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Stateside: Merry Central East Oakland Christmas

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Merry Central East Oakland Christmas

Merry American Christmas? No--there's 51 countries (including the principality of Washington DC) in the United States, so that doesn't do it. Merry Californian Christmas? Nup. As any map of how folks voted in the recall election two years ago will show you, California is a patchwork of different cultures and political leanings.

Merry Bay Area Christmas, then? Uh-uh. The fabled cultural diversity that is the San Francisco Bay Area is solidifying into a kind of re-tooled world atlas with Europe, Asia and the Pacific predominating in the West Bay, while the East Bay hosts Africa, those parts of the American continents below the US border, and South and South West Asia.

If you're from the East Bay you wear a black baseball cap with a subtle black monogram of the phone area code 510, and if you're from the West Bay you wear a white knitted beanie with a bright orange monogram saying 415. I'm not quite sure what folks further down the peninsula with area codes 650 or 408 wear, but no doubt the monogram is done in silver or gold thread. Or maybe it's electronic, since that's getting into Silicon Valley territory.

So Merry CEO Christmas it is! The "Central" in "Central East Oakland" is there to show that my street is part of District 4, which includes the well-heeled Oakland Hills, rather than part of other Oakland city districts that roughly equate to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. In fact, it's a mystery to me why my street is in District 4 at all since I am below what one might call the poverty line--MacArthur Boulevard--that divides the hills from the lowlands.

Though all my friends recently abjured me to move out of Oakland, I love the old girl. Ragged she may be, but she's feisty and real, and it's here that you can clearly point to the unmistakable inequities that people in the United States seem to have given up trying to fight. Take a simple thing like crossing the street, for instance.

Imagine a cartoon drawing of a prison cell window. The top and bottom lines of the window are shopping districts along MacArthur and International Boulevards respectively. The City of Oakland works hard with local merchants to make these districts attractive--fancy trash cans and light poles, plenty of traffic lights and crossing places. I don't begrudge that. It's good to have local shopping districts and to help them draw shoppers and keep them safe.

But now, let me tell you about the left- and right-hand sides of the prison cell window drawing. Both these below-the-poverty-line streets are fed by off-ramps from the 580 freeway, which runs parallel to MacArthur Blvd, and people come hurtling into them with a mindset that they are still on a piece of roadway that has no pedestrians or cyclists.

Less than one block into one of those neighborhood streets, High Street, there is a crosswalk for pedestrians--often children going to the Boys and Girls Club. Why isn't there a fancy archway at the beginning of High Street so that drivers coming off the freeway are alerted to the fact they're in a place where people live and play? There's two such fancy archways delineating the Laurel shopping district across the top of the cell window.

I have seen children nearly get flattened by traffic driven by people who think High St is just another arterial route where they can drive like a bat out of hell and not pay attention to the signs at the side of the street signalling the presence of crosswalks. (Crosswalks are just two lines painted across the street, not at all attention-getting like the zebra crossings you have in other countries.)

But, hey! This is the United States of America and the two most important things here are commerce and automobiles. Cars are left to whizz down those feeder streets because strangers who spend five minutes in the neighborhood are more important than the people who live there. After all, where would the American economy be without the automobile industry?

And neighborhood streets are less important to spend money on than shopping districts because merchants mean sales tax and contributions to political campaigns. To hell with the safety of children. And crikey! It's not just the politicians who couldn't care less.

A national chain pharmacy/convenience store at the top of High Street has a carpark that floods in one corner, deep enough for a child to drown in, but do they feel obliged to keep the grid clean that drains it? Nosirree Bob. All profit and no responsibility. That's the American way.

Merry CEO Christmas, everybody!



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