Tag Archives: Oakland

Sunshine and M&Ms.




As life in the Bay Area gets increasingly more expensive and hectic, I try to frequently remind myself how lucky I am to be here. In this case, three random photos taken on a Tuesday made all the difference. Now let’s see what Wednesday brings.

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When I was nineteen I dropped out of school, sold what little stuff I had and moved to California to start an illustrious career as a barista. I was broke, lonely and lost. I was also free. No friends. No family. No obligations—except getting to work at 6 AM each day to open the coffee shop.

I took my job seriously. It was all I really had going on. I liked being there among the other recent California transplants and art students. They were slightly off and so was I. Life was just as it should be at such a young age.

I made minimum wage but I really worked for tips. I was amazed at the simple equation—I was friendly to people and they’d toss money in the jar. There was one regular in particular that would stop in early, order a small coffee to go and leave me a dollar—roughly a 95% tip for handing him a paper cup and telling him to have a good day.

Memories of my life twenty years ago came flooding back this morning when I stopped by a small coffee stand on my way to work. The ladies running  things were welcoming but not over the top. I ordered a simple cup of coffee, paid with cash and without thinking twice tossed a dollar in the tip jar. Smiling as I walked away, I felt good about life, the process of growing up and the fact that I had a dollar to spare for a kid that’s probably broke, lost and lonely.

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Backyard bouquet.

My Midwestern upbringing taught me that counting on the beauty of outdoor plants can be a forecast for disappointment. With surprise snowstorms as late as May and the possibility of 100-degree temps in early April, flowers may pop but they rarely stick around for long.

So you can imagine my shock when the wild vegetation that’s overtaken our Oakland quarter-acre produced roses. Lots and lots of roses. Here are a few snapshots. While they’re nothing special in terms of photography, they’re meant to be a bright spot in bad news stream that’s dominated most computer screens for the last few months. Use accordingly.


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Subject to interpretation.

Smart phones can be the great equalizer among a wide range of age groups. As long as you’re spry enough to scroll, humans from 3 to 93 can stay connected to a world of digital happiness.

Best case scenario? People from all walks of life have an opportunity can share ideas and cross paths.

Worst case? Lack of hipness leads to an awkward situation. Which is essentially how a Lyft ride went for me last week.

We were on our way to a live show. On a Monday. Balcony seats and earplugs aside, we were ready to rock out like a couple of twenty-somethings. We got in the car and the small talk began.

“Where you guys headed?” asked the Lyft driver.

“We’re gonna go see a band,” I responded, assuming he’d probably never heard of the headliner.

“I love music, but I’m mostly into oldies…” he trailed off with a hint of shyness in his voice.

Surprised by the combination of a young guy and the unexpected genre, I responded enthusiastically. “Right on, man. Me, too. I’m a big Elvis fan. Carl Perkins? Chuck Berry? Even stuff like the Everly Brothers and Patsy Cline. Wow! So cool.”

There was a long pause. As if the poor guy was suddenly deprived of oxygen.

“Oh, well, I didn’t mean oldies like that, I meant like Prince and Michael Jackson…those oldies.”

No one in the car said much after that. Trying to back track and establish any common ground at that point seemed like more work than it was worth for momentary bond. A few days later, I celebrated my 39th with a little Elvis on the turntable. Some true oldies for a guy who’s almost old enough to know the difference, I thought about the kid driving the car and adding some Prince to my vinyl collection.

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The kindness of strangers.

When you have an unpredictable dog in your life, counting on the generosity of others becomes standard operating procedure. Even while that dog may be attempting to hump, playfully bite or dominate the generous stranger’s well-behaved canine. It’s a ritual I know well with Woody the black lab. Contrary to his incredibly sweet appearance on Instagram, he is an animal in the most primal sense.

This all came to a head last week on an early-morning walk. The timing was premeditated—my hope being that we’d avoid other dogs and people. But alas we ran into one of each just as two tennis balls went flying through the air. A situation I didn’t fully comprehend until it was too late, I helplessly watched as Woody went bounding toward the unsuspecting dog and its toys.

Those of you who know Woody’s history, know his taste for consuming objects—especially crushable, edible tennis balls. The routine is frustrating and predictable. He steals the ball and runs in circles until he can get it down his throat. Naturally, he won’t come anywhere near me during the process.

But I was lucky on this particular day. The other dog owner took an interest in the situation (and the possibility of getting her ball back). I talked her through the process of sneaking up on Woody, speaking to him in a soft voice and then grabbing his collar with a firm hand. She executed the moves beautifully and within seconds the glob of mucous-covered, pre-digested ball was in my hand, rather than Woody’s stomach. A $5,000 savings!

I always appreciate the courage of others and especially feel lucky when those people are random strangers. Sometimes things work out. Now I only hope I encounter this generous person again some day so I can express my gratitude and offer to replace the ill-fated ball that nearly resulted in yet another very expensive trip to the vet.

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Three-tree holiday.

Life comes in threes. It’s the key to comedic timing, nice design and alarms during raging infernos. It’s the number that confirms a real case for or against something (two examples could be coincidental, three is a situation). It also just happens to be the number of Christmas trees we had this year.

The first tree was purchased too soon. I’ll admit it. But while many get irritated when Christmas music starts playing in department stores, coffee shops and public plazas, I get anxious and excited. Time moves fast and the earlier corporate holiday initiatives start to take hold, the sooner I can justify decorations and presents. Or buying a live tree from a small lot under the 580 freeway. The poor shrub barely lasted three weeks—by the end of which its branches were drooping under the weight of the ornaments and it began to look more like a fire hazard in the living room than a nostalgic ode to the most wonderful time of year.Tree One.jpgThe second was a silver creation I’ve had since college. Guessing it’s from the 50s or early 60s, this metallic beauty generally comes out mid-December as a backup tree. Often jammed in a backroom or stuck on a sun porch, it’s quick and easy to set up and often leaves me wondering why I ever feel compelled to buy one that requires water. I still can’t explain. This year, the silver tree was unveiled on a warm California afternoon and then hastily placed near the front door later that same day. It stood in the brown shadow of the first tree for a week with only a few ornaments on its branches. This antique epitomizes the plastic, “Las Vegas” version of Christmas I like to celebrate and therefore ranks high among my most prized possessions.Tree Two.jpgThe third and final tree was a highly discounted beast purchased on the eve of Christmas eve to replace tree number one. Missing enough branches to prevent it from having a good side and slightly crooked at the top, there was something about it that caught my eye. It was also extremely fresh—which gave me hope after watching the other quickly turn brittle and dry. Naturally, this one didn’t fit into my cheap Walgreens tree stand without a few rounds of furious stump shaving with a dull hacksaw. But as we all eventually learn, making the most of the things you love isn’t always convenient and when the third three of our three-three holiday was tweaked and trimmed, it was one of the most outstanding of my adult life.Tree Three.jpgAs you may have guessed, tree three still stands—healthy as a dead tree can be. And as discarded not-so-evergreens begin to line the sidewalks and alleyways of our lush Oakland neighborhood, I’m conflicted. I’m not ready to let the beast go just yet. After all, once the tree three is gone it’s just January and there’s nothing very festive about that.

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Still falls the rain.

It was one of those Sundays where time seems to disappear, but the afternoon never ends.

One of those Sundays meant for baking a warm sheets.

One of those wonderful Sundays you’re hesitant to acknowledge out of fear that recognition could ruin the whole thing.


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