September 04, 2009

What's Going On?

In the hot dawn air on that ragged block of East 7th up past 23rd, someone's playing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" loudly through the open windows of a parked car, that smooth deliberate fluid propulsive drive and repeated gunshot crack reverberating off the idling trucks and half-lit cinderblock workshops and ramshackle houses, sending shivers up my spine.

One of those Oakland moments, I guess…

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July 18, 2009

Big Digger

I live in a tug spotter's paradise, with sea-going tugs, tractor tugs, barges, lighters, floating construction cranes, etc., moored on or working the Estuary a few minutes walk from my studio. It's common to see barges in from Seattle or Alaska or LA, but every now and then you see something home-ported at a place you've never heard of and wonder how the hell it got here. For the last week or so there's been a heavy construction barge and associated floating crane moored here from Evansville, Indiana, somewhere deep in the midwest. I'm still nerd enough that this sort of thing always amazes me: this barge has presumably been tugged down the Ohio and the Mississippi, across the Gulf, through the Panama Canal, then up the rough cold west coasts of Mexico and California (at least), to end up moored a block from my front door. Half makes me want to visit Evansville (the long way).

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March 21, 2009

My Oakland

All afternoon as I lounge around my studio recovering from two debilitating weeks of bronchitis and more there's a more than usually-urgent stream of sirens and rushing police cars and ambulances past my place on the freeway and along the Embarcadero, but I don't think too much of it: that's my Oakland, I guess. Ditto the helicopters.

And then the news, three OPD officers shot dead, a fourth dying, all in the same extended incident: just another day in Lovely East Oakland. I guess.

From the NYT's current take on the story, the other side of this same Oakland: "The Associated Press reported [...] that people lingered at the scene of the [...] shooting. About 20 bystanders taunted the police." Nothing to do with the police is ever simple here.

In other news, an unnamed man was shot dead here in the Fruitvale district earlier this morning. No one's too clear on the story; I doubt they ever will be (his body was found by a woman retrieving her garbage bin from the street). Last week another man was shot dead in broad daylight near Fruitvale BART in a brutal street robbery on a route I walk occasionally. Unbelievably, the shooting stats are actually somewhat better so far this year than last.

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March 01, 2009

Power To The People

Reading Peniel Joseph's "Waiting 'Til The Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America" (Henry Holt, 2006), I'm often struck by just how central Oakland was to the Black Power movement in the late 1960's and 1970's, and vice versa: you keep stumbling over sentences like "[Eldridge] Cleaver [in exile in Algeria] lashed out at [Huey] Newton [in Oakland] during a televised international conference call [...] which had been originally designed as a show of unity between Oakland and Algeria.", and there's the detritus of those years all around Oakland, the attitudes, the power structures, the odd little murals and shopfronts in West Oakland or downtown, the ghosts of Huey and Eldridge in West Oakland and Berkeley.

Oakland as it is now really doesn't always make much sense without knowing about the Panthers and the whole Black Power struggle. And it's not just the lost, broken legacy of the Panthers' social activism (as Joseph points out, in Oakland as with so many other places, Black power (lower-case "p") became a reality just as the associated cities descended into dire financial and social straights, and became identified with failure), it's the attitudes (and attitudanalising) behind so much City Hall politicking and cultural pushes.

If there's ever a place that once took — and still takes — the idea of "unity between Oakland and Algeria" (where Algeria is being used in a broader sense than just shorthand for "the Black Panther camp currently exiled in Algeria") seriously, it's Oakland. Never mind that, inevitably, Algeria's a place most Oaklanders couldn't locate on a map of the world, and that the African touches here are so confused and, well, American.

But as for many Oaklanders (and as with California at large for many decades now), my Oakland is largely Hispanic and Asian nowadays, at least on a daily basis, and that's a fact that's caused increasing resentment in Oakland's black communities. Oakland's on the verge of no longer really being a Black majority town, and we're starting to see the same sort of politics of resentment playing out in local politics in particular nasty and coded ways.

