View Park Prep Middle School, Los Angeles

my new pad

I’ve just moved into my dorm room at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for the 5 week Teach For America Institute. I’ll be teaching a 6th Grade Reading/Composition class at View Park Prep Middle School. Once the TFA people at Institute Registration handed me the form with the name of my school and the subject, it hit me: I’m actually going to be teaching other people’s children. That feels like a really big responsibility.

Life in the dorm (I’m in McCarthy Hall) is going to be interesting — I’m not a 23-year-old like my suite mates, but I expect to survive. I have a twin bed and a nice view out the window to the northwest. I don’t know how frequently I’ll be writing here on BackToOakland but I’ll try to post something at least once a week.

In the meantime, check out my dorm room and the view from my window!`

View from my dorm room in McCarthy Hall

Sunday June 27, 2010 — Mark — Education

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The Proud Father

Home plate at Chabot

One of the benefits of being back in Oakland is that it means being near to the locations of those priceless moments of our early years as parents. I was out for a father’s day bike ride in advance of our delicious celebration later this afternoon, and I happened to pass one of those locations. I had ridden up through Rockridge, along 24 and around the College Prep school. I started home by slipping under the freeway and came to the corner of Chabot and Golden Gate, site of Chabot Field. It was on this field in the early 1990s that our younger son, Nate played on the team I coached, the Kansas City Monarchs of the North Oakland Little league, in the Junior Minor Championship game.

The Monarchs had not won a game during the regular season, but the NOLL system put everyone in the playoffs and we did manage to win a first game in the playoff round and by a series of lucky circumstances, ended up playing for the championship. If I recall, the game was tied at 0-0 when Nate came up in the bottom of the 6th. He worked the pitcher for a walk. A second batter moved Nate to third. Myles, a good friend and the father of another kid on the team, was coaching third. As he recalls the story, he had told Nate to be very conservative with attempts to score — we still had a couple of outs to work with.

Nate had other ideas. The next pitch got away from the catcher and despite Myles’ desperate plea that Nate hold at third, he streaked for home. The catcher, perhaps bewildered by this act of pure bravado, hesitated for a moment before grabbing for the ball and lunging towards Nate. There was a could of dust as Nathan executed a beautiful slide to the inside of home plate. The catcher dove. The umpire was perfectly positioned and both boys looked up eagerly for the call. “Safe,” he shouted without hesitation!

Pandemonium. The game and our season ended on that play. It was a moment I have relived often since then. Both of my sons have given me great joy and reasons to be proud, and many of those moments are tied to our life here in Oakland.

Chabot Field

Sunday June 20, 2010 — Mark — living

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Speaking of Public Art

Peter Pan Bread: For Tastier Meals

I was in Moline recently and while tooling around town I ran across a building that was being renovated. In a previous century this building had been a small neighborhood grocer. (In its new life it will be a barber shop.) What struck me as I passed was the beautiful advertisement for Peter Pan Bread. It had been covered up for at least a couple of decades, and the paint was both weathered and protected. Several windows had been cut through the old image, but from a proper viewing distance, one could imagine what it must have looked like when it was first affixed to the side of the grocery store.

Saturday June 19, 2010 — Mark — art Illinois


New Ricky's Customer Parking

New Rickey's Customer Parking

A couple of weeks ago I rode over to Uptown to check out the First Friday art show/block party. It was crowded and fun. I look forward to the next First Friday celebration I’ll be able to attend in August. (On the first friday of July I’ll be in Los Angeles for my Teach For America training institute.)

On Saturday morning after that First Friday I drove back down to the block where there seemed to be the most activity on the previous evening because I wanted to grab a picture of a sign that captured my imagination. This sign is for a business that no longer exists in the neighborhood: New Ricky’s. (There is a Ricky’s Sports Bar down near the Coliseum, but I couldn’t find any connection to an Uptown Oakland location in the era from which this sign seems to hail.) I’m guessing this might have been hung in the 1950s. The grand-daddy curator of interesting Oakland signs, Gene at Our Oakland, didn’t have a photo of this one posted on his blog, but I hope this catches his interest, and that he might help dig up the story.

UPDATE: Gene at Our Oakland did the research to figure out what this sign really says.

