Monday, July 14, 2008
Oakland in My Memories
This is the way things happen when you are nineteen, with all your tomorrows ahead of you and all you have to do is just be. This is the way Oakland happened to Mirna. She was on her way to college –– her father’s wish. She left Peru for the US in the Yaravi, a ship with great passenger accommodations and a cargo of precious minerals to be delivered to the Northern neighbor.
Mirna’s travel companions included Rudy, who was returning to Oakland, California where he had lived the last five years. There were also Billy and Willy, who, like Mirna, were going to the US for the first time. Mirna’s destination in Oakland was the home of her father’s old friends, the Leiva's. They had kindly offered to put her up.
Mirna, Rudy, Billy and Willy arrived in the US at Portland aboard the Yaravi. And there they all boarded a Greyhound bus. They sat in the back seat to better view the unfolding scenery of green mountains, tree groves, luscious valleys, meadows, rivers, small towns. Symmetric, charming, romantic. Ahead, the ribbon of asphalt unfolded taking them from Oregon to California.
When they got to Oakland, it was June. It was warm and sunny all the time, a welcome surprise after cold and grey Portland. Across the bay, San Francisco was not only cold and grey but foggy.
After Mirna got situated at the Leiva's homeand, her former shipmate, Rudy, came to pick her up and show her around Oakland. Sunny Oakland was sprawled out and casual. Very few men wore suits. Women wore short sleeves or sleeveless dresses and sandals.
Mirna babysat for the Leiva's occasionally; they also invited her to waitress at their Mexican restaurant, EI Sombrero. "With your nice smile," Juanita Leiva said, "you'll earn good tips. It'll help you save for college in September." Mirna began waitressing. She had never had Mexican food.
Oakland will always be tied up with every tortilla, enchilada, and Dos Equis she served or ate in that restaurant.
Oakland will also always be tied up with the painting of a wide-brimmed, straw sombrero that a man brought to the restaurant to sell one afternoon.
Manny Leiva looked it over with his half-business, half-fun smile. Mirna
praised the painting, "A sombrero." SOMBRERO! The name of the restaurant! So Manny bought it and hung it high on the back wall. That sombrero was
the first thing you saw as you entered the place. It greeted everyone
Oakland has always been the many small stores, restaurants bus lines crisscrossing the city along 14th St.
Oakland has always been evenings of balmy weather that welcomed her on weekends when she got back from San Francisco.
Oakland has always been an enormous drugstore with a tempting perfume counter at the comer of a city block.
Oakland has always been sunshine, some days so hot that Mirna and the little girls she knew, Rose, Ophelia and Gladys, would take their brown bag lunches to Fairy Land, the Marina, or the air conditioned, magical Møntgømery Wards.
Oakland has always been Lake Temescal:
its lovely rose garden, willows, water lilies, swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, fishing, hiking and a plaque posted at the main entrance that says:
"Prior to 1868, Lake Temescal was but a creek. Along its
shores lived the Costanoan Indians, who bathed and swam in the cool water.
Franciscan missionaries named the creek 'Temescal,' a name derived
from two Aztec words: Tema (to bathe) and cali (a house). In 1868
hydraulic engineer Anthony Chabot constructed a dam to create a reservoir for
the then tiny Town of Oakland. It first opened as a recreational area
Oakland, in short, will always be, for Mirna, a time and space of mind, a very special place of being, nineteen, and full of all possibitiy.
Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer.