I feel like Oakland might be becoming the new Berkeley.
Maybe it’s the guy in the Grateful Dead T-shirt I saw jogging around Lake Merritt, or the protesters banging bongo drums while clad in purple on Piedmont Avenue. It certainly may also have been due to games of pick-up soccer on any stretch of grass that isn’t a hill, or the boot camps that keep popping up rose gardens and cemeteries. Or perhaps it’s the hipsters on their bicycles, all the STOP signs that have been graffiti-ified with “Driving” underneath the original content, the green movement that has swept the young adult population, or the hope of bringing back some love for local businesses.
The point about running I want to make is that runners are noticers. While we may have earbuds safely attached to our ears, it does not mean our eyes are not open to the people, cars, and activity around us. We’re listening to Explosions in the Sky or The 21st Century and daily watching the way the community is being shaped. We’re the first to notice when a sidewalk has been torn apart, or a new piece of road has been paved.
I think this is why I love running through cities, if not also for the mental relief and physical nature. There is also a very social reality that stems from simply taking your feet to the streets. On a trail you will see nature at its finest, but you won’t see solutions to problems, neighborhoods like Uptown coming alive, hear a bass clarinetist practicing in the park, or just the sorts of people that are your neighbors.
Runners know everyone, if not by name, by face. I know the ice-cream men who walk the park, the people I call “Oakland Fitness Club” who run the stairs at dusk, the possibly homeless guy who writes in chalk and hangs out in the same spot by the lake every day with his bike, always dressed in sunglass and tall boots like he might go fly-fishing on a whim. I even know the guys that hang out down the street from my apartment, who after work kick back with beers on the sidewalk and who always look like they’re having fun together, and the doormen and valet parking patrols to all the local restaurants.
It’s nice, this community I have without ever meaning to have made one.