I paused at the railroad tracks, surrounded by trash, a few blankets, and one mattress of mysterious origin. I leaned over a little to see that the wheel on my suitcase had shed a layer. The inner circle retained its perfectly-round shape —a wheel within a wheel, a tiny rolling homunculus—but the outer body had warped and cracked, peeling off like a curly fry as it paid the tab that the universe demands of all things eventually. Each of the remaining seven formerly-black wheels — two in each corner — were intact, dutiful soldiers now grayed from rolling along airport floors, pressed by the weight of my clothing into the fine dust of a thousand recently-removed shoes. These seven did not fall apart, nor did they cease their work. In the immediate aftermath of their mortality unfolding in front of them, they mourned their fallen brother in the only way they knew how: they just kept rolling — though they did so a little less smoothly.
They earned no judgement from me. Who among us is rolling smoothly right now?
Oakland is a place of many broken things. The Melrose neighborhood, where I was staying, is in the great in-between, as Oakland goes. The nearest BART rail station is the Coliseum, just over a mile’s walk south. There is another about the same distance the other direction. As if to add insult to distance, the rail passes above, maybe 50 feet above ground level. You can look up and see the train carrying people this way and that, but never stopping right here. The path from here to there is long, and fraught with garbage, blankets, mysterious mattresses, and (now) the partial remains of one broken suitcase wheel.
This might feel like a strange way to say it, but I love Oakland.
I don’t mean that I think it is perfect. There are clearly so many people in dire situations here. I also don’t mean that I love it only for what I think it could be (I am not a developer, and gentrification is not my passion). I also recognize that this is not my neighborhood, and I’m getting the three-days-at-a-time view. But I do love it because — for all its flaws — people here are resilient. There is community here, and a sense of belonging. The people who are here talk about Oakland as a place they want to be, and want to be from, and that is something that is not always true about a place. I love Oakland in the way that I hope to be loved: in spite of my flaws, and with a patience that never stops hoping that something a little better is still possible.
And so I will roll on, perhaps not as smoothly as I once did.