Photo: Eddie Hernandez Photos/Shutterstock

Brandon Scott Gorrell Goes to Oakland

by Brandon Scott Gorrell Jun 27, 2009
Seattle writer Brandon Scott Gorrell navigates his way through the Bay Area on a book tour, seeking authenticity via “ragers”, street preachers, and hipsters with expensive-looking digital cameras.


After the security checkpoint I unsuccessfully tried to get wireless without paying for anything. Eventually I was in a long white hallway, slowly moving toward rap music coming faintly from somewhere. Seeing a person with a gigantic moustache, wearing a red, white and blue headband, skinny jeans, and “boat shoes” seemed to cause me to think “Jesus, god damn bitches.” The airport later forced me to watch CNN, which discussed health care reform, legalized online gambling, and crows attacking pedestrians in downtown San Francisco. The last thing CNN broadcasted before I boarded the airplane was footage of a Texas police officer tasing an elderly woman on the side of the road.


Things I thought while on BART, looking out the window, on the way to Oakland: “Damn, it’s shitty” “Damn, carpeted floors and carpeted seats, weird,” “Damn, seems really shitty, seems maybe like a ghetto,” “Seems like the movie ‘Friday,'” “All the buildings are the same color. Are all the buildings the same color? There’s a blue thing over there,” “Jesus, a bunch of high school students,” “Are those high school students ‘harder’ than me? Seems like those high school students are ‘harder’ than me.” “Jesus, liquor stores and fried chicken,” “This is taking a pretty long time,” “What is Chelsea’s apartment going to look like?” “Why don’t I see more hipsters?”


It was dark and the three of us were in San Francisco, walking at an uncomfortable pace toward somewhere. Chelsea needed to pee really hard and it was making me anxious. Bros lined the sidewalk at certain areas, smoking cigarettes and just seeming like bros. There were some older chicks walking around in “skimpy” clothes. Eventually we found the place—a bar called Hemlock—and paid a $6 cover charge to see Chelsea’s friend play, but the show was over when we got in. “Let’s get our money back,” Chelsea said.

We went to the bouncer. He called us a “pain in the ass” as he returned our money. A man approached me. “You get your money back man?” he said. “Yeah,” I said. “What, don’t you think the other bands deserve the money?” “We just came for the one guy.” “You think we don’t deserve your money man, we work hard man.” “We just aren’t seeing the other bands.” I looked at the face of Mike Young. It appeared highly alert.

At the “rager” people were screaming and playing guitar in a room. Someone with long hair outside the room—moving loudly between many different rooms for what appeared to be no concrete reason—was screaming sometimes. He came into the living room and flailed wildly for 20 seconds. He moved into a chair and said “Oh, cocaine cocaine cocaine cocaine, ohhhhh…”

There was confusion about my name, later. This is unrelated to the man on cocaine. “Wait, so what’s you real name?” the girl across a coffee table asked me. “It’s Brandon,” I said. “It’s just Brandon.” A man in the corner fell off a chair for what appeared to be no reason. “I can’t continue this conversation, that was too distracting,” I said. I looked at the girl across the coffee table. “Honestly, I can’t, that was weird.”

We left the “rager” as the person on cocaine was swinging a crowbar around in the kitchen while some men were arm wrestling. The people screaming and playing guitar in the room were still screaming and playing guitar in the room. I had sat in one location during the duration of my time at the party.


I wanted to have visited a place that would allow me to recognize in itself and its people a unique perspective on the world that I did not have, thus making me feel, I guess, that I was not authentic and was hopeless to attain any semblance of authenticity compared to these Oakland people that were steeped in authenticity. I really had that desire.

The streets in Oakland seemed large, bleak and noisy; delineated, sometimes, by gigantic highway ramps and overpasses, large intersections that made me feel small, and fast food places.

Rockridge, where Bittersweet Cafe was located, seemed to be full of maternity shops, coffee shops, and “fancy” restaurants. The only people at the Bittersweet reading besides our friends were 50 year-old moms with sons in high school that “just happened” to walk in and sit down. I sold a couple books. Afterwards, we partied at a house.


