24th and Wood

I recently wrote here on my blog about my first travels to the east side of San Francisco Bay. I shared some pix shot from the east side looking toward downtown San Francisco.

In that post, I wrote very briefly about a large homeless community that really struck a chord with me, and how for some reason, I did not stop to take pix.

I regretted that choice because this “neighborhood” has stuck in my mind. I committed to go back, if I was able, on my next trip to the area.

Today I flew back into Oakland for a meeting I had in Dixon. The limited flight schedule brought me in several hours before the meeting. So as I drove to my destination, I took about a 2 mile detour to return briefly to this area.

It took me a few minutes to find it because I had only been there once before. When I arrived, I took this picture of the main intersection at the location.

The intersection of 24th and Wood in West Oakland

As you can see above, it is at the intersection of 24th and Wood in West Oakland. However the ad hoc neighborhood/junk yard/repair shop actually is about a quarter of a mile long on Wood St.

Click on map to see more detail

As shown in the map, Wood St. is located on the west side of Oakland. This section of street stands out like a sore thumb in an industrial/quasi business area of the city. 

It fits several stereotypes. It is located by old train tracks. It is bordered by highway overpasses and on ramps for I-880. It also is very close to the shipping loading docks for the Port of Oakland.

Naturally I wanted to take some pictures. However I also do not want to be intrusive. So I took some pictures outside of the perimeter then before I left I shot a video that spans the length of the street. That video can be found below.

Because I was driving to an appointment, I did not look at any of the pictures I took on the camera.

That turned out to be a mistake.

After my meeting, while getting ready to drive back to the airport, I grabbed the camera to take a peak and the shots. To my surprise, there was nothing in the camera memory. There were no photos at all. Nada. Nothing. Zip.

Video shot going down the full length of the “neighborhood” on Wood St.

I popped out the SD cards to see if they appeared to be damaged. When I opened the cover to get the cards out I immediately saw the problem. The main card was not fully inserted. The card in slot 2 was a micro SD card holder that did not have a micro SD card inserted.

I remembered at that time that Ann borrowed the micro SD card to use while attending a series of talks so she could record them. The card was probably still in her phone. I am not sure how the card in Slot 1 was dislodged.

Regardless, I had no pictures on the camera. I did have one shot I took on my cell phone from the overpass (shown below).

An overview shot of the “neighborhood”. It dies not show the entire area.

I looked at my watch and checked my travel time to the airport and realized I had time to make it safely assuming traffic was not awful. I also checked my flight and it was delayed. I made the decision to try to swing back by on my way to the airport.

Fortunately, the drive back went quickly and I was able to swing back for another visit before getting to the airport, which is only about 6 miles away.

The view looking down Wood St.

There were many different type of living arrangements. These include RVs, cars, vans, makeshift apartments made from scraps, etc. On several of the street-side residences, there were street numbers painted on the outside. I am curious as to whether the residents or the city painted those numbers.

I wonder that because while I was there, I saw the city come up and clean out the port-a-potty restrooms and hand washing stations. (You can see one of the blue hand washing stations in the photo above toward the right hand side.) There are also some city trash cans out on the street and I presume they are serviced by the city as well.

I am quite impressed by the city’s involvement on the street and by what appears to be their support of those that have taken residence here. I can imagine that this type of co-existence would never happen in some cities.

On the other hand, I am mortified that places like this are necessary.

One of the encouraging things from my visit is that I was able to speak with a few of the residents. One gentleman came out to talk to me about photography. He showed me his production company logo and slogan that he worked on and I believe he drew it himself. He let me know that he has a Canon 7D and that he is just trying to get his feet back on the ground.

Another gentleman talked to me while he was working on someone’s car. There are several openings on the perimeter where cars can drive inside the neighborhood. He told me he makes a few dollars here and there fixing cars.

Much against they typical stereotype of homeless people, the people I spoke with appears to be in good spirits and were industrious. They were not just sitting around doing nothing all day. I am not suggesting that all the residents were that way, but heck, not all of those of us with homes, jobs and betters means are in good spirits and/or industrious.

The area is big enough that he was cycling down to talk to a friend

These are a vibrant people. There was ample evidence of lightheartedness, humor, intellect, creativity, imagination and productivity. Outside one of the residences, there was a very basic makeshift library. Apparently you can borrow and book and leave a book for others to enjoy. I will certainly bring a few books should I ever return.

