Photo: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

My Hometown in 500 Words: Oakland, CA

by Lauren Quinn Jun 19, 2009
Understanding what makes you love a place, what makes it feel like home, can happen at the weirdest moments.

I glare into red brake lights and sigh. Rubberneckers stare across the center divide at the solemn funeral procession.

Six days ago, in the middle of a spring afternoon in East Oakland, a wanted parolee resisting arrest opened fire on police, killing four cops. It’s being called the worst day in Oakland history, not an easily earned title in a city infamous for sideshows, motorcycle clubs and gangster rap.

The entire Oakland police force has been given the day off to attend the funeral, and the procession is shutting down the four eastbound lanes of 580.

“Come on, people.” I inch along, annoyed as I stare at the rooftops and asthmatic-looking palm trees peeking over the freeway’s edge, determined not to gawk.

It’s easy to grow hardened in Oakland. Violence, crime and corruption seep into the everyday, a sort of infection that’s gotten into the blood of the place.

Every year you watch the number of homicides creep towards, and often above, 100; every year, you know a couple more people who’ve been robbed, assaulted, held at gunpoint.

I round a bend in the road. Now I slow, stop, stare. On one side, ceaselessly coming towards me, is a single-file stretch of motorcycles, cop cars and black-windowed vehicles. I realize I can’t see the end of it; it arches an overpass, keeps coming, a steady passing of grief.

On the other side of the divide, it looks something like that REM video. Cars have pulled over onto either shoulder, their drivers stepped out, standing either staring or with heads bowed. No one speaks. The rumbling sound of the passing procession is all I can hear.

Dust-covered day laborers have parked their pick-up truck next to a bluetoothed, Escalade-driving businessman. Tattooed arms hang out of a flat-black old Pontiac, while dread-locked hyphy kids stare from atop gleaming rims. They all wear similar looks, not of shock, but of sadness, a deep-down, well-buried pain.

It’s heartbreaking to love a city like Oakland, but looking at all these faces, I realize why I do. It’s the spirit of the place, diverse and alive and like home, that keeps me here, fiercely believing in the city’s goodness, its potential to be more.

While no one in city government has made any public statements about the incident (aside from stock comments from the mayor), and while marginalized segments of the community have been calling the gunman a revolutionary hero, the true Oakland is here, silent and grieving together on the interstate.

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