Saturday June 19, 2010 — Mark — art California

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Grand Stroll

Utility Box 1

My first encounter with the images that now decorate some of the utility boxes along Grand Avenue between our apartment and Whole Foods while enjoying an cup of coffee one afternoon at Farley’s East. At Farley’s there were a couple of guys hanging some posterized images on the wall. These images were the product of a collaboration between an artist (Dave, who was one of the guys hanging art at Farley’s) and students at Westlake Middle School. The project that brought the artist and the students together is CityCanvas

From the City Canvas website:

City Canvas is a grassroots project intended to foster neighborhood identity across the East Bay through community-driven public art. A collaboration of professional and seasoned teaching artists, community builders, city planners, and arts administrators, the City Canvas team was brought together by our common desire to contribute to the vibrancy of our cities. City Canvas will create opportunities for shared visioning and creation of public art in neighborhoods across Oakland and Berkeley through partnerships with city agencies, neighborhood schools, businesses, residents, and local artists.

I hope we see more projects like this popping up around here. It makes walking in the neighborhood so enjoyable.

creditsUtility Box 3

Saturday June 19, 2010 — Mark — art community

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Panther Pride!

I just heard from OUSD — I’ve been made a “contingent” offer to work Special Education as a resource teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School. This is the assignment I was hoping for. (The contingency is related to my fulfilling the requirements necessary to teach.) This is fantastic news!

Edna Brewer is about two miles from our place. It’s a perfect location for biking to work. (Also fantastic news.) The school (formerly known as McChesney Jr. High) is named for beloved Oakland educator, Edna Brewer. The school mascot is a panther. I’ve met the principal, his vice principals, the school’s administrative assistant, and one teacher — I’m very excited to join their team. At least one of my TFA buddies (Elizabeth) has also received a contingent offer to teach at Edna Brewer, so I won’t be starting out alone.

My excitement is paired with a little twinge of anticipation about how this new adventure will unfold. Will the kids respond to me in positive ways? Am I up to the challenge? The first day of school is August 30. There’s a lot of learning and preparation to be packed into the next two-and-a-half months. Wish me luck!

Monday June 14, 2010 — Mark — Education living

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Afternoon Ride: Lake Temescal

Lake Temescal

I needed a ride this afternoon and the beautiful weather was just begging for a trip to a watery location. I haven’t visited Lake Temescal since moving back to Oakland so I decided to trek up the hill for a quick visit. I punched in the location to Google Maps to see what route they’d suggest. Theirs was clearly the longer but flatter mode of attack. Since I’m feeling a little frisky I decided on a frontal attack, right up the most direct but steepest route. Ignoring Google’s suggestion I rode up Broadway, to Piedmont Ave, up the hill to 51st, then back to Broadway and finally a right turn onto Broadway Terrace. B’way Terrace is a pretty steep hill. This particular trip is about 5 miles with a vertical climb of about 500 feet. Of course that means five miles home and all of it downhill.

Temescal has a nice picnicking area at the south end of the lake and a small beach at the north end. There’s a dirt walking trail along the west bank and a paved pathway on the eastern shore. As kids we visited this park often with my parents for picnics and barbecues. During the big firestorm that swept through the hills in 1991 helicopters filled their water buckets by dipping them in the lake as they battled the inferno.

This is a perfect destination for a midweek getaway. The parking lots can fill up quickly on warm, sunny weekends.

Thursday June 3, 2010 — Mark — bikes living

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Beyond the East Bay

Bi-Rite Ice Cream

Anna and I visited Justin and Zina in San Francisco yesterday afternoon. We grabbed a bite at the tiny Delfina Pizzeria. So good. Their Napoletano pizza is a thin crust topped with a rich tomato sauce, capers, olives, and anchovies. Mmmmm. We also tried the broccoli raab pizza — to which we asked them to add a little fennel sausage. Also tasty. After lunch we crossed the street and enjoyed a scoop of fantastic ice cream from Bi-Rite creamery. Heavenly. I split my scoop between ginger ice cream and a brown sugar and ginger swirl.

Do not miss the chance to spend an afternoon in San Francisco’s Mission District when the opportunity arises. You will be a happy person.

Thursday June 3, 2010 — Mark — food living


Third Perfect Game in 2010

Bud Selig refused to officially reverse the call on what should have been the final play of yesterday’s Tigers vs. Indians game. I won’t rehash the details which are widely covered elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the commissioner of baseball is wrong.