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February 02, 2009

Rudderless Oakland

An already-tainted and overwhelmed police force under FBI investigation, with the police chief suddenly resigning in a hissy fit; a huge and unexpected budget shortfall (over and above the normal recession problems) due to incompetence or fraud (no one's quite sure which just yet); continuing destructive riots and civil unrest downtown in reaction to a brutal shooting that's got almost nothing directly to do with Oakland; the predictable (and predicted) bungling of the case against the alleged assassins of Chauncey Bailey; a deepening recession that not even the Port can help us with now; a drought that's breathing hotly down our necks; allegations of rampant nepotism in the city's workforce; and an ineffectual mayor who doesn't bother to come in to his office except when he feels like it (tying up business for days on end)… at least the homicide rate is down compared to last year.

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January 08, 2009

14th and Broadway

Massed TV news helicopters in the skies over Oakland are never a good sign; especially when they're over your neighbourhood. Last night, sporadic rioting, arson, vandalism, and protests in response to the Shooting (it's increasingly being capitalized around here); tomorrow? Who knows. What I think I most worry about is what's going to happen when the officer either isn't charged or is found not guilty after trial. That won't be sporadic….

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January 04, 2009

On Home Ground

At about 2am New Year's Day, at my local BART station (Fruitvale), BART police shot and killed a passenger while he was face down on the platform in custody and being stood over by several BART police officers; he was not at that point apparently being violent, nor was he armed; the guy had been in a fight in the train. BART stonewalled about the shooting. So far, so normal.

But since it all happened in front of a BART train full of people, cell phone videos of the actual shooting and the associated mayhem have started to emerge, and dozens of witnesses have come forward saying essentially the same thing — that the victim was shot fatally in the back once by a police officer who was standing behind and above him while he was on the ground, in custody, and not being violent. You can see the mayhem yourself on YouTube without a lot of effort: this is the "semi-official" version (taken from a KTVU interview with the woman who took it)), but the more incriminating video also shown on TV news last night (where you see the actual shooting itself, with both the cop involved and the victim quite visible) doesn't appear to have made it to YouTube. BART's still stonewalling — something that's not so smart in the age of cellphone video and YouTube, maybe.

(Fruitvale BART station has a long history of violence, and shootings there aren't exactly novel, but I think what I don't understand is why there wasn't a riot at that point and why the police officers weren't simply ripped to shreds or thrown off the raised platform by the crowd…).

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December 23, 2008

Advance Notice

[Note: edited 09-01-05 to reflect new start date — JL]

A bit of advance notice that my real-life self will be having a small art photo exhibition at Kefa Coffee (a really good local cafe / coffee shop) for a month starting sometime early February; details when I know 'em (including whether or not there'll be any sort of opening reception, something that currently seems unlikely given the lack of notice and the small size of Kefa…). Today, West Jingletown; tomorrow the world…

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November 19, 2008

Jonestown (Bringing It Home)

Thirty years ago this week more than 900 people killed themselves (or were killed) in Jonestown under the orders of the Reverend Jim Jones (who died along with his victims). Like most people, I guess, before I moved to the Bay Area it seemed a fairly abstract and distant event — classic Americana, an occasion for a cynical or even ironic riff on American religious and cultural delusion, a mostly-forgotten source for the phrase "drink the Kool Aid" — but around here it's hard to escape the human dimension behind the story, and the cynicism's hard to maintain in the face of the obvious and strong local connections and scars, even thirty years down the line.

Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple were intimately connected to San Francisco, the Bay Area, and California as a whole — the Peoples Temple had its headquarters in San Francisco (well within my memory you could still see it down on Geary if you knew where to look); Jim Jones himself was a larger-than-life and often-feted presence in liberal and leftist political circles here; and relatives of the dead (many of whom came from San Francisco and Oakland) are easy to find locally (my neighbourhood contains several people who had relatives who died there). Jackie Speier, now a high-profile local congresswoman, was one of the group of US congressional representatives and journalists shot by Jones's supporters at the local airstrip while attempting to leave Jonestown after a tense fact-finding mission (most of the other members of the party she was in, including local congressman Leo Ryan, were killed at the airstrip); Jones's son (who wasn't at Jonestown at the time, despite being a then-Believer) still lives in the Bay Area, grappling well (by the sounds of things) with the personal legacy of a father he apparently hated for decades afterwards. What seemed like a typically American (or more specifically Californian) weird and distant story from the distance of London or Sydney turns out to have a human dimension — imagine that.

