Archive for April, 2009

Sausal Creek from the Hills to the Bay

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

One nice side effect of getting around on foot or by bike instead of in a car is that you notice and discover things that you would not have seen if you had cruised by at 30 miles an hour in a box of glass and steel. For example, if I hadn’t been on a bike, I never would have stopped at the little park next to the Fruitvale Avenue bridge between Oakland and Alameda the other day, and discovered the mouth of Sausal Creek:

Mouth of Sausal Creek


Sausal creek reemerges!

Sausal Creek is formed above Dimond Canyon near Montclair, where two tributaries merge before meandering from the hills down to San Francisco Bay. What’s notable about Sausal Creek, compared to most creeks that drain rainwater through Oakland to the bay, is that it retains a lot of its natural beauty as it flows through urban neighborhoods. The section between Highway 13 and Dimond Park is mostly unencumbered by concrete.

Oakland Idyll


Sausal Creek

Nature lovers and dog walkers who live in surrounding neighborhoods like Dimond and Glenview take advantage the paths and trails that surround the creek, but even some people who live close by don’t realize that they can find a secluded setting like Dimond Canyon without going all the way up to the parks in the hills such as Redwood or Joaquin Miller. The entrances to the area tend to be tucked away on side streets such as El Centro or Bridgeview Terrace, so unless you live nearby or someone tells you about the miles of paths and trails, you might have no idea that they were there at all.

Even the evidence of human intervention that you do find when you’re walking in that section of Sausal Creek tends to be historical and picturesque. A concrete wall that supports the bank of the creek at one point, for instance, bears WPA stamps from 1939 and 1940.

WPA 1940

Leimert Bridge, a graceful arch which passes high above the canyon, is a 1926 landmark which once carried streetcars from upper Park Boulevard to the Oakmore neighborhood.

Leimert Bridge

I knew that Sausal Creek must emerge somewhere along the waterfront, but I never would have thought to look for it. I had also assumed that between Dimond Park and the bay, the creek ran entirely through culverts beneath the surface, but in fact that’s not the case at all. The Oakland Museum, in addition to having some nice maps showing the contemporary and historical routes of the creek, also has an interactive photo gallery embedded in a Google map which has images from points along the creek as it makes its way through the flatlands down to its mouth. Contrary to what I thought, many sections of the creek run above ground, although they are nowhere near as picturesque or accessible as the section from the headwaters to Dimond Park.

I’ve previously recommended keeping your ears open as you move around the city—whether it be this city, or any other city. The same advice goes for your eyes too, because you never know what you might see if you’re paying attention.

Opportunity Knocks

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

I said a week or two ago that I was on the lookout for ways that our economic troubles were affecting the look and feel of our cities, but that can be a depressing project, so I’m trying to keep an eye out for hopeful signs too. A surprising number of new bars and restaurants have been opening in Oakland in the last few months, and many of them seem to be doing well despite the lousy economy.

There is one business that I’m most excited about. Ever since I read about the Middle Eastern and African emporium that is scheduled to open on a somewhat desolate stretch of Telegraph, I’ve been monitoring the progress whenever I pass by, and tonight I was happy to see that the interior is looking near completion, and something you don’t see very often these days, a help wanted sign, is posted on the window:

Opportunity Knocks

As the owner told Oakland North, a local news website run by Berkeley J-School students, “I’m from Yemen originally, and here we are missing a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. Sometimes you have to go to L.A. Here there’s not even a single Middle East bakery that sells Lebanese pastries!”

He told the reporter that he might have to bring in a pastry chef from New York or Michigan, because there might be no one in Oakland who is up to the job. Whether he finds a pastry chef here or brings one in from elsewhere, I hope he finds a good one, because I’d hate to have to go to L.A. for my Lebanese pastries…

Where Wile E. Coyote Buys His Fire Extinguishers

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Acme Fire Extinguisher Co.

This is on Fruitvale Avenue, near the BART station. I’m not the only person who likes this sign: a local artist made a painting of it as part of a whole series on Oakland signage.

Love at First Sight

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

So there I was yesterday, riding my bike home through some neighborhoods that I have rarely, if ever, visited before. The ride itself was routine: one eye on the cars to my right, alert for the sudden opening of a door, the other eye monitoring my left flank, where cars were passing with an uncomfortably small margin or error. With both of my eyes thus occupied, you might not think that I would be able to see anything in front of me, but our brains are miraculous sensory processing machines, sorting, filtering and combining vast amounts of data into a surprisingly reliable guide to our immediate environment.

