Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Neighborhood people (and dogs)

Untitled, Oakland, July 2007.

This is my hood: my piece of sky and suburbia, 20 minutes away by rapid train from downtown San Francisco. It's a quiet neighborhood at the foot of Oakland Hills, lined with old trees and even older Arts & Crafts bungalows from the 1900s. Mine was built in 1908 and it creaks and groans like it's 100 years old. Behind us is a gorgeous Dominican seminary that is situated on manicured grounds. The week I moved into my house, Don Johnson and Cheech Marin were there filming Nash Bridges.

I enjoy taking pictures at the nearby train station because of the light, the rust-stained concrete walls, and the daily parade of commuters. Buskers perform here regularly for coins; some of them are better than others. Two Scottish bagpipers make music that is absolutely transporting, but a sax player who fancies himself avant-garde could use a lot more skill and a little less attitude. I was able to convince a very adept juggler to perform for my camera. I wanted to give him a copy of the print, but we kept missing each other.

College Avenue ("college" refers to University of California at Berkeley) is a vibrant strip of neighborhood stores, coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants. Three of the best patisseries in the Bay Area are on this strip, and at least four Michelin-starred restaurants, including "Trattoria La Siciliana," a family favorite run by two generations of regional chefs from Palermo. One of its chefs, Angelo, is also a camera enthusiast and our shared hobby has earned me bigger servings of ravioli with porcini mushrooms.

My neighborhood has a youthful bounce to it, courtesy of Berkeley students, newly married couples, and an inexplicably large number of gay women, even for the Bay Area. On weekends the sidewalks are gridlocked by baby strollers, bikes, same-sex couples hand-holding, and dogs, lots of them. The dogs are headed to Redhound, where one is welcomed by Hazel, a magnificent Rhodesian Ridgeback. On Halloween, dog owners dress up their dogs in costumes for Redhound's annual competition.

The San Francisco Chronicle published some of the pictures in this set two years ago, including the photo of the woman in the barber shop above and the Irish pub waitress on the left. The Chronicle called the set "Everyday Folks," a perfect way to describe these people that I see everyday.

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