Nine days after Jonestown, Dan White killed Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone in City Hall, sparking off another long-running thread in local history….

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November 06, 2008

Scott Reilly At The Compound Gallery

Scott Reilly, an artist friend of mine in Oakland, is having a show at The Compound Gallery on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland November 1 through December 1. I went to the opening last Saturday — it's a small deeply-affecting set piece on his brother's death as a young child in a car accident, quite unlike any other bits of Scott's stuff I've seen over the years — and if you're local, drop in some time (The Compound is worth a visit even if you don't get to see Scott's stuff). That Man Fantastic will be playing there this Friday (November 7) at 7pm as well. You may (or may not) get to see this fake Jimmy Little there behind the cameras….

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October 24, 2008

Guerrilla Gigging

Some friends of mine playing as That Man Fantastic, live on the street in Oakland's Grandlake district. No, I'm none of the people in the video — I'm behind the camera (and in the edit suite), as always.

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October 09, 2008


For years we Estuary locals have thought it mildly funny to refer to our neighbourhood as being "on the Oakland Riviera" (well, there's water there, isn't there?). And then a few days ago a new local restaurant put up a sign in front of its parking lot with the catchphrase "On The Oakland Riviera". OK, the owner's being a little ironic, but then the first uses of "The Jingletown Arts District" were ironic, too, and look where that got us….

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August 01, 2008

In Search Of Lost Times

It's telling and (for me, at least) depressing that the ethnic and racial makeup of the residents of the large old building I live in in Jingletown has changed markedly over the past few years. Right up until about two years ago it often came pretty close to reflecting the larger surrounding Oakland neighbourhoods in that a near majority of us were African-American and Latino; the rest of us (myself included) were an assorted hodge-podge of white, Asian, Indian, and (as one neighbour put it), "Lord-knows-what". Nowadays we're almost completely white and Asian.

The change coincides almost exactly with the change in the immediate neighbourhood from being a mostly-anonymous industrial area dotted with shabby artists' studios, working lofts, the occasional large industrial plant, lots of odd small businesses, little islands of public housing, and bad karaoke bars, to being an officially-proclaimed "arts district" with new lifestyle lofts, galleries, hipster cafes, and hordes of self-righteous cyclists riding through the 'hood in their bright spandex clown suits.

It's also telling that right up until about two or three years ago the majority of the residents of my building — a place explicitly zoned live / work, where you're supposedly legally required to have a business license in order to live there — were artists, musicians, graphic designers, art restorers, etc.; nowadays they're almost all just lifestyle lofters. I think there are only three other tenants (out of nearly two dozen) besides myself who actually do anything creative in their units or who actually have businesses now. The new residents are the sort of people who will probably protest the return of what some of us fondly remember as the Jingletown Express, lumbering laboriously down Glascock Street a couple of times a week until fairly recently.

People seem to be taking the whole slightly-ludicrous Brooklyn West thing seriously: the newest two tenants are both actually straight from New York; their cars still sport the Empire State license plates, and they seem oblivious to the life around them much beyond the obvious. Plus ca change and all that, I guess. Time to move on before I'm moved….

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June 25, 2008

Signs Of The Apocalypse

Oakland Middle Harbor

The air over the Bay's a murky reddish orange, thick with the smell of burning from Northern California's eight hundred uncontained wildfires; close to home, both Cody's and De Lauer's close permanently within a week of each other.

