Ode To Oakland

On April 1, 2001, I started working in Oakland. I am in the progress of taking another job back in San Francisco a tad over one year later. Between these events, Oakland has changed from a vague notion in my mind of crack houses with a small nice area in the hills to something closer to reality. Oakland is a cool place which spending time here has enlightened me to. Partly because it is, but also partly because it holds a lot of the aspects that I like in a city. Many, even after getting to know the city, would still not like it, but it definitely is better than the common opinion of less-informed people.

First, some background. I live in San Francisco. Upon taking the Oakland job, I was sad to not be working in SF, because the commute used to be zero and I liked the atmosphere, restaurants are good, I had a nice pool to swim at lunch in, and I knew a lot of people working around the financial district. While I still prefer to be working in SF, given that I live here and enjoy the other aspects of being here, Oakland is still an enjoyable place to work.

The main source of my enjoyment in Oakland was related to eating. The biggest surprise to me was finding the excellent quality of restaurants in the downtown area and beyond. The specialty is Vietnamese, which consisted of my two favorite places, Pho 84 and Hyunh. (See food chart.) There also are tons of Korean, Chinese, OK Mexican, interesting Soul type places along with your nice sandwich shops and unique greasy dives, like Jimbo's Burger House. What makes Oakland good for lunches is it's low rent. Real estate is cheap in Oakland. While that makes for some scummy blocks with lots of abandoned building, it also allows for some great restaurants with great prices. In addition, it allows for some places to stay in business that hardly get any customers, which adds to the dining choices and diversity of foods in the city. Because the city is not as densely populated with offices, most restaurants have no wait, even when going at the peak lunch rush. A couple that are really good (like my top 2 choices) do have waits, but are pretty short and only at the peak. In SF, most restaurants in the financial district are the bland corporate type places like Briazz sandwiches or Baja Fresh or something. But in Oakland, you aren't far from some dive rib place, like Chef Edwards or great cheap dim sum, or great Mexican food across from the jail. The food in Oakland has more of an independent feel to it, just some nice people trying to make it in a tough business and they put their love into the food.

Walking around town is interesting in Oakland. Again, because of the economy here being rather slow, the classic architecture from 50+ years ago remains. Even on a sleazy block, you look up and see beautiful trimmings on the upper level, parapets, towers, and other oddities from past architectural periods. Crazy buildings like the skinny one at the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph are a treat to gaze upon from afar. Other classic structure like the Paramount and Fox Theater are nice to walk by. Suzy's Hob Nob has a great classic Coke sign still above the entrance. (Mexican place opening there, but sign remains as I write this.) Also, it's nice to not have it so crowded walking around at lunch. In SF, the streets are packed with people having lunch and running errands. Oakland is more laid back. While that sometime also means it can be depressing in Oakland with it deserted in many areas, it's less stressful not having to battle the frenzied crowds. I will say, though, that I did miss the electricity of being around the masses is SF and also SF has more special lunch events, like concerts in Justin Herman Plaza and other activities that make it fun working there, that Oakland cannot offer.

Getting to Oakland is pretty easy. It's got cheap parking vs. SF, and has BART stops. Getting to Oakland from SF or other places isn't too difficult, so when I needed to have my car there after work for some reason, it wasn't too much of a pain. And getting away at the end of the day, I was able to get up to Tahoe without being trapped by the Bay Bridge traffic, or to the Coliseum for an A's game in no time at all.

I will say that in general, the people working in Oakland are a little sad. There's more mindless drone jobs here and it is reflected in the faces of the people on the street. There is a great lacking of hot corporate chicks or slinky executive secretaries because the good ones are in SF where the pay is higher and the classier businesses require classier women. But still, there is a good crowd here. The network of food lovers in Oakland is a good one, as evidenced by the detail and volume of postings on Chowhound.com.

On the issue of bums, SF has better crazy people than Oakland. For instance, the screaming guy in front of the Hyatt and the Asian "impeach" sign guy walking around the financial district are always amusing to observe. In Oakland, it's more vagrants that sort of scare you or depress you, especially since it's more deserted in many areas when you encounter them in Oakland.

As far as weather goes, Oakland is generally a tad warmer, but pretty much same as SF, which I think is good, never too hot, usually not too freezing, though the last couple weeks the weather has been crappy for the most part.

In all, Oakland is a fine place to work. I had spent virtually no time in the city before working here, besides going to the Oakland Coliseum, which doesn't show off a great part of the city. For me, I like to walk around a lot at lunch, see interesting stuff, eat good lunches, and for that, Oakland is a good place to be. For the person who doesn't leave the block they are on, they might find there is nowhere to eat, since there are more places per sq ft. to eat in SF, due to the greater density of people working in the area. Oakland isn't as flashy of a place to work. The buildings aren't as tall, or nice, or have as good of views from their top levels. I work in a building that has no windows on two of the four sides of the building. For some, this is important, and I admit, I missed some of the classiness and prestige of working in SF. But my values hold a higher premium on the other aspects of Oakland, the quirkiness that exists as a result of it not being as economically successful as it's cross-Bay brother. I appreciate odd buildings, unique food, less frenzied atmosphere, colorful wig shops, numerous crazy hair salons, and yes, I even enjoyed the sleaze to some extent as it amused me for some reason (see Tiajuna photos, elsewhere in site). For me, Oakland is a fine alternative of a city to work in, even for a SF resident. If my job hadn't been pathetic, I could have seen myself enjoying working in Oakland for many years.

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