Questioning Urbanity

Yes, it does seem to be the night of blog posts here. It’s feast or famine, folks. I’m also awake at 12:30 AM having had coffee at 9:00 PM.

Why did I have coffee so late? Well, I left my work at Mozilla a little after 6:30 this evening. This is my normal schedule when I’m working from the mothaship. One arriving home a bit after 7:30, I found God’s own posse, the Oakland Police Department, blocking the entrance to my one way street from the arterial with roughly four police cars and more than a few officers.

“Alright, that’s unusual but ok” was my response. I went around the block, figuring I’d park around the corner from my house at the other end of our street. We’re only three houses down from the end (and one house in from Berkeley). I came around to the other side to find the Berkeley PD blocking that end. There were fewer officers there but they did have the advantage of carrying fully automatic carbines. There is nothing like watching cops loading their automatic weapons to make you want to move along…

I parked and wandered over. “What’s up?”, I asked. “Oh, there’s been a shooting. The shooter is still around somewhere and we’re searching for him”, the officer replied. Hmm… “Down the street in the apartments here?” “Yeah, I think so.”

It then turned out that they had only arrived ten minutes before and, no, even though we could see the front door of my house from where they were standing in the intersection, I was not allowed to walk down the block three houses to my porch. So, I waited…and waited… and got a burger and came back… and waited… eventually, I went to the local Border’s, which had a coffee shop and a source of books (having strangely gone to work without reading material). Eventually, when I came home for the last time around 10:00 PM, I managed to convince the new cops guarding the Berkeley side that it would be nice to be allowed into my own home tonight. For all that I know, they are all still out there now, looking for someone with a gun and an obvious willingness to use it.

The whole thing kind of makes me wonder about my neighborhood and living in the Bay Area in general. In the last place we had a house near Seattle, something like this never happened in the course of the three years we had the place. In fact, in that entire time, I don’t think I ever saw the police stop anywhere in my neighborhood except maybe to tell people to turn their music down at a party. Here, I get a daily RSS feed from the Oakland Crimespotting website to keep an eye on the crime in my neighborhood. Hookers get busted all of the time two blocks from my place.

This is hardly the first time I’ve wondered to myself, “What the hell are you doing living here?” It isn’t Oakland either. Much of the Bay Area strikes me as an urban wasteland of blight and ignorance interspersed with over-the-top wealth. This is one of the richest areas of California, which is one of the richest places on Earth. In spite of that, basic repairs and social services go underfunded or ignored. Try visiting a city park in most of San Francisco or the East Bay if you want to see where money isn’t being spent. You get the richest of the rich living in San Francisco, parts of Oakland and Berkeley, or down in Silicon Valley, and then you have these large swaths of ghetto or near-ghetto. There are a lot of homeless people here and there that people like to pretend not to see. Beyond these neighborhoods, there are all of the in-between areas that are neither super poor or well to do, like my neighborhood.

I think I was pretty spoiled living in Seattle for most of my life. The worst neighborhood in the Seattle area doesn’t hold a candle to anything around here. Most people seem pretty resigned or oblivious to it so maybe it is just me.

All of this being said, we don’t plan to move again any time soon, especially if R gets into the school program that she is looking at currently. It just makes me miss the quiet and relaxed places I used to live, even the ones that I thought we kind of iffy at the time.