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June 16, 2008

Carrots Scream Too

"It's hypocritical, too, to pretend that existence is not violence. It's hypocritical — the way vegetarians are hypocritical. They think they aren't harming anything, but a carrot screams too." — from "Let us hold high the banner of intercommunalism and the invincible thoughts of Huey P. Newton minister of defense and supreme commander of the Black Panther Party", in one of the interminable official Panther communiques / newsletters collected in a recent celebratory history.

You can't go far in Oakland without hitting a living ghost of Huey or the Panthers, especially if you've got more than a smattering of local historical knowledge. Even if (like the vast majority of Oaklanders nowadays) you have only a vague idea who Huey or the Panthers were, you can't miss the murals and the place names, and, above all, the surviving attitudes. And that mixture of mordant realist humour and strident turgid authoritarian self-importance, especially, still marks so much of Oakland's African-American and "Progressive" politics, serving much the same purpose it always has: to mask powerlessness and to make damn sure nothing actually gets done (or at least to ensure that nothing gets done without referral to a massive round of self-important committees). But history and demographics seem to be passing Old Oakland by, and, in common with a lot of inhabitants nowadays, my Oakland's largely Hispanic, and the politics and culture don't refer back to the golden age of the Panthers (who, to be fair, had some truly positive social programs in West Oakland, especially), but to something maybe a little sunnier and more forward-looking. And in a part of the world where identity is so often defined in terms of resentment, that's leading to a deep backlash from the older identity politicians as Oakland slowly turns from being a black-majority city to being a hispanic town. A subdued Viva la evoluciĆ³n from me, I guess.

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May 09, 2008


Death and destruction in Oakland: the SF Chron's map of homicides in Oakland, 2007 and 2008 (so far, anyway; you have to check the 2007 box to get the 2007 icons to show up as well).

As one of the news items linked to a North Oakland shooting on the map for this year puts it, "[Oakland] Police on Monday were investigating a string of weekend shootings in Oakland that killed seven men, and authorities tried to reassure residents that the city is a safe place to live and work". Riiiight. At least there was only one homicide in my immediate neighbourhood, a very recent and rather unusual once-off, luckily enough (I walk past where it happened almost every day). There hadn't been any before that since the Brinks guard shooting in 2006 (which was big news even in Oakland), then none before that for quite a while, at least on this side of the railway.

Just to (once again) put this into perspective: the area covered on that map is physically about the same size as inner Sydney.

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April 28, 2008


Getting coffee this morning I (almost literally) stumble into local Oakland council legend (and my council member), Ignacio de la Fuente. He's sitting in a corner, out of the way, with a rather dark "don't bother me now" scowl on his face while he reads a bunch of papers, so I don't bother him. But it's definitely kind of funny (or maybe just odd) seeing this very high profile and famously-controversial political animal utterly ignored in the corner of an obscure local coffee shop (and it's not like there'd be too many people within five miles who wouldn't immediately know who he was). If I didn't know better I'd say he was actually just out getting breakfast….

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April 20, 2008

Come To Your Happy Place

The wildlife of West Oakland

Local wildlife, West Oakland.

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April 02, 2008

Brooklyn West

Last Sunday's NYT had a typically lightweight and slightly twee piece on the cultural and social parallels between Brooklyn and the East Bay (especially, funnily enough, Lovely Industrial East Oakland), and even the personal connections between the two. I've long claimed that Oakland plays Newark to San Francisco's Manhattan, but Brooklyn's a more positive role model, no? The truth is, pretty much only rich kids or Boomer Grownups who got in early can afford to live productively in either Manhattan or San Francisco now (with the emphasis on "productively"), and while people looked at me a little strangely all those years ago when I first started rabbiting on about Oakland being the new art centre of the Bay Area, no one seems to think it's odd now. I don't so much feel vindicated as apprehensive: when your neighbourhood gets mentioned favourably in an NYT Styles section article, and the phrase "Arts District" gets bandied around unironically, you just know you won't be able to afford the rent in a few years' time, and you'll join the long (and already started) exodus of artists in search of new pastures further afield.

San Leandro, here I come….

