I landed in Oakland around 5 P.M. last night, just in time for rush hour traffic. I didn’t really mind, though, I had time to kill and the weather was gorgeous. I crossed the San Rafael Bridge and gazed out at the turquoise waters of the Bay, the distant skyscrapers of Oakland and San Francisco shrouded in a misty haze that was almost eerily picturesque, as though I were looking at a photograph from 40 years ago.
I landed at Lakeside Park and sat down on a bench to read and relax. From across Lake Merritt one has a pleasant view of Downtown with its luxury condos and hip office buildings. I kept glancing up from my book to take in the scene. There were pelicans hanging out on the dock, geese nibbling god-knows-what on the grass, yuppie joggers cruising past the homeless people sleeping in the park.
My host for the night was my old friend Patrick, a man I lived with for three years in Seattle. He’s a musician who plays under the moniker Tabor Mountain. I absolutely insist you check out his work; it’s some of the rawest, most honest pop music out there today.
Here’s one of my favorite songs of his: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgWBqwTmvcQ
Patrick lives in a three story unit dubbed the “Hex Haus” due to the proprietor’s apparent interest in witchcraft. An array of pawn shop art pieces decorate the walls. In the back is a luscious garden with all kinds of organic fruits and vegetables. A total of eleven people live there, yet even with that many residents the rent per person is still astronomical. I couldn’t believe it when Patrick told me.
And yet this is a common theme I’ve heard from friends in Seattle and Portland as well; America’s cities are gentrifying, affordable housing is rare and all the cool people (artists, musicians, general creative types… really anyone without a cushy tech startup job) are being priced out. It’s sad to watch; the world is becoming a difficult place for people who aren’t wholeheartedly committed to capitalism. If I do this type of thing again in five years I’ll probably be avoiding America’s big cities entirely.
But regardless, it was a tremendous pleasure to catch up with Patrick and chat about times old and new. We went to a show at the Feral club Downtown where a few friends of his were playing. One of the musicians introduced a song by mentioning the changes Oakland is going through. “It’s hard to be optimistic these days,” the man began, before launching into a song built on a chorus of “A hard rain is coming.”
The next day Patrick had to go to work so I planned my own entertainment. I looked a Google Maps view of Oakland and noticed a gigantic cemetery in the suburb of Piedmont. I realized this was one thing I hadn’t done yet on the tour: visit a graveyard. Cemeteries can always guarantee at least an hour of free entertainment. One of my Seattle friends turned me on to this back in the day. It’s truly fascinating to walk through the park and stare at the headstones, knowing that behind each one is a rich and harrowing story now surviving only in vestiges of memory, if at all.
The Mountain View Cemetary is exceptionally entertaining. Situated against a high hill, the site houses some of the most famous architects of Bay Area history. At the top of the hill one is treated to a gorgeous vista of the entire East Bay; that alone is worth the trip.
Most of the headstones at Mountain View are ordinary and humble, but many are positively decadent. These are the tombs and mausoleums of the Bay’s old Barons, the powerful aristocrats who shaped the city and treated their own memorials after the manner of an Egyptian Pharoah (actually, one guy literally had a pyramid). In a macabre way it was a kind of microcosm of the wealth inequality that plagues Oakland (and America) to this day. To admire these ornate monuments of the elite elicited sentiments of both wonder and revulsion.
Naturally, wandering through a graveyard also conjured some existential thoughts as well. I generally hate how our society treats death; I think we mourn and fear death harder than we celebrate life, and I think the whole funeral industry is a waste of money and resources. But staring at these imposing, opulent headstones, I will admit to a sinister longing for such posthumous power, such an indelible statement to future generations.
Toward the end I found something that I think strikes a neat balance; a headstone that’s both elegant and functional:
I didn’t sit down on the bench, but I appreciate the idea of it. I love the thought that whoever this is wanted to provide a little bit of comfort to those they left behind.
Keep this in mind when I inevitably die during this Tour.
See y’all in L.A., ghostlings!