So I saw her well before I actually reached her: her graceful curves, her open, welcoming mien, her smooth, unblemished face. I was so overwhelmed by her beauty that I literally stopped short, too awed at first to approach. As I stood there agape, my left foot still on its pedal and my right foot grounded, as if to steady my fluttering heart, I sensed—no, I knew, knew to the very core of my mitochondrial DNA—that she was waiting for me. Indeed, I’m not normally one to spew a lot of new age nonsense about kismet and cosmic master plans, but I could tell immediately that the universe had placed her there in anticipation of my arrival, and that she was eager to take me in her embrace, to have me and to hold me, to selflessly help me attain my goals.

And so, after regaining my composure, I rode forth once more, shorn of hesitation and robbed of all fear, and when I finally touched her, she was everything I had ever dared to dream of: (more…)

The Long Way Home

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

I worked a short day today (an hour! talk about part time!), so I used a very roundabout route to get home and took a bunch of pictures on the way. You can probably tell by the unmolested dollar bill that this Buddha is in Alameda, not Oakland:

The Four Noble Truths

The bird of paradise qualifies that photo for the ongoing bird project that I mentioned a little while back (if one of my regular commenters thinks that a Navy warplane counts, then surely a bird of paradise counts too). And this pelican is a new find:


I was very happy to catch this adorable older couple rowing their dory in front of Oakland’s industrial waterfront:


And I knew that Americans often worshipped their automobiles, but this is ridiculous:

Parking Church

There are about a dozen more new shots at my Flickr page, and a few others will dribble out here in coming days, because they require their own posts. Enjoy!


Out-Hipstering the Hipsters

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

If you’ve set foot in an American city in the past few decades, then you are probably familiar with hipster T-shirts. They might be regular old T-shirts, but instead of having earnest logos such as “Dysart’s Truck Stop, Bangor, ME,” they have ironic logos such as “Dysart’s Truck Stop, Bangor, ME.” The sensibility is what makes the difference: If a working class guy in his 50’s in Milwaukee is wearing a “Pabst Blue Ribbon” T-shirt, then it’s probably not a hipster tee. When a guy in his 20’s on a fixie in Portland wears a “Pabst Blue Ribbon” T-shirt, then you can be sure that it is a hipster tee.

Unironic shirts donned with ironic intent are only one kind of hipster tee. Another variety are ironic shirts donned with ironic intent. When Seinfeld was the big Thursday night NBC sitcom in the 1990’s, Vandelay Industries T-shirts were born (“Importing/Exporting — Fine Latex Goods”). Now that The Office is the big Thursday night NBC sitcom, Dunder Mifflin and Schrute Beet Farm shirts are worn with pride from the Mission to Bushwick. With shirts such as these, one gets to wallow in corporate consumer culture while simultaneously showing one’s cool detachment from corporate consumer culture: hipster heaven!

I’m not a serious connoisseur of hipster tees, so I won’t try to explain the full taxonomy here, and I know that I’m lumping a lot of disparate styles under the rubric “hipster tees,” but I’m sure you know the sort of shirts I’m talking about. Many hipster T-shirts have a cool or funky design on them, or a clever phrase, or some combination of the two. As long as it is worn with an appropriate level of ironic distance, any T-shirt can be a hipster tee.

Ceci n'est pas une pipeI was thinking the other day about what a quintessential hipster tee might consist of. Since many have a combination of word and image, and often a self-referential element that subverts the entire premise of putting a design on a T-shirt, this train of thought carried me to Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images,”  with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”).

Magritte, like a lot of the surrealists, was something of a protohipster (an ur-hipster? a hipst-ur?). Nothing is meant to be taken entirely seriously, the work tends to undermine itself in one way or another, and if you don’t like it…well, that just proves that you’re not in the know. If something is not said or done in earnest, then earnest objections to it tend to look silly (cf. David Denby).

Just as media critics ask, “Who’s watching the watchdogs?” and the movie ads ask, “Who’s watching the watchers,” I naturally asked myself, “Who’s ironizing the ironists?” Well, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, so I have given notice at my job and have founded a T-shirt company that will try to out-hip the hipsters (probably a futile aspiration, I know). I’ve tried to come up with something for everyone, starting with the basics: (more…)