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March 01, 2008

Fair Trade

I live in a neighbourhood that's now officially designated an "Arts District". This seems to mean that all the artists have been priced out of the area by an influx of galleries. There's art here alright; just not too many artists any more.

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November 06, 2007

Around Jingletown

As some of you already know, I've put up a new photo blog, "Around Jingletown", to document the Jingletown (and Oakland and Berkeley and Emeryville and …) Experience, at least in images (and yes, it's under my real name). Some of it will be familiar if you've seen my earlier Tight Sainthood Jingletown piece, but it will definitely be going a lot further than that, and a lot more obsessively, too. Have at it… (or not), but treat it gently: it's not entirely ready for prime time just yet.

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November 05, 2007

In Local News…

Leave it to The Grauniad to do a thorough, unsensationalist piece on the Chauncey Bailey killing, a piece of one of Oakland's dirtier little secrets, a long-running story that too many around here wouldn't touch with a bargepole until there was one death too many….

The talk 'round here, though, is that the OPD botched the initial interrogations and investigations badly enough that there may never be any real convictions in this or the broader cases (or, as the Grauniad piece hints, the OPD are themselves implicated in some way in all this anyway). If that happens, the revenge killings and recriminations won't be pretty, even by Oaktown's standards….

(Not sure how long the Grauniad link will be valid for…).

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November 02, 2007


Long shadows, a pale sun, the container cranes lost in the mist, the estuary like a mirror, the familiar hum and shudder of the Park Street bridge against the soles of my shoes, the line of concrete trucks outside my studio, the noise next door… home, I guess.

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October 01, 2007

Blazed and Confused

The Bridgeporte Building, East Oakland

A year after the fire, little signs of a slow regrowth, lit by the sky from another fire

(The Bridgeporte Building, 29th and Ford, Oakland; click the image above to see a larger version).

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September 23, 2007

El Cerrito Plaza

"Man", he says, looking at me unreadably from the other side of the checkstand, "you'll never know what it was like for this Oakland boy to walk Black through the Plaza the first time". He mimes the reactions: panicked phone calls to the police and other merchants, squinting shop-keepers following his stroll from behind the blinds and counters. "That's the best reason to go to Wal-Mart — they don't give a shit that I'm black, only that I spend money and I'm middle class. And they don't do none of that bullshit Berkeley 'hug a black man' crap".

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September 12, 2007

Four For The Price Of One

East Oakland

Four local East Oakland / Fruitvale / Estuary icons for the price of one: Nikko's 24 HR Cafe Shop; the friendly guy who stands guard over 880 and East 7th; the old Lucasey factory; and St Joseph's. Just the condensed glimpse I get from the walkway coming off the Park Street bridge on my way home each day, captured with a longer lens….

(Click on the image above for a much larger version).

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September 06, 2007


Early Morning, Fruitvale Bridge from Park Street Bridge

For the last two days, copper-coloured skies, a weak reddish sun, and the smell of burning hanging over everything from the bushfires both north and south. Beautiful, in its own way.

(Yesterday, early morning, Fruitvale Bridge from Park Street Bridge, Oakland Estuary).

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August 03, 2007

Chauncey Bailey

I can't claim I knew him, but like more than a few Oaklanders, I knew who he was (he was locally famous for asking hard questions and for a few run-ins over the years with the powers-that-be around here), and I'd run into him at one or more interminable downtown functions (in my case in the newly-refurbished Rotunda building a few years ago, if I remember correctly). He was gunned down in broad daylight at 7.30am yesterday on his way to work as a well-known journalist for a local paper in downtown Oakland. Unusually for Oakland, it's got all the typical hallmarks of a targeted assassination — a carefully-chosen and very public location, a masked gunman, two shots to the back of the head from close range, a pre-planned escape. The news even made the Sydney Morning Herald's web site, which is probably a first for an individual Oakland gun death (at least since the days of the Black Panthers).

The killing was Oakland's 72nd homicide of the year (there have been two more since yesterday). Once again, let's put this into perspective: this gritty little city of Oakland (quite a bit smaller than Australia's Newcastle) will probably have more murders this year than in all of Australia's largest state by population, New South Wales.