A little 3-D street art brings a smile.
The library sharing system was simple yet effective.

As is frequently the case in many cities, location is everything.

While this particular location would probably not be seen as glamorous by most people, it was clear that it served a very important function. It was home for many.

24th and Wood St. is not a fancy place. However, by walking a block or two away, you see a dichotomy, a strange juxtaposition of society and socio-economic status.

While I was driving away, a few things caught me eye. First, there was a lot of art everywhere. Much of the art was very well done and had a message. The next thing that caught my eye was how quickly the community went from the challenging conditions of 24th and Wood to a thriving business district.

Within about 5 blocks of 24th and Wood, I saw an artist painting a large mural on the side of a building that easily spanned several blocks. I was curious by the painting and I was also curious about why he was painting it.

So I flipped a U-turn and talked to the artist.

This was the scene when I pulled up
Michael Che Romero poses in front of his project

He was still up on his ladder when I pulled up and parked on the street. He was totally engrossed in his work.

He stopped with the spray can and turned and noticed me. He greeted me cheerfully and climbed down the ladder.

His name is Michael Che Romero. He is the Creative Director for Vivache Designs. Be sure to check out his website for some cool artwork and videos. (I post a couple below that came from the website.)

In our conversation, I discovered that he drove up from Los Angeles to paint this piece on this large building located at Mandela Parkway and Perralta.

He said that he does a lot of projects on the streets and he approached the building manager to get permission to paint this one. He said that he had to be careful to not offend the territories of the street gangs.

The mural on Mandela Pkwy

I told him I loved the mural and that it reminded me of the artwork of Gerald Scarfe from the Pink Floyd album “The Wall.” He chuckled at that.

Updated on 9-2-19: After I sent Michael the link to this post, he sent me a link to his Instagram account and I saw this post of the finished product. I love it. I wasn’t sure where he was going with it and now that I see it, I am blown away. It is a perfect mural for many of us and those in the community in which this mural resides.

Fear no more is a message for all us.

Often times FEAR is nothing more than False Evidence Appearing Real.

– Artist Erik Wahl

What I love about Michael’s mural is that it reminds us all that we have power. We control our own lives. We have the power to give it away or to hold on to it. When we give it away, however, we make ourselves more susceptible to fear, low self-esteem and powerlessness.

I know many people in my life who simply choose not to try to succeed because they have the fear of failure. That fear has taken their power away. Or more accurately, they have given that life power away due to that fear.

Nobody has more influence over your life than you. You are in control. If you want to give it away that is within your control. If you want to keep it, that is within your control. If you to take it back after having given it away, that too is within your control.

The mural shows a person standing down the “monster” and by so doing, keeping control of his own life.

As I think about the people I met at 24th and Wood, I see many of them try to do the same thing. They are trying to take back control and hold on to as much of it as they can.

In fact, I am trying to do the same thing. While I may not be facing the exact same challenges as them, or I may not have a big ugly monster trying to get me, I certainly have plenty of challenges, obstacles and my own “fears” to deal with.

Thanks to Michael, I am reminded that I have the power to FEAR NO MORE.

The finished mural titled, “Fear No More”

Michael was super chill to talk to and was very willing to pose for a portrait. I would have loved to really worked the portrait, but I was short on time, as I had to get to the airport. I also only had two lenses with me as I was traveling light. Nonetheless, it was fun getting the few pix that I did.

Upon reflection, it is interesting to note the difference and similarities between the residents and their work at 24th and Wood and the work the Michael and others do in the very nearby communities.

There is loads of creativity, imagination, hard work and beautification going on throughout each area. The differences revolve around choices, opportunity and financial situation. None of that is said with judgment.

When each of us has the resources and time, we can be our best. And even when we don’t have the resources and time, we can still be our best and do our best. I saw ample evidence of that at 24th and Wood and throughout the immediate community.

On my first visit, I felt a little shocked, scared and sad about the situation for the 24th and Wood community. Now I look at it differently.

While I am sure there could be some changes that would make a positive difference, I do not feel sorry or sad.

They are alive, contributing, cheerful, and creative. And that is no different than the rest of their community.

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