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 liquor store does call 911 a lot because of fights. But there are a lot of the older regulars still around, as well as kids with their moms, and the Yemeni woman who lives above the liquor store says she lets her children play outside because she knows the regulars won't let anything happen 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 trucks and cars to run — even if it's just for a few weeks. He makes money by scrapping metal and recycling cars so he's usually covered with dirt and grease. Some think of him as a kind of Godfather to the lost souls and addicts of Oakland's Lower Bottoms because he's smart, gives good advice, and is a soft-touch for a temporary job or hand-out. But right now he's having to think more about himself, come up with a plan for survival after 2019. The junkyard and warehouse where he pays rent to work on cars will be torn down and covered with market-rate and low-income housing. Bob used to get $400 for a junked car, but now, with the market tanked, he gets $150. He seems to be always working hard, but he and his girlfriend are sleeping in an abandoned trailer.
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 or supplement poverty-level incomes. The city closed it down in August, 2016, over a lot of protests. A 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 it young black men killing other young black men -- for "nothing" as the old-timers say. A woman. An insult. Turf. Mistakes. 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 was shot while sitting in the back seat of a van by two men who knew him and have apologized to his family. They are going to jail for life and say it was for a mistake. Most of these murders don't make the news, and the black community doesn't protest, 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 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 in almost constant use. Oakland did get another skatepark, about twice the size, but it cost $750,000.