(Picture by KTVU news).

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July 11, 2007

Short Shameful Confession

I'm not a Starbucks kind of guy (except in an emergency), but there's a new Starbucks that's just opened on the edge of the Estuary about ten minutes' walk from my studio. Nothing surprising about that, given the way they've sprouted in even the roughest parts of Oaktown in the last few years, but this one's actually a pleasant place to be: it's right next to the water, in a fairly quiet spot, and you can sit in the sun at the outside tables overlooking the Estuary with your feet up watching the boats go by only a few meters away. Not bad. I may even go there again one day.

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June 01, 2007

No Respect

One of my favourite local Estuary icons, the tug "Respect", pictured above (and here), apparently keeled over and capsized in the Estuary several weeks ago, without injuring or killing anyone working on it. Few people noticed it existed even when it was visible; now there's just a couple of lighted obstruction buoys floating in the channel a few metres offshore from where it used to be moored, and (for the first few days) a tiny flurry of "respect" jokes in the local media. The owners are going to try to salvage it (again), apparently, and continue on doing what they were trying to do in the first place: clean it up and (somehow) get it up the coast to Oregon under its own steam. We shall see.

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March 31, 2007

Hog Heaven

The Hells Angels are in town, a greying sea of greasy-jacketed geezers from around the world celebrating the Oakland chapter's 50th anniversary en mass in downtown Oaktown. Oakland may not be the place where it all started, but its chapter was one of the most infamous (think "Sonny Barger", "Altamont", and "Hunter S. Thompson", at least), and, stripped of all the spin and cutesy / nostalgic / condescending "how times change" commentaries on the local evening news, the local chapter's still not exactly all sweetness and light…

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January 28, 2007

Greetings from Jingletown!

Sunset over the Estuary, Jingletown, Oakland California

Inspired by Spike's This Isn't Sydney shop, I've put my own Greetings from Jingletown! shop up at CafePress (under my real name), based (to some extent) on the original Jingletown article I did here last year. There's a bunch of slightly oddball and off-kilter postcards, greeting cards, coffee mugs, etc., for sale with themes mostly from the whole Jingletown neighbourhood thing (it's about bloody time someone gave Oaktown and the surrounding areas the recognition they deserve…).

So take a look… and note that while it's still a bit of a work in progress, you can probably see where it's going (there are also a couple of other shops in store, so to speak, for my other ventures), and there's likely to be a few more images and products added over the next few months. And if you have any requests (fridge magnets or dog shirts or whatever), let me know. And yes, there'll be a Jingletown 2008 calendar available later this year.

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December 29, 2006

Lifestyle Lofting

Yes, I live in a loft. Very passe. But I need the high ceilings and the undivided space for my photo studio and business, and I can (mostly) put up with the noise (it's jammed between a freeway and a major local road, and contains a bunch of extremely loud bands and other 24 hour noise-makers), the pollution (it's in Industrial East Oakland, and also in the middle of the cement-making capital of the Bay Area, and the steady stream of container trucks on the surrounding roads heading for the Port doesn't help, either), the isolation (you can't just walk anywhere — you have to plan things like shopping or visits to friends well ahead of time), and the inevitable taunts about living a cliche.

The loft's in an old box factory down by the Estuary. It's one of the first loft conversions in the area (late 1980's, I think), and unlike the later purpose-built lofts that have started to infest the area, it's got a certain style, and is aimed squarely at people like me who need a live / work space rather than just a trendy home (most of the units around me are inhabited by people who also run businesses or art studios in those units). The flavour of the place comes through in the commercial lease I have for my unit: among the other standard lease items, it prohibits me from having more than 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel in my unit without the owner's written approval, and no lathes, milling machines, or other heavy equipment are to be permanently installed without similar approval; on the other hand, it explictly allows me to do whatever I like to the interior, including installing new rooms, floors, etc, without notice. I've been here for years now, long enough to be considered almost an old-timer by the other tenants, and I have one of the larger spaces — not quite the sun-splashed red brick and redwood beams of the California Cliche, but near enough to be bearable.

