Once upon a time, not too long ago, Longs Drugs on Pleasant Valley Road carried Oakland baseball hats. Not Oakland Raiders or A's hats. Just these run-of-the-mill caps with "Oakland" in a boring font across the front. They were cheaply made and weirdly cut, and they never sat quite right on your head.
The hats sold like hotcakes for obvious reasons: Low-key Oakland gear, as many hipster transplants to the city have discovered, is dismayingly hard to come by. Oaktown clothes either sport some football logo, or they feature the retarded gothic gangsta font that hovers somewhere between Chaucer and kicking your ass.
So these Longs caps were cause for great rejoicing amongst my friends, because we believe in the Oakland brand. We know that the city's potential will someday triumph over its persistent reality. And when that finally happens, we want to be able to say we were the first to own the hats.
It's been five years since I moved to Oakland. Five years of waiting for the city's potential to coalesce into the always-imminent supercharged orgy of musical, artistic, and social abandon. But Oakland's art and music happenings, God bless them, tend toward genius one-offs and isolated miracles. Like a shy yeti streaking through the forest of our dreams, Oakland's promise reveals itself in brief, site-specific instances -- only to disappear with the first light of morning.
Last week, though, I felt that change. The shift took place at Ego Park, Kevin Slagle's fantastic gallery on 23rd Street, near Broadway. Ego Park looks deceptively innocuous from the outside, the kind of place that doesn't have a handle on the front door and never quite seems open. But push through that door, and the interior is beautiful -- a meticulously maintained art space, immaculately lit, with a DJ loft upstairs, and a backyard the size of Canada.
The night of the yeti's public debut, Ego Park was hosting the launch party for the new Oakland magazine, Kitchen Sink. That's right, I said "new Oakland magazine." How cool is that? Very cool. Kitchen Sink (tagline: "For people who think too much") is a half-pound's worth of first-person essays, musical ruminations, and comics, all artfully packaged with this sleek, makes-you-want-to-rub-it-on-your-face cover.
I expected the release party to be a wine-and-mingle affair -- the kind of thing that breaks up when the Costco cheese runs out -- so I showed up early. As did about two hundred other people.
Yep. Stepping into the gallery's backyard was like walking into an Oakland recruitment poster. The space was filled with a commingling horde of artists, musicians, freaks, and writers perched on couches salvaged from Big Trash Day and getting drunk on reasonably priced beer. Flirting. Yelling. Laughing.
Looking around, I felt like I was waking up from a five-year nap. And it seemed like other people were feeling the same thing too.
I wasn't sure, though, so I tracked down Jen Loy and Jeff Johnson, two of the editors at Kitchen Sink, last week and asked them: Was I high? Or was something miraculous born in Oakland that night?
Jen and Jeff admitted I wasn't alone in my reveries.
"A friend of mine was a little embarrassed to say it," Jeff recalls, "and this dates me a little bit, but he was like: 'The last time I had this feeling of being someplace, I was in Seattle ten years ago.'"
For Jeff, the magazine -- along with Ego Park, the 21Grand Gallery, Papa Buzz Cafe, and the adjacent Door 7 gallery -- is just the natural outgrowth of a new generation of folks realizing that the best way to have something cool to do on weekends is to organize it yourself.
"A lot of our friends are approaching their thirties, or are just into our thirties, and I think people are ready to graduate into actually making things happen, and not just going and witnessing things," he says. "It's becoming our city."
Jen, who is in the process of buying Papa Buzz Cafe (soon to be renamed Mama Buzz), is planning on making that 23rd and Broadway area the nexus for Kitchen Sink and the increasingly connected community of artsy-craftsy folks who were turned on by the vibe in the air that night at Ego Park. Whatever that vibe turns out to be.
"I want to give a home base to what this feeling is," Jen explains. "I don't know what it is yet, but I figure if everyone can come and drink coffee and talk about it, maybe we can figure out what it is together."
Coffee? Art? Community? Home base? Hot damn! Sign me up. After five years, I think I finally have somewhere to hang my hat.
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