b Papa Dog's Blog: In the Neighbourhoods

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

In the Neighbourhoods

We used to live in Temescal, and that was a very neighbourhood-y neighbourhood, or at least it tried to be. Though we never had any involvement in it ourselves, it was difficult to be unaware of the activities of various neighbourhood boosters, striving mightily to impart a sense of community history and pride. In fact, I’d lived in Temescal twice before I ever knew it was called that. This was before the Temescal boosters became active and organised and vocal. Maybe before they moved to the neighbourhood, I don’t know. Anyway, I just thought of it as “south north Oakland,” and when I first saw the banners for the “Temescal Farmer’s Market,” I assumed it was just some name a neighbourhood association had invented that summer. As it happened, that was the summer I read Martin Eden, and I was surprised to find that Temescal was mentioned prominently therein. “Goin’ to the Lotus Club dance to-night?” asks Martin Eden’s boarding-house friend, “They’re goin’ to have beer, an’ if that Temescal bunch comes, there’ll be a rough-house.” …which proves that 1) Temescal was an established neighbourhood in the late 19th century and b) “rough-house” was once a viable synonym for “fracas,” “donnybrook,” or “brouhaha,” splendid words all and now sadly out of fashion. But I digress.

Temescal’s north boundary is 51st Street, and when we bought the house we crossed over that line into a new neighbourhood. Again, it was a part of town I had never thought of as having a name. It was just north Oakland, and when we moved in that was how the real estate listings referred to it. If asked where it was, I’d say “North Oakland, kinda near Rockridge” – because Rockridge was a recognisable brand name around these parts, like Niman Ranch or Chez Panisse. Well, a funny thing happened. Shortly after we moved in, we started to notice that houses for sale in our neighbourhood showed up in the real estate listings as being in “lower Rockridge” – like there was some sudden unannounced agreement between realtors that they’d hitch their wagon to that particular star. It turned out to be just a cunning transitional move – with their foot now in the door, after a while they started dropping the “lower,” and suddenly we found ourselves living in Rockridge – a surprise, no doubt (and probably not a welcome one) to the Rockridge Community Planning Council, whose boundaries, while expansive, do not include the little triangle between Telegraph and Colby where we live.

Since adding Doggy Dog to our family nigh on three years ago, we’ve had occasion to walk pretty much every inch of both our little ersatz Rockridge and traditional Rockridge proper. They are clearly different neighbourhoods. Some of the differences are both subtle and gradual, but you can see them unfold in the course of a four-block walk if you pay enough attention. The further east you go from Telegraph, the more thickly tree-lined the streets become; the bigger the houses, and the more involved the landscaping. You become less likely to encounter discarded chicken bones from the KFC at 60th and more likely to spot Tibetan prayer flags hanging over the eaves. Once you’re past Colby, there are no bumper stickers expressing anything other than liberal humanist or Buddhist sentiments, whereas at Macauley and Howell there is one pickup with stickers reading “Jesus is the answer” and “Prayer is not a crime.”

Up the street from us right now there’s a house with a ghastly and ostentatious Christmas display – a giant Santa, a giant Frosty, and enough lights for a slots pit at the Luxor. You won’t see such a thing five blocks east, but then neither will you see what I was privileged to witness last night on Doggy Dog’s evening constitutional; the entire family, three generations’ worth, basking in the luminous glory of their porch, listening to Teddy Pendergrass. It was such a cosy and familial sight that I was almost moved to offer a Ho Ho greeting or at least say hi, but then Doggy Dog started peeing on the neighbour’s roses, so I figured I’d better move along.

In a few weeks will come the big equaliser. All these houses, big Rockridge manses in the higher elevations and little “Rockridge” bungalows like ours will have withering pine trees discarded on the sidewalk in front. Despite evidence to the contrary gathered in years past, these hardy Rockridgeans will be under the impression that the City will gather these trees the week after Ho Ho. This impression will again prove false. For weeks, the trees will decompose on the sidewalks, gradually becoming saturated with dog urine (some of it Doggy’ Dog’s) and generally creating a public nuisance. Then sometime in late January all the trees will mysteriously vanish and life will go on as ever here in the two Rockridges.

1 Comments:

Blogger Twizzle said...

Very astute observations about our n'hood, Papa Dog! This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Liked the part about the Tibetan prayer flags showing up more frequently the further east of Telegraph you go.

I want to add that another difference between our neighborhood and "Rockridge Proper" is the lack of discarded Hennessey bottles as soon as you hit the border.

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