My recent Oakland mini-vacation: Getting back to "There"

By Jane Stillwater
Monday July 18, 2011 - 12:40:00 PM
The Washington Inn is quaint, centrally located and affordable.
Jane Stillwater
The Washington Inn is quaint, centrally located and affordable.
Jane Stillwater
The Legendary Palace
Jane Stillwater
The Legendary Palace
The Geronimo Pratt Memorial in DeFremary Park
Jane Stillwater
The Geronimo Pratt Memorial in DeFremary Park

I used to be able to travel the world on the cheap by squeezing all my pennies until the eagle screamed, searching for discount airfares and deals, making various work-for-travel arrangements and embedding with the military. But not any more. Not since the economy tanked and the price of gasoline went up. Unless I win the lottery bigtime pretty soon, these former travel options are pretty much out. Now I have to do my traveling much closer to home. 

And you can't get much closer to Berkeley than Oakland. 

"Oakland?" you might say. "Oakland? Didn't Gertrude Stein already establish that there is no 'There' there?" Well, I'm thinking that perhaps things may have changed since 1932. So I set out to prove Gertrude Stein wrong. 

Plus if I can no longer afford to jet off to Paris or Baghdad or Buenos Aires any more, then Oakland will just have to do. 

Plus you don't have to spend multiple hours in the sky and waiting around airports to get to Oakland. You can get there from Berkeley in less than 15 minutes by subway. 

The first step in my plan to tour Oakland was to find a hotel. Bingo! The Washington Inn was quaint, centrally located and affordable. They gave me the senior rate. They had one of those lovely old-fashioned hand-carved hardwood bars right there in the lobby. "This hotel was built in 1913," said the barkeep. But the rooms were modern and clean and the location was perfect. I checked in. They had wi-fi. 

"Where's a good place to eat?" I asked the bartender while admiring his bar.  

"Breads of India and Le Cheval are right down the street. And we're around the corner from all kinds of foodie destinations such as the Housewives' Market, Old Town Oakland, Jack London Square...." 

I ended up eating in nearby Chinatown, at the Legendary Palace -- which was having a wedding banquet upstairs, thus allowing me a bird's-eye view of the wedding party and all the guests as they came in, dressed to the nines. 

Then there was the MOCHA children's museum a block away from the Washington Inn and the Oakland Museum within walking distance and the Convention Center across the street and the Tribune building two blocks to the north and the federal building complex two blocks west and Jack London Square with its view of the water and Amtrak station and Everett & Jones Barbecue six blocks to the south and, three blocks away, a place in Chinatown called "Angel Feet" that does reflexology. 

And there's a new free shuttle bus that makes a loop from the downtown to Jack London Square to Lake Merritt to Chinatown and then back to my hotel.  

So I wandered around all afternoon and evening and then went back to the hotel and watched HBO and slept and had leftover chow fun for breakfast and wandered around some more and it really did feel like I was on vacation. 

"Are you going to the Geronimo Pratt memorial?" someone stopped to ask me. "In DeFremary Park this afternoon?" I'm there! Pratt was one of the first victims framed by the infamous CONINTELPRO during the 1960s. Our government money in action. Pratt spent 27 years in prison before he was proved innocent, seven of those years in solitary confinement. His only crime was being a Black Panther. 

Since I used to do occasional volunteer jobs at the Berkeley Black Panther headquarters on south Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley back in 1968 and had gone to visit Huey Newton in jail and been to his trial, I just had to do this. So I street-hiked over to 18th Street and Adeline, expecting the worst -- bitter African-Americans who had been given yet another bad deal by the powers that be and wanted revenge. But there was none of that! This memorial was a happy celebration of the life of one brave man who had stood up and fought for justice against all odds. 

The memorial was attended by a whole bunch of people who had known Black Panthers or had been members of the Black Panther Party back in the day -- and they were all just really glad to see me, glad that I came. A bunch of us sat out under the park's big old shade trees and reminisced about injustice in the old days -- and injustice now. 

Then someone handed me a flier about the current Pelican Bay prison hunger strike. "Conditions there are bad. Prisoners are tired of being treated like animals and are dead serious about demanding reform. They plan to strike until death if need be. Please spread the word." Back in the 1960s and 1970s we had injustices at Soledad and Attica prisons. And now we've got injustices at Pelican Bay. 

Plus I hear that they are starting CONINTELPRO up again. 

Then I jumped on AC Transit's No. 26 bus, transferred to the F, and came back home to Berkeley. It was a perfect mini-vacation -- and all for less than one hundred bucks. 

I had a great time, got away from home, didn't spend much money, ate well, wallowed in multi-culturalism and nostalgia, came home inspired and refreshed -- and discovered that there actually is a "There" over in Oakland these days. 

Next time I may take a mini-vacation to San Francisco. Or even to Berkeley. Who needs Paris or Baghdad?