When I first moved to Oakland, I would see groups of Black folks hanging out in front of the California Hotel. The California Hotel is a beautifully-designed historic hotel located on San Pablo Ave. Since the late 1980s, it has served as low-income housing for a largely Black clientele. The sidewalk in front of the California Hotel was a popular gathering place for residents and their friends and just about anyone else who wanted to get into some kind of impromptu conversation or transaction.
In the last few years, though, the sidewalk in front of the California Hotel has become a lot quieter. A lot of the street action that used to happen there has moved down to St. Andrews Park on the corner of San Pablo and 32nd. This is one of the smallest parks in the city of Oakland, but it’s also one of the busiest. It’s one of the most concentrated gatherings of homeless and economically marginalized Black folks in the city. Throughout the day, there is a steady stream of people from the park to the nearby convenient store and back to the park. There are also regular patrols of the area by the Oakland police.
This drawing kind of sums up the mood of a lot of people in the park. For many, hanging out there is better than being alone, but it’s difficult company in an even more difficult life. I am reminded of the the title of a 1978 short story by Lynn Schwartz. In 1985, the story would go on to become a novel of the same name. Either way though, her title, “Rough Strife,” seems to capture a lot of what I see when I drive past the park at San Pablo and 32nd.