For months I have been bragging to friends about what a great place to live Alameda is. Not quite a suburb or an urban area, the place is definitely unique. Every year more so. Once it housed a naval base, some naval families and dockworkers, and a small affluent community. Growing up a short distance away in San Leandro, for many years I knew of Alameda as a white line city, where the very presence of a person of color brought police to escort you to the bridge or tunnel. That was perhaps a basically accurate, if exaggerated point of view. But when I moved here I found that the city had become incredibly diverse; not just racially, but economically.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many Victorian mansions in one city, but at the same time, the island city is dotted with low-rent apartment complexes and on the outlying areas of the island are quite a few working class neighborhoods, where home ownership has most likely been passed down on family lines. Alameda has a great school system, and its size means that all of the people who live in the neighborhoods and homes just described attend the same schools. This is probably one of the few places in the East Bay where race and class are not a very important determinant for getting a good public education. Young people here are what anyone would consider normal–neither the pampered and arrogant progeny of the Oakland Hills and Berkeley or the neglected and angry kids of that area’s ubiquitous ghettos.
I like living here. My apartment is right next to Washington Park–a beautiful tranquil place, abutting Alameda Beach and the shoreline. There is a hole in the fence separating the apartment from the park, and my partner and I usually duck through there with our dog Cecil. One of my secret pleasures is to take Cecil out late at night into the dark and expansive park and letting him run free. When the moon is full, the light glistens off the water and you can make out Great Herons and other birds picking their way across the mud flats.
I am constantly surprised at how good I have it here–a working class guy, living the life of a dot-commer, with my own personal beach and park grounds, with beautiful neighbors, and most importantly, without the class and race apartheid that seems to infect all of the other urban areas I have lived in my adult life. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where at least one person wasn’t murdered within 100 yards of my house or where the walk home from work didn’t involved casting my eyes away from some soul-rending human tragedy–New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Ramallah, Barcelona and even San Leandro. More importantly, living here has changed my view about people. Nearly two decades of living in the crappiest neighborhoods the world has to offer had left me feeling quite pessimistic about humanity. Alameda is not perfect, of course, but it does speak volumes of how different a city can be where there is at least a marginal leveling of the playing field.
That’s all changed now. Last night, on Halloween in Washington Park, a 15 year old girl was murdered in a failed hold up. Reading the Chronicle this morning, I want to keep things in perspective. I find myself scanning the article for good signs, reasons to not have to change the way I think about this place, to not have to change the way I do things, so that I can still take Cecil out at night into the park, so that I don’t have to worry about my girlfriend walking through there after dark. From the description, it seems that the assailant was himself a teen. Perhaps, he didn’t mean to shoot her; he did fire five times in the air. It was only the last shot that struck and killed her. Maybe it was just the anomaly of Halloween. This is after all, Alameda’s first homicide this year and for nearly two years, that number was zero. And maybe, like all good things, the promise of Alameda’s sanctuary is coming to an end.
I am overcome by unwanted feelings. I find myself repulsed by the fact that I am relieved that the victim was Asian and the child of immigrants. Because if it had been a white person, I believe, in my deepest soul, there would be curfews, there would be red lining, things would change over night. I’m sure I’m wrong about all that. That’s just my inner racist talking. The same racist that also thought “can’t they just stick to fucking up Oakland?”.
I think about all the money our country wastes on homeland security, and how many more people have been killed in this way than the number in 9-11; except by ones and twos, slowly like cells lost to cancer. No wonder they prefer fighting terrorists. Terrorists, at least, make sense.
Still, I don’t know what to believe or how to feel, only that I loved living here yesterday.