I try to make it over to the East Bay at least once a week. It keeps me from feeling like my life is just one day rolling into the next, an unintended consequence of an easy existence.
My home and job are both in the city and my commute is 30 minutes or less, door to door. I like my job pretty well and food and drink are available in convenient abundance once I get off work. My financial woes all appear to be behind me. I have everything I need except variety.
That’s where Oakland comes in. If you’ve never visited the place and only know it from headlines, you probably picture the town as nonstop free-fire zone with streets littered with empty shell casings and puddles of fresh human blood. You’ll be happy to know that’s only partly true. I’ve met many fine residents of Oakland and as of this writing none of them have ever pointed a gun at me.
This suits me just fine. About all the adventure I can stand these days is a little excursion from point A to point B that never strays outside my comfort zone.
Fortunately, this is easily done. I work just a short walk from the Transbay Terminal, or rather the temporary one. While the permanent one is being rebuilt, the buses have been rerouted to the corner of “Mad As Hell” and “Not Going To Take It Anymore” (Howard & Beale streets). BART is often the best way to get to Oakland, but there are those times when your destination isn’t all that close to a station. There are also those times when you don’t want to spend 25 minutes packed like sardines with a bunch of financial-services weenies on their way home to Walnut Creek.
Just to make things even simpler, I have a Clipper Card. For those of you who either don’t live in the Bay Area or simply haven’t been paying attention, the Clipper Card is a pre-paid electronically readable doohickey that allows you to get around on a number of local public-transit systems without having to fumble for single bills or loose change. You can also set things up so it attaches itself like a lamprey to your bank account or credit card and sucks out money every time it gets low on funds.
Around rush hour, the bus I’m waiting for comes every 15-20 minutes. When it pulls up, I climb aboard, swipe my card against the reader, and take my seat. There don’t seem to be enough other passengers for any of them to sit next to me, but I’m not taking any chances. I know the old trick of making people stay away from me by sitting up straight, eyes forward, with just the tip of my tongue protruding from my lips. The move is effective because it plays upon people’s irrational gears and subtle enough that they can’t complain to anyone without sounding like a fool.
The doors close and the bus makes one of those hydraulic farting noises buses make for reasons I’ve never understood. Pulling out of the terminal, there are a few zigs and zags on surface streets before we curve up an onramp and onto a crowded Bay Bridge headed east.
The bus rattles along the lower level of the bridge surrounded by steel beams and the roar of traffic around us. After the tunnel through Yerba Buena Island, I stare out the window at the new eastern span under construction. We arrive in Oakland and after passing the huge cranes that look like Star Wars imperial walkers we get on the 580 and start heading southeast.
I get off at the first stop, the corner of MacArthur and Grand. The northern tip of Lake Merritt is in front of me. Downtown is more than a mile away to the right. I go left and cross under the freeway toward the Heart and Dagger Saloon.
I first set foot in that bar about a year ago, back when I had a girlfriend in Oakland. The place opens at noon, which made it a good place to get a drink after going with her to the farmers market. I used to do a lot more drinking in the afternoon back then.
The H&D is still pretty quiet when I walk in the door. It’s not dead, but not bustling either. I recognize the bartender, though I don’t know her name and have never said a word to her unless I’ve wanted a drink. I order a 24 oz. PBR for $4, which is a great deal if you mind don’t low-grade domestic swill that has somehow become the preferred beverage of hipsters. Neither of these things bothers me though. I’m too busy getting in touch with my inner dirtbag to care.
I pay for my beer and head out back to the patio. There are a bunch of picnic tables, a bit like Zeitgeist in SF, but smaller in both size and attitude. Actually, the same can be said when comparing the two cities. We San Franciscans tend to be less friendly and more self absorbed than Oaklanders. It’s nice to experience a lower amount of ambient attitude than I do over on my side of the bay.
If it were my nature, I’d probably strike up a conversation with someone and have a pleasant time of it. Instead, I choose to interact with no one. I may eavesdrop a bit, but only until a conversation bores me. I then contemplate going for some food and end up drinking my dinner instead. I lament how little I’ve accomplished in life while I spend another evening doing absolutely nothing.
Mostly I wait. I have the patience to stick around until enough time has passed so I can convince myself that the whole trip was worth it. That usually requires downing a second PBR tall boy. Then it’s back on a bus to downtown SF and a BART ride home to the Mission from there, no room in my head for regrets because all of my thoughts are about how desperately I need to pee.