At the end of the month, Sean Keane is moving out of his apartment of four years, a South Berkeley four-bedroom apartment known affectionately as "Ward Street D." This week, Zembla will present pieces involving or inspired by Ward Street D over the years, a final tribute to Ward Street, our first, our last, our everything.
The Difference Between Oakland and Berkeley
A few years ago, I used to visit another Ward Street D, different from my own. My friends Sonia and Sarah lived on Ward, near Telegraph, and her place was more house-like, but equally D-lightful. I spent lots of time there drinking, shooting the shit. and playing Chu Chu Rocket on an imported Japanese Sega Dreamcast. We'd barbecue with the grill right there on the sidewalk while listening to indie rock and underground hip-hop. I started listening to both Jurassic Five and Belle and Sebastian due to my visits to the alterna-D. Goddamn was I a lot cooler when I was going there.
One evening, there was a party at other D. A homeless guy came up to the group of smokers outside, and got into a war of words. The homeless man, enraged, ended up shouting, "I'm a crack dealer, and I got a machine gun!" before staggering away down the street. A wise friend opined that said crazy man reflected the fundamental difference between Berkeley (where alterna-D was located) and his home city of Oakland.
"In Berkeley," he began, "There's not really that much crime, but there's are a lot of crazy people. In Oakland, you have more poverty and disenfranchisement, but not so much the insanity. So in Berkeley, it can really freak you out if there's a guy yelling about his machine gun, because, as far as you know, he's crazy, and he might do anything."
He paused, and a firecracker exploded in the vicinity of Stuart and Ellsworth. He continued: "In Oakland, you wouldn't react as much. Maybe he is a crack dealer, maybe he even does have the machine gun, but thatt doesn't really matter if you're not buying or selling crack. He's a businessman. You interact with him in a non-crack environment, it probably won't even come up. You guys might even have a class in common at Laney College."
Our Ward Street D is in a somewhat rougher environment. We're close to Ashby BART, near the Berkeley-Oakland border, and on the west side of MLK Way, all factors that increase the hardscrabble quotient. Some local publications claim we're in the middle of a "turf war" between rival gangs. One of our neighborhood dealers was shot in the buttocks outside our apartment complex (when we asked a police officer about the shooting, he expressed confidence that the dealers would take care of it "in-house"). But we're still in Berkeley, just two blocks away from the Berkeley Mental Health Clinic, so our serving of crime comes with a dollop of crazy.
I used to ride the 15 bus line up to campus, which also picked up many patients from the Mental Health clinic. On one occasion, the driver angrily lectured a waiting passenger about not grabbbing the exterior doors before the bus had stopped. I overheard one man loudly proclaim that though he'd been prescribed anti-depressants, he still considered brandy to be his medication. A woman told me about how the multiple voices in her head weren't as bad as they could be, because they were all real people.
Still, the intersection of crime and crazy is what makes Ward Street D truly special. The phone rang at 4 am a few weeks ago. It was the next-door neighbors, the drug dealers who moved in after the old resident had beern arrested for attacking his tenants with a crutch. The neighbors were drunkenly complaining about a note that Gene had left on their van, mentioning that its alarm had gone off on consecutive evenings, and offering his help. He'd left the note weeks earlier, and the alarm had seemingly been fixed, but the neighbors were raging. After multiple hang-ups and much drunken slurring of words and challenges to Eugene's manhood, it finally emerged that they were upset that Gene had not put a date on the note.
That's the kind of etiquette you can't learn at Laney College - you've got to live it.