The Pirate Cat radio show was the only reading we had in San Francisco. The DJ was an old short man with dreadlocks. He talked quickly and generally ended up “lost” in metaphor or tangent—in a way I found hard to literally comprehend/find relevant—about oppression, peace, marijuana, or something “hippie-like”.

The cafe in which the studio was located was crowded. I felt as if I was on a variety show. A woman sang with a guitar about generosity. For the last minute or two of her song, she attempted to get everyone to sing along with her. Everyone sang along except for me and the people sitting at the table with me. I felt very embarrassed. I was grateful to Chelsea when, during the middle of it, she said “Which things should I read?” and handed me her book. I stared at the book until the song was over.

Mike, Chelsea and I later “talked shit” on the singer’s ideas about generosity.


We had to find a way to the party by some method other than walking because Chelsea was afraid of getting mugged. It seemed, upon receiving this information, that Oakland was “harder” than Seattle.

This feeling was reinforced inside the house: the walls were very artistic; male genitalia were drawn on the walls in black marker. I felt as if these people who had scribbled private parts in weird places knew some secret about life. Maybe they had, through their highly authentic pasts (i.e. fucked-up moms, living on an Alaskan fishing boat, or growing up on an industrial farm in Iowa), obtained an essence of life which emanated from their beings; physically manifested by the clothes they wore, their vernacular, their hairs. Their shoes. The essence was one of deep authenticity.

In the back yard, hipsters could be observed taking high definition photographs with expensive looking digital cameras with flash. Chelsea immediately began to go insane as her boyfriend’s band began to play, and Chelsea and I began to mosh really hard. I pushed people around. Sometimes Chelsea would punch me in the face or slap me a lot in the face. I sometimes looked at people that were not moshing. Most looked afraid. They whispered to each other, “I think they’re really drunk.”

I reassessed my perceptions regarding the party’s authenticity, feeling slightly alienated from society.


Are the people more authentic here? Is this what California is like? Is this like the Beach Boys? Is California like the Beach Boys? Are we in wine country? Is this like the Beach Boys?


It seemed as if a good amount of people came that were not our friends. I started my reading without looking at the audience or making introductory comments about myself. During the Q&A session afterwards, two women who appeared to be in their late 50’s holding notebooks asked us how to use blogs to promote their novels. It seemed as if they felt they were in a class about using blogs to promote themselves. As we answered they took notes. Sometimes one would make a sound and nod, as if something cathartic had just been explained. Another lady, also, it appeared, in her late 50’s, seemed intent on proving to us that the internet caused depression and could not provide “real” human connectivity. She was the one who introduced herself as an “artist”. She said “I’m an artist.”

Later, on the way home, I felt good about not making introductory comments about myself. I have decided to do it like that from now on.


The bookstore was in an enormous “rich people strip mall” thing, featuring corporations such as Whole Foods and Target. There was a restaurant advertising on its A-frame sidewalk sign free range, organic fried chicken. I excitedly pointed this out to Mike. The bookstore clerks appeared disdainful of our presence. The only people there appeared to be Chelsea’s friends. I think I saw “wine country” on the way there. I referenced the movie “Sideways” to someone.

After the reading we went to Whole Foods. I got a salad. We sat outside in the heat, with Chelsea’s family, and ate the food. We went back to Oakland.


I felt impressed when I got off BART at 19th Street Mission and saw a Hispanic man on a microphone, yelling things, I think, about Jesus. There were some men standing around him, looking stoic. I felt impressed by those men. I felt impressed when I saw a person wheeling a large rack of Mexican wrestling masks across an intersection, toward a little outdoor market. I felt impressed by the masks.

I felt impressed by “826 Valencia” and had a nice conversation with someone in the little room with the aquarium. I felt impressed and good inside the shop “Needles and Pens.” I thought, sometimes, that San Francisco was bigger than Seattle, and kept calling it, to myself, “more metropolitan”, while concurrently believing that it was not “more metropolitan” than Seattle; it was weird. San Francisco seemed different than Seattle in some altered, more dirty, more real kind of context.


Meeting people for the first time that I had known only on the internet caused me to feel very emotional sometimes.


I would go to the Bay Area again, for business or pleasure.

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