What’s the right thing to do? Ignore Bud Selig. I’m noting here that on June 2, 2010 Armando Galarraga of the Tigers pitched a perfect game in Detroit against the Cleveland Indians. On the final out of the game, the 27th batter for the Cleveland Indians was thrown out at first base. Initially, Umpire Jim Joyce (poetic name if you think about it) called the runner safe. After the game, and after watching a replay, Joyce reversed himself. He apologized to Galarraga. That’s good enough for me. Perfect game. That is all.

That makes three perfect games this year:

  • Dallas Braden for the mighty Oakland Athletics on May 9, 2010.
  • Roy Halladay for the Phillies on May 29, 2010.
  • Armando Galarraga for the Tigers on June 2, 2010.

Thursday June 3, 2010 — Mark — news

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Oakland Coffee Trail: Remedy

Remedy Coffee on Telegraph

After several ill fated attempts I finally drank a cup of coffee at Remedy on Telegraph in Oakland. Previous visits found the place either incomplete (there was a cart on the street but I was looking for a place to relax for a while) or closed (they shut down for a few days after they initially opened for some continuing construction). It was worth the ride.

I enjoyed an Americano and a cheddar green onion scone while soaking up the atmosphere. To describe this as a hipster hive would be an understatement. there were a dozen MacBooks — one on nearly every table in the place. Most people were sitting alone working (or whatever) but there were a few tables with groups engaged in conversation. I heard a couple of people chatting about Twitter — she was explaining it to him, and helping him get his account set up.

The decor is functional chic — poured in place cement counters, simple wood work. There’s an old Pacific Bell phone booth. There were couches, armchairs, benches, high tables with stools, regular tables with chairs coffee tables, etc. — the perfect combination of places to hang-out/relax and places to work. This is a grand spot for people watching.

It’s a 20 minute ride from the house — I rode over via West Street (good bike lanes) and home via Webster (light traffic, but no marked bike lanes). A perfect spot for just the kind of morning I had in mind — reading, people watching, prepping for Teach For America Institute. I wasn’t blown away by the coffee, but it wasn’t my primary interest today. I’ll go back again and devote my attention to the beans.

All in all, Remedy is a great spot. Visit them sometime.

Remedy Coffee

Tuesday June 1, 2010 — Mark — coffee living

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Can a Freeway be Beautiful?

The Most Beautiful Urban Highway

I passed this interesting plaque on my walk up to Walden Pond Books yesterday morning. (I was going to redeem a credit — I had traded in a stack of old novels and wanted to get some books about teaching.) The plaque is kind of a head scratcher. “The Most Beautiful Urban Highway in the USA?” It seems almost a contradiction in terms. I have nothing in particular against the MacArthur freeway, but if this is an example of the “most beautiful” in the USA, well, hmmm.

Parade Magazine gave the award. It was published in 1966 and I haven’t been able to turn up the article or an image of the magazine cover yet, but I’ll keep looking.

UPDATE: Following up on VSmoothe’s suggestion I trekked down to the Oakland Library’s Newspaper and Magazine department. Two very helpful librarians (Kerstin and George) helped me zero in on the correct roll of microfilm. Kerstin searched a database the library subscribes to and found two articles in the Oakland Tribune referring to the Parade Magazine award. That gave us the date we needed and in a matter of minutes I had a printout of the cover and article from the March 5, 1967 issue of Parade. See the images below. (Click for a closer look).

The main award given by Parade actually went to a 23 mile section of Interstate 87 through the Adirondack Mountains between Lake George and Pottersville in Warren County, New York. I-87 was chosen by the panel of expert judges because it “embodies the principles of good design, beauty and utility.” Four other rural roads were honored with special mentions. The article went on to describe the MacArthur freeway:

“In addition, this year, for the first time, the judges gave a special award to an urban highway — the MacArthur Freeway in Oakland, Calif. The panel was effusive in its praise of the way this road routed through the built-up city neighborhoods and suburbs, followed the contours of the land with minimum disruption of property. They were also impressed by the colorful plantings that screened the freeway from the sections it passed through and cited it as an example for other city highways to follow.” — Parade, March 6, 1967

Parade, March 6, 1967, featuring Robert McNamaraParade Article

Thursday May 27, 2010 — Mark — history

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Riding to the Beach

Oakland's Beach

Anna was called to substitute for a prenatal education class today so I found myself with a free morning/afternoon to fill. Always eager to get out and explore our fair city on my bike, I popped open Google maps, turned on the satellite view and scanned the area around downtown Oakland for an interesting destination. I notice a small patch of green along the bay, snuggled in behind the Port of Oakland and zoomed in to see that the green patch is a little park called Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. Destination found!

