WEST OAKLAND STORIES

Click thumbnails for full size.


ON THE STREET in West Oakland. 


THE CORNER: Campbell and 8th  is a neighborhood hangout around a Liquor Store in West Oakland's Lower Bottoms, catty-corner to one of the low-income housing developments built in the l960s. Most everyone says it's a bad corner, and the Yemeni man who runs the store calls 911 a lot because of fights, but the Yemeni woman who lives above the store says she's never had any kind of trouble. She lets her children play outside because she knows the regulars won't let anything to them.


BOB ROSENBERG is one of a kind. He's a San Francisco-born Jewish guy, 50 now, and a long-time meth user. He's also a good old-car mechanic who can get a lot of junked cars or trucks to run — even if it's just for a few weeks. He makes money by scrapping metal and recycling cars and trucks so he's usually covered with grease and dirt. You could call him a kind of Godfather to the lost souls and addicts of Oakland's Lower Bottoms, but right now he's just trying to just survive. He used to get $400 for a junked car and now he gets $150. The junkyard and warehouse where he works and pays rent is going to be torn down in 2019. He's broke and getting old and it's getting harder and harder to live his life as a rebel.                                                                          


ALLIANCE METALS RECYCLING is (was) an old recycling center on the edge of West Oakland that supported a cottage industry for the poor. It was a way for families with a car or truck to supplement poverty-level incomes, and for homeless people with a shopping cart to work hard for a little cash. The city closed it down in August, 2016, over a lot of protests, and a  market-rate condo development is now going up across the street.


RIP: REST IN PEACE. There are a lot of murders in West Oakland, most of it black men killing other black men -- for "nothing" as the old-timers say. A woman. An insult. Turf. Mistakes. The first seven photos here were taken at a “Repast" (the party after a funeral) for Donald Washington,  a 21-year-old man who had three kids, two baby mamas and a lot of people who loved him. His grandmother says he was never in a gang and calls him a "sweetheart," "a Mama's boy."   He was shot while sitting in the backseat of a van -- by mistake. The two men who did it knew him and have apologized to his family. Most of these murders in West Oakland don't make the news, but the lives lost are always deeply mourned.


HILLARY. When I happened upon Hillary sitting on a curb, getting ready to "go out,"  she told me twice: I am doing this for myself."  Her wife was sitting across the street (you can see her in the distant group of woman).  When I saw Hillary's shoulders I asked if she was trans, and she said, "No, I'm all woman" and flashed me a glimpse of what seemed to be a vagina though not exactly in the right place.


DIY SKATE-PARK. I happened upon this Do-it-Yourself skate-park when it was being built on a long abandoned lot next to a freeway, a recycling plant, and a junkyard. Tony,  a skater and skate-park builder, set up an NGO to get $40,00 for materials, (most from local skaters and Thrasher Magazine) and built the park in just five months with volunteer labor. He had hoped the city would eventually  bring in some toilets and dumpsters, but that hasn't happened; West Oakland councilwoman Lynette McElhanny still wants the park torn down. She says it was an insult to the long-time black residents of the Lower Bottoms who weren't consulted before it was built. It's been four years now and the park is getting better and better and is in almost constant use. Oakland did get another skatepark, about twice the size, but it cost $750,000.