More importantly, the location tends to discourage the inevitable lifestyle lofters — that well-intentioned plague that started in the mid-nineties and nearly ruined lofts for the rest of us by pricing us out of the market. Sometime around then people started to see lofts depicted as huge hip bright sunny spaces on TV or in movies, and simultaneously large developers started converting derelict factories or building new purpose-built buildings (a.k.a "loftominiums" and / or "instant tenements") in rougher neighbourhoods to house the hordes of people who convinced themselves that loft living is a lifestyle choice, an accessory to a certain sub-yuppie or wannabe-artist life (i.e. often enough, the sort of people who think art is a lifestyle or choice rather than a calling or compulsion...).

The lifestyle lofters we see typically can't afford to live in San Francisco (no one can), so they end up here in Oaktown, which is now Loft Central thanks to Mayor Jerry Brown (Our Beloved Leader) and people like me (but see this East Bay Express story for some of the pitfalls). The ones we get in our building typically last exactly the length of their initial lease and move out the next day (or even break their leases after a month or two), vowing never to live in a loft again, or moving on to one of the purpose-built luxury lifestyle lofts closer to Downtown or the Warehouse District, a district now almost devoid of real warehouses (or small businesses and artists, for that matter), most of them having been converted into expensive lifestyle lofts over the past few years). They move in here with little appreciation for just how difficult it can be to live in a real loft, little appreciation of just how drafty, leaky, noisy, cold, hot, dirty, and crime-ridden lofts like this are in real life, little appreciation for just how much work you have to do to make something like this a livable space (it took me nearly two years to get this place comfortable; it's still a work in progress).

The guys who moved in across the corridor from me late last year lasted less than three months, leaving in a bemused rush for a quieter, nicer, less-polluted lifestyle loft up the Embarcadero. I guess the sense of space and the high airy ceilings here just weren't enough. Especially after having had your car broken into several times during that time, or having been woken up for the fourth time the previous night by the assault stereos or mini-sideshows on the street outside, or having one of your tires punctured yet again by the industrial debris left behind by an overloaded junk truck, or having had to negotiate your way past the homeless encampment next to the garbage piled up against the freeway overcrossing every other day or so. That's (the) life, I guess.

(For me, there are two fairly reliable indicators of whether a loft is a lifestyle loft or not: firstly, the amount of unused or unusable vertical space, and secondly, whether your lease prohibits the total or large-scale rearrangement of the loft's internal layout and setup. Clearly you need vertical space (at least 4 metres) for a working loft — for lighting, for studio backdrops, for those large pieces you're working on, for storage, etc. — but if the loft is more like an atrium, with lots of vertical space you can't conceivably use or that's just sitting there with no intention of being used, then it's probably a lifestyle loft, more concerned with light and "space" than with working space. Similarly, if you can't just decide one day to rip up the existing internal walls, or put in some new walls, or take down that awful-looking long wide ledge the previous tennants built half-way up the side wall (what were they thinking?), then it's a lifestyle loft. Ideally, you start with a loft that's just an undivided and unadorned space, and make it into what you want it to be, with explicit permission in the lease to do whatever you want — lifestyle lofts, on the other hand, usually come pre-arranged with nice domestic layouts (rooms, stairways, alcoves, etc.), and any attempt to change the layout non-trivially brings the landlord (or community association) down on you like a ton of bricks. Another very telling sign is the flooring: like many working lofts around here, my floor is just a huge grey-painted deep flat concrete slab that extends under the entire factory; you can do whatever the hell you like with it, including bolting heavy equipment to it or moving gear around on it, without fear of damaging the floor or causing structural problems (and the slab in my place tends to moderate temperatures in both summer and winter, which is a plus). Lifestyle lofts, on the other hand, typically have nicely-polished hardwood floors that you can't do anything with or on without worrying about scratches or having that heavy lighting stand buckle the floor).

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