neighborhood with its share of problems. Some of its more annoying aspects are the people who drive in from the burbs to leave their refuse in piles on our side streets, or their McDonalds detritus on our curbs to blow around in the wake of the buses — so they won’t have to drive a messy car.
We have endured a few shoot-outs over the years, with a couple of street deaths. We’ve been burglarized a few times. Last night a young person busily painted testosterone soaked rubber on the street. But we stay. Why?
First of all we make it a practice to know our neighbors, the overwhelming majority of whom are straight-ahead, decent, hardworking, life-loving human beings. Secondly, the property values are (a little) lower here, so we can afford to rent the kind of space necessary to do the things we do — some of which involves moving 12′ slabs of wood and heavy equipment, and making noise.
Thirdly, because other artists are not a rarity in this neighborhood. And there is a mighty proliferation of — dare I use this overworked word — “creative” work and retail spaces here. More than enough to keep one’s life rich. I am often reminded of Spring in Lodi, CA ( yes, the “Oh, Lord, Stuck in Lodi Again” Lodi ). In the old days by the railroad station there was a long row of fruit trees. The homeless and the traveling bums would lie on the grass berm under all this amazing wealth of white blossoms and not think it strange at all. But justenjoyit.
So…Due to the high price of gas, and in response to a suggestion from my friend Bob Sennhauser — who is working on a road of his own — this road trip will be the path Oola and I take in Mom’s Memorial Prius from my studio in West Oakland to the place where I teach in Berkeley, CA each week. (Don’t be fooled by my mild demeanor; Oola is always on my shoulder!) We will sample a few of the wonderful spaces along the way, a luthier’s shop, some artist studios, an art-magnet printing house, a furniture builder, a foundry, a community sculpture/vegetable garden, a couple of theaters, a jazz cafe, a great old hardware store, a sinfully good bake shop/coffee place, an unusual fabric shop, a grocery store to make you weep with joy, a skateboard park, recycling centers, zydeco, capoeira, an amazing Multimedia department, and maybe more.
Here’s a teaser: one evening we were called out onto a nearby street to watch a BIG, FLASHING, LOUD hovercraft navigating the block. It was part of a huge party in one of the nearby artist live/work spaces.