Sunday, October 13, 2013

East Bay Boogie

After blissed out days in West Marin and a tepid Saturday night in San Francisco my photo safari took an urgent turn.  I had a serious case of the homesick blues but my look back at the East Bay of late forties hadn’t even started. Still to be found were the homes and neighborhoods of my early years in Oakland and San Leandro. Why I would want to reach back more than sixty years is a mystery.

Did I even have breakfast? Can’t say. I just know it was dark o’clock on a drowsy Sunday when I strolled through my old neighborhood, a morning after the night before Marina District, took some record shots and boogied for the Bay Bridge.

My memories of two years in Oakland and a couple more in San Leandro are really more like snapshots in my brain of punctuation points in my childhood. My only useful recollection was that we lived in a chunky apartment house on High Street in Oakland, one that I thought I’d recognize it if it was still there. I recall that we could walk to Mills College, a place that, even as a child, I knew was an enclave of privilege. And knowing our proximity to Mills gave me a landmark to use to use in my search.
Just how is a guy supposed to find the place where he lived in 1948 and, worse yet, what are the odds that an apartment house that predates World War Two even exists today? Here’s how it’s done students. Back then you had to take East 14th Street but today you take the eastbound I-580 from downtown Oakland and get off on High.  I went north into a tangle of single family houses that were generic, of indeterminate age and definitely not on my High Street. So I flipped a U-turn, dipped under the 580 and, behold, two blocks on my right stood the Sunny View Terrace. I felt shock and disbelief with dollop of melancholy. I do not have technicolor memories of High Street.
Oddly, my memories of the Sunny View are of the rear alley and it’s the alley that confirmed that this was my old home. I have no recollection of the front of the building whatsoever. It’s in the alley that I fell on my head from the plumber’s truck while I was hanging upside down on a pipe and the alley's the place where some kid named Billy punctured my eardrum with a Tootsie Roll stick. And it’s Sunny View Terrace where that my dear grandmother sent Easter eggs that did not survive two weeks of unrefrigerated transit from Ohio. Ah, the memories. 

My mother was a person of modest means, a divorced parent who was a primary school teacher, yet she was cultured and discerning and sought out the finer things. And though she was very much a prig and a prude, formative experiences like seeing The Lavender Hill Mob with Alec Guinness, attending Swan Lake in San Francisco, hearing Helen Keller speak at UC-Berkeley and having my first Caesar Salad at Larry Blake’s, first Welsh Rarebit at Townsend’s and High Tea at the City of Paris in San Francisco all sprung from her taste and erudition. I know those epiphanies foretold my journey in some way.  


Daryl A. Black said...

And the stories keep coming! WOW, Steve, your blog today is indeed full of melancholy and features with which many of us can identify. Now Fred, on the other, may have lived very closed to you. He knows the area well, having been born in Alameda.

I lived in Alameda from 1949 to 1960 on Versailles Ave. just a stones throw from the Versailles bridge into Oakland. I remember how the estuary with all of the boats was a big draw but out of bounds for me. The Ark restaurant on the Oakland side was a big night out and we would go over to the "Dad's Cookies" factory in Oakland to buy bags of fresh but broken cookies at a discount. Then, in the 60's, I rode my new Huffy 10 speed from Fremont, down East 14th Street to visit my Gran in Alameda for lunch and back home that afternoon. (Dangerous even then) I also remember there was a ketchup factory close by and when the wind was right on a summer night, there was the smell of tomatoes. The up and coming Phillis Diller lived over the back fence and Dave Brubeck was our church organist.

Steve Immel said...

That is such great stuff, Fred. Ill do the photos from now on and you write the copy. Your memories are so vivid! I remember Lake Chabot where I was attacked by bees and hiking in the hills above San Leandro before there were houses, scouting activities at the Cow Palace and so much more.

Thanks for sharing your Happy Days.

Enjoy California. Drink good wine.

Daryl A. Black said...

As I'm sharpening this old cross-cut saw out in the garage, I realize it was the Fruitvale Bridge (it pivoted in the middle to let the tugs through and was irresistible). So much of Jack London's childhood was centered there as well.

Cheers Mate....