I arrived on a ferry made of gull cries and good ocean fog, and stepped from the liminal world into Jack London Square, down by Oakland’s fine deep-water port. I walked, pre-dawn, letting my form coalesce from local expectations, filtered through my own habits and preferences. I stopped at a plate glass window downtown by the 12th Street train station and took a look at myself: dreads and dark skin, tall but not epic tall, clothes a little too raggedy to make robbing me worth a mugger’s time. I walked on, feeling the thrums and creaks of a city waking up or going to sleep or just keeping on around me. I strolled past the houses of sex offenders, one-time killers with high blood pressure, altruists, guilty activists, the good-hearted, the fearful, and all the rest of the usual human lot. I was looking for the reek of the deeply crazy, the kind of living crack in a city that can swallow whole neighborhoods and poison the well of human faith in a place utterly. The kind that could shatter lives on an afternoon spree or corrode them slowly over decades.
After a while, I found a street like that, and then I went to get some breakfast.
It was the kind of diner where you sit at a counter and the menus are sticky with the last customer’s pancake syrup and you hope for the best. There were no other customers -- I was between morning rushes, which made me lonely -- and when the waitress came to take my order she was frazzled, like nobody should look at five in the morning. I said “I don’t have any money, but maybe we can work something out.” Either she was from around here, and I’d get some breakfast, or she wasn’t, and I’d get thrown out.
She got that faraway look like they do, and said “Let’s work something out.”