Acid Heroes: the Legends of LSD

May 7, 2015

Welcome to Oakland

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Spent the month of April living in a little hotel room by Lake Merritt in Oakland.  It was interesting because it’s been two decades since I spent any real time in downtown Oakland

It’s hard to get a feel for what Oakland is.  The city is kind of nebulous.  Like that famous quote about Oakland:  “There’s no there there.”  Oakland kind of gets over-shadowed by the more flamboyant San Francisco and Berkeley.  Berkeley is famous for it’s radical/leftist political activism.  And San Francisco has dozens of famous icons and famous neighborhoods — the Haight-Ashbury, Carol Doda on Broadway, the gay mecca, the cable cars, etc.  Whereas Oakland just seems like a bunch of random people thrown together for no particular purpose.

In the ’60s and the ’70s Oakland sort of had a reputation as a “blue-color town.”  Full of two-fisted average Joes working with their meaty hands.  A no-nonsense town.   As opposed to the effete culture snobs in San Francisco.  The Hell’s Angels, the Black Panthers and the Oakland Raiders were kind of the icons of Oakland back then.  And there are countless stories of Oakland Raiders players celebrating their latest victory at neighborhood bars right along-side their fans.

But nowadays, there are very few Oakland Raiders in sight in Oakland.  Or Hell’s Angels or Black Panthers, either, for that matter.  And if the city is still a “blue collar” town you wouldn’t know it from all the people milling around downtown.  Most of whom look like they work in offices, or as store clerks.
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The view from my hotel room. There’s a there somewhere.

Anyways, if there’s one thing that Oakland is still damn proud of these days, it’s the Golden State Warriors basketball team.  But even there, Oakland gets slightly slighted in that they’re never referred to as the “Oakland Warriors.”  As if Oakland lacked the proper status befitting a professional sports team.  At any rate, I was desperate to watch the third game of the playoffs, round one, Golden State versus the New Orleans Pelicans.  Unfortunately, every sports bar in town was jammed to the rafters with people.  I’m talking SARDINES.  I mean, you had to fight your way through the masses just to worm your way up to the bar.
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So instead I watched the game at this artsy little nightclub/bar, the Golden Bull.  They usually featured modern, alt. rock-type bands, leaning towards the local metal crowd.  In other words, lots of tattoos.  But equal parts music critic-type art nerds to go along with the usual headbangers.  Fortunately, they had a little television set on the wall, almost as an after-thought, that was tuned to the Warriors game.  So I bought a pint and settled in.

A power trio was setting up their equipment on the little stage at the back of the club.  A chick on vocals and bass, another chick on drums, and a guy with horn-rimmed glasses on guitar.  And like I said, lots of tattoos.

The Warriors were getting blown out for most of the game.  So aside from me, there wasn’t much interest in the game.  They were down by 17 points with 6 minutes to go.  So all seemed lost.  But then they staged one of the most unbelievable comebacks I have ever seen.
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It was like God was on their side.  And every single play went in their favor for the rest of the game.  And they needed every single one of those plays.  For most of the game I was the only one watching it.  But as the Warriors fired into gear, one-by-one all the rock’n’roll hipsters drifted away from the stage and in front of the little television set.  The cheers started building with every play.  Happy, over-joyed cheers of stunned disbelief.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT I’M SEEING!!!”  Screaming louder with every Warriors bucket.

The rock band wisely postponed starting their set until the Warriors game was over.  Stephen Curry (of course) hit an unbelievable 3 pointer in the corner to tie the game, just as time ran out, even as he got blasted in the process, knocked to the