I clicked on Google Map’s bike lane layer and choose a good route from our place to the park and set out. The full round trip (including little side loops in and around the park) rang up 15 miles on the bike computer. There are some long stretches of Middle Harbor Road where I pedaled past heaping piles of shipping containers and flatbed trailers stacked up in the yards next to the docks. I imagine that this is a humming place during the week. On a this cool, breezy Saturday, though, I had the road mostly to myself. On the way to the park I was pedaling directly into a stiff wind. (The ride to the park took considerably longer than the ride home — it was a struggle to keep the bike above 9 miles per hour when pedaling into the wind. On the way home I barely pedaled and easily rolled along at 13-14 mph.)

Like Union Point Park, the landscape of the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park seems relatively new. There are some picnic areas, a couple of large grassy fields (a soccer team was practicing on the field next to the beach) and, of course, the beach. The tide was out while I was visiting, so the sandy shoreline looked over a vast mudflat, but I imagine it woud be a nice place to soak up some sun on a warm summer afternoon.

Along the south side of the park you can get within a couple hundred yards of the massive cranes that load the container ships that carry goods in and out of the United States through one of the west coast’s busiest ports. It’s fascinating to sit and watch the process as the cranes gracefully pick up containers and swing them onto tall stacks on the decks of the giant ships. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: the somewhat natural landscape of the shoreline park (it’s actually sitting on a massive man made landform) butted up against a industrial landscape of the container shipping facilities. From where I stood to watch the ship being loaded I could turn 180 degrees and I was staring at the San Francisco skyline across the bay.

I hope to return to the park soon. The wind, sun, and the salty air were a tonic.

Container ShipGreen Container CraneContainer CraneMiddle Harbor Shoreline ParkPiles of containersLight on corner of observation tower

Saturday May 22, 2010 — Mark — bikes living

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Biking in Oakland

I ride a bike around town on a regular basis, so yesterday’s news that a cyclist was killed in an accident involving a driver who opened her car door forcing a the rider into the path of an oncoming AC Transit bus hit me pretty hard. I recognize the reality of riding a bike on the streets in the United States: bicycles are not the primary users of the roadway.

One can dream. Here’s a short time lapse video clip of rush hour in Utrecht, Netherlands. This is the reality I long for. I hope some day that Oakland, (and all of California and the U.S.) sees the value of putting human powered transportation at the top of the heap in terms of access to roads. I dream of a future where our massive, interconnected bicycle and public transit network of roads provides a few car lanes for those people who need to drive in the urban center.

I beg you to watch this video.

Thursday May 20, 2010 — Mark — bikes culture

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Wedding at Lyon and Washington

Ingrid and Len

One of the great things about being back in Oakland is that we’re just across the bay from another nice place, San Francisco. The West Bay doesn’t have Oakland’s nice weather, but there are times when it pays to cross the Bay Bridge. Today was such an occasion. I rode over with my folks to attend Cousin Ingrid’s wedding. Ingrid and Len chose the historic Swedenborgian church on Lyon and Washington as the location of their vows, and it is an incredibly sweet location. UPDATE: Here’s a short video taken with my phone showing Ingrid walking down the aisle of the church with her dad, Larry. ยป

The church was built in 1895 and survived the 1906 earthquake. (Famed architect Bernard Maybeck contributed to the original design. For those who check these entries for an East Bay connection, Maybeck was on the faculty at UC Berkeley and is buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.) The Swedenborgian church is a modest building with whole tree trunks serving as the support beams. The bark is still on the trunks. There’s a fireplace at the back of the small sanctuary and it knocked down the chill on a breezy Pacific Heights afternoon. When the sun peeked through the clouds it was just warm enough to hang out in the lovely garden next to the church. (Point of Interest: The Swedenborgian denomination is named for Emanuel Swedenborg, a swedish scientist and all around interesting character.)

The ceremony was perfectly suited to the location and to the couple. Ingrid is very thoughtful and creative, Len is gentle and cheerful. Their wedding was beautiful to watch and gracefully simple. I was moved.

The chapelbeams in the sanctuaryTower of the Swedenborgian Church

Sunday May 16, 2010 — Mark — living California


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