15 August 2008

More from Piedmont Avenue.....

Most folks, when they think of Piedmont Avenue, envision something like Mille Fiori, a flower stand which has been on the Avenue since I moved here nearly 30 years ago. An area of “cute shops,” “great places to eat,” the home of Fenton’s ice creamery and Piedmont Theatre, L’Amyx Tea Bar and the Piedmont Grocery. For me, it is more multifaceted. When I go for my walk, I so often find another, far more interesting, textured community. I've included a slideshow of photos from walks on the Avenue. If anyone knows who the kid dancing in the window of Ferrari's is, please email me! I love it that my neighbors are the sort who leave out shoes for the homeless; quite often I find shoes, jackets, or other warm apparel for them. Free books are left on top of the return bins at the branch Library on 41st Street. Often the restaurants in the area leave bags of bread, bagels or muffins on top of newsracks for those without food.

The sidewalk and pavement pieces interest me because I'm always fascinated by what we "set in stone" when we have the opportunity. I think it speaks well of my neighbors that one choose to memorialize a complex symbol of love, and someone else cut Lewis Carroll/ Jefferson Airplane/ Grace Slick into concrete. All best to that impulse! (Production Notes: The "headless horseman" shot was made with my Samsung telephone at La Baja Taqueria, a place dedicated to Jerry Garcia, replete with original posters from the Hashbury 1960s. (BTW, Baja Taqueria has a great little Bluegrass jam from 8-10 every Monday night, hosted by Tom Lucas. No cover.) Although the quality as a photo is not to the standard I hold for myself, the painterly quality makes it somewhat more interesting, and in the spirit of the grateful dead, may they all rest in peace. The others were made using a Nikon digital.)

07 August 2008

Piedmont Avenue Tales

Like the storied path to Canterbury, Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, is a street of dreams. They all come here, alone or in company, on foot, in a car, on the bus, or pedaling a bike. In the end, it is a street everyone travels, whether the workers from Kaiser Permanente’s MacArthur/ Broadway facility, the bankers, shopkeepers, lawyers and dentists, acupuncturists and chiropractors who work on the street, or the musicians, writers, and artists who spring forth whole from California College of the Arts. With its wide vistas, deep grass, and old-growth trees, Mountain View Cemetery, at the end of the Avenue, is our park of choice for walking the dog, portrait photography, or a simple Sunday morning stroll. The Cemetery was designed 140 years ago by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park.

Like Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury, they each have their own errands, dropping their kids off at St. Leo’s and Piedmont Elementary, stopping at Peet’s for coffee or a burrito at La Baja Taqueria, hitting the ATMs at Wells Fargo or Citibank, getting their hair cut or their toes painted, or just enjoying a quiet lunch at Bay Wolf, Cesars or Ninna’s. Walking, talking, enjoying the sun until they resume the chores of their days.

One such pilgrim was my neighbor Earl, a retired Navy guy and actor who was the only person I ever knew who actually ran away with the circus. He was an “advance man” for a mudshow, so he disappeared on us for the summer each and every year, to travel from small town to town, meeting the Rotary and Masons, Eastern Star and scout masters across the Midwest and South. He would rent the field, arrange the licenses and permits, oversee the printed posters and advertising; he was also in charge of the folks who sold tickets from phone banks. In the fall, he’d come back, full of stories as a ripe cob is crowded with kernels of corn.

One story Earl told which still haunts me is about the day in a small town in Alabama when the lion got out of his cage into a fairground full of people enjoying the sun along the midway.

I’ll always see him in my mind’s eye, leaning back in his chair at the dinner table, soaking in our eager attention, pausing and grinning to build suspense, a natural actor and storyteller.

“In the mess tent, when word came,” he said, “they left their forks hanging in mid-air. Every man, woman, and child of any age knew it was their duty to put their bodies between the animals and the paying customers.”

He looked at each of us, the drama of the moment sinking in. “They ran to their quarters and grabbed sheets, table cloths, towels, blankets, capes, any large piece of fabric.” We leaned forward, food and drink forgotten, scarcely breathing.

“The lion tamer grabbed a fork, and took the biggest raw steak he could find out of the ice box. They all ran across the fair grounds, from all directions, until they finally caught up with the errant cat. Then, the tamer began walking backward, the steak extended on the fork. The troop aligned themselves on both sides, in a row, forming two walls of fabric.”

He wet his throat and rinsed his teeth with his wine. His lady Shirley chimed in, “Cats can’t tell the difference between cloth and a solid wall.”

He studied her face before going on, in that way that people have who’ve been together for a very long time. “Oh, did you want to tell the story?" She didn’t respond.

”As the tamer and the lion passed, they would run to the head of the line, holding up their fabric, and so on and so on, a moving wall of cloth, shielding the public from the cat, the cat from the public, until, finally, they reached the lion’s cage, where the tamer tossed the steak inside. The cat lumbered up the steps, and they locked the door behind him.”

Shared silence. Hairs on the arms beginning to lie down again. Second coffees and the lovely banana cream pie Shirley had baked were handed round.

Good people around the table, great stories of brick-and-mortar life, a home-baked pie, the cat on the window sill taking it all in, while we pondered how it would be to live in a community where we knew our duty so absolutely that we would leave our forks hanging in the air when called to fill it.

Note: The website for Mountain View Cemetery is www.mountainviewcemetery.org for those interested in this fascinating place.)

©2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.