WEST OAKLAND STORIES

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ON THE STREET in West Oakland. 


THE CORNER: Campbell and 8th is a neighborhood hangout in front of 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 corner liquor store calls 911 a lot because of fights. But there are also a lot of the older regulars still around, as well as some kids with their moms. The Yemeni woman who lives above the store says she lets her children play outside because she knows the regulars will watch over them. As with every neighborhood corner store, the stories arer is complicated.


BOB ROSENBERG is one of a kind. He's a San Francisco-born Jewish guy, 50 now and a rebel and long-time meth user. He's almost always working - he calls himself “a workaholic” - and from what I’ve seen that’s right. He’s a good mechanic and can get a lot of junked cars to run, but mostly he scraps metal, including cars and trucks. Because of this he’s usually covered with dirt and grease, except when he rents a hotel room to clean up. Some think of him as a kind of Godfather to the lost souls and addicts of Oakland's Lower Bottoms because he's smart, honest, and a soft-touch for a loan. He also gives people part-time work and pretty good advice. But since I’ve taken these photos his life has caught up with him. The junkyard where he lived and worked has been cleared out, and Bob is somewhere, trying to figure out how to survive. The market for metal has tanked, which is a big problem for him. He used to get $400 for a junked car; now it’s just $150.


ALLIANCE METALS RECYCLING is (was) an old recycling center on the west edge of West Oakland that supported a cottage industry for the poor. It was a way for families with a car or truck and anyone with a shopping cart to get some cash and supplement poverty-level incomes. The city closed it down in August, 2016, because of neighbors complaining about some of the people who used it and a large, market-rate, condo development is going up across the street.


RIP: REST IN PEACE. There are a lot of murders in West Oakland, most of them young black men killing other young black men -- for "nothing" as most of their relatives say. A woman. An insult. A mistake. The first seven photos  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 actually a Mama's boy.” He liked to cook, play with his kids, and help out a grandmother who was in a wheelchair."  He was shot while sitting in the back seat of a van — by two men who knew him. The men have apologized to his family and are in jail, still awaiting trial. But that’s still 3 lives ruined. Most of these murders don't make the news, and the black community doesn't protest as much as I think they should, but all the lives lost are deeply mourned.


HILLARY. When I happened upon Hillary sitting on a curb, getting ready to "go out,"  she told me “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.


LOWER BOB SKATE-PARK. I happened upon this Do-it-Yourself skate-park when it was being built on a long abandoned CalTrans lot next to a freeway, a recycling plant, and Bob Rosenberg’s junkyard. Tony,  a skater and skate-park builder, set up an NGO to get $40,00 for materials, (from local skaters and Thrasher Magazine) and built the park in just five months with all-volunteer labor. In no time it became the pride of the west coast skating circuit and the only park in the East Bay for advanced as well as recreational skaters. Tony hoped the city would eventually help him out by bringing in toilets and dumpsters, but instead, after four years of almost constant use, the city is going to tear it down. DIY projects are always a problem for city officials because they are built cheaply, without regulations, permissions, and standards. But each one is different and most fill an obvious need and some cities find ways to accommodate them. Many of the impulses behind DIY projects are ones all of us applaud: determination, hard work and grass roots organization. But the issues are complicated. West Oakland councilwoman Lynette McElhanny has been against the park as soon as the city found out about it — five months after it was up and running. They were “white boys coming in,” she said, “to an old black neighborhood (the Lower Bottoms), and they showed no respect for the old-timers who have been living here for generations.” She’d have a better point, I think, if the park was built on land the old timers paid attention to or used. And a lot of kids in the Lower Bottoms are skaters.