Sunday, February 7, 2010
Cafe Sidamo and the Changing Neighborhood
I took my coffee at cafe Sidamo this morning. It's my local Ethiopian coffee shop. As you might know, I normally roast my own and stay at home, but I love to support this local immigrant owned cafe. Plus, the owner hand roasts all the coffee, and she's just about the nicest person I've ever met. Lately I've been on a honey ginger coffee kick. It's nothing fancy: just a strong cup of had roasted Ethiopian coffee, with the addition of honey and ginger. It's not my idea of an everyday cup, but it provides a nice sweet and spicy alternative.
The other week, upon arriving and making my order, a young black woman asked me where I was from and if I lived in the neighborhood. She was very interested as she was born and raised in Oakland and was only back from Brooklyn for a visit. We had a brief, but enlightening conversation about Oakland. In her words, not mine, this place used to be "ho row". A place I wouldn't have wanted to be about five years ago. It's not currently the best neighborhood, but I feel like I've seen a change in the last year or so. This doesn't mean I don't hear gunshots, see drug deals, or see strange vehicles parked in front of my house at odd hours. The woman agreed that while there's still a ways to go, it is changing in both good and devastating ways. I decided to just lay it out there and say what we were both thinking. I said something stupid about doing my part in the gentrification (nervous laughter).
The night before at the liquor store a woman was buying a tall can of 211. If you're not familiar, it's one of the more wretched malt liquors running at about eight percent alcohol and being rather cheap in terms of bang fer yer buck. As she was making her purchase she tried to sell us a bicycle light for two dollars. She didn't have the bicycle. When we said no thank-you she asked for a quarter. On the way out a man offered us a "brand new in the box" set of wireless headphones. We didn't want them and not because they looked far from new even in the weathered box.
A couple nights later as I was taking my friend to the BART we were accosted by a couple who wanted a dollar. Actually, the young man got very close to me and yelled, "Give me a dollar!!" I had left my wallet at home, and my friend had his Bart card to get him to his destination with no cash on hand. Upon telling them that we didn't have a dollar, it got kind of ugly. It wasn't violent, but it was rather confrontational. The guy wouldn't leave me alone and yelling bullshit when I was showed him that I had no wallet, and thus no money. Then he told me "No wonder you motherfuckers all get robbed." It was pretty obvious who us motherfuckers were. When he realized that I wasn't lying, he tried to explain to me that I wasn't in his predicament, that I couldn't possibly understand, and that I should just go home and put my feet up.
I don't like to be bullied and it is disconcerting to not feel safe a block from my house. I'm not going to excuse this, but it makes some sense that I might be a target. Let's just get this out of the way: I'm white. This is a predominantly black neighborhood and things are changing. In Oakland, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, there is still a lot of racial tension. My presence in a formerly no go neighborhood might be troubling to some. Displacement of communities of color is a huge problem here and elsewhere in America, so it is understandable that my very presence might be looked as a bad sign of things to come.
3624 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609