I decided to try Oakland. There was a house I was willing to consider listed for 850k—which seemed like a lot of money, especially for having to leave the city, but I needed to feel I was exploring all my options.
I rode BART under the bay and when I got to the house I stopped out front with mixed emotions. I was relieved that it was none of the other buildings on the block—the burned out shack or the pile of peeling paint with rotting wood underneath—yet also depressed that even though it was a nice enough looking little home, it was, in the end, all I would get for a million dollars—and that was if I could even come up with a million dollars. Anyway, I thought, at least it has a driveway.
Still, I didn’t go in. I just stayed on the sidewalk. As with every other house I’d seen, hungry buyers were swarming every crevice, acting as if they already owned the place and that everyone else who had come to look was just in their way.
“Why you even want to live in this neighborhood?” A deep, melodic voice said. And I turned to see an older, dark-skinned man with a trim grey beard sidling up next to me. He appeared to be in his late sixties and wore suit pants with clean creases and a tucked in button down shirt. Someone yelled from the porch. “Look out! I think he has a gun.” And the man shook his head and snorted a little. He and I were just standing there on the sidewalk, side by side, our arms crossed, watching the scene. “You can leave your hoodie at home,” he said to me. “But people still want to shoot.”
“I’m just trying to find a place to live,” I said.
“Being pushed out of the city, huh?”
I said yes as we watched a beefy guy with a baby strapped to his chest ‘accidentally’ staple his bank records to the house door.
“What gets me,” the man said, “is how you complain about the landlords forcing you out, then come over here thinking you can just move right in.”
I turned to look at him. He stayed looking at the house. These weren’t easy subjects to broach, economics and race. I was a middle class white guy. Pretty much anything I had to say would be wrong.
Just then a helicopter flew overhead. One of those service birds that the forest service uses to drop water on fires, trailing what looked like an enormous boulder underneath. I was trying to understand how a chopper could even lift something that big let alone keep aloft when suddenly the boulder dropped.
We barely had time to blink before it hit. The wave rippled through the ground as if someone had tossed a cinder block in a still pond. It lifted the man and me and carried us further inland, toward those last stops on the BART line that you see on the map but never visit. I’d fallen on my butt and was struggling not to be thrown completely, but the man was still standing, leaning forward with a hand cupped above his eyes, holding steady like a sea captain heading into a familiar storm.
GO HERE to view all the pieces in this series in chronological order.