by Ken Katz
It may lack the resonance of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but the metaphor still applies to this Snap Dragon blooming on Lakeshore at the base of an antique street lamp located in front of Buckingham Wine and Spirits. Parenthetically, I have to confess that I’m something of a germaphobe and the COVID-19 virus has driven me to extreme measures. One of the ways I’ve been managing to acquire “essentials” with minimal risk is to order beer once a month with a phone call to owner Jessie Patel. When I arrive with credit card in hand, my order is by the front door ready for pick-up.
This past week, there was somebody in line in front of me, so I moseyed out to the street away from pedestrian traffic where I spotted this tenacious flower in bloom. Later that night, I posted the photo on my personal Facebook page with the suggestion that it be designated “Oakland’s Official Flower” since like us, it’s managed to survive (and even thrive) despite all the challenges it’s had to face. In the midst of a horrific pandemic with all its negative consequences and at a time when it seems that our 250-year-old run as a functioning democracy is at risk, I’d like to think the metaphor applies to this nation as a whole but that’s yet to be determined.
A week later, I ventured out around 9 pm to shoot photographs on Grand and at Splash Pad for use in this month’s Grand Avenue Business Report and captured the above image as well. The scene struck me as a vivid reminder of what most likely is (along with the coronavirus) Oakland’s biggest challenge. More importantly, it’s a reminder that, like the lonely snapdragon one block over, there are human beings all over this city who are also struggling to survive – people for whom thriving must seem like a foreign concept. Speaking of which, heading for Alameda the other day for the first time in months, I was dumfounded by the homeless camps that line E. 12th Street and are reminiscent of the shanty towns in developing countries. It’s a tale of two cities. In one of which, people like me live in comfort with a roof over our heads and food on the table while thousands more sleep on sidewalks and, if they’re lucky, in a shanty with a leaky roof.
We all recognize the problem. Solving it is an entirely different matter that will eventually require a nationwide effort to provide more affordable housing; address societal inequities including the huge disparity in wages; and providing more focused mental health services. Here’s hoping that come 2021, we can write off the very worst year in memory and start off with a renewed determination to repair and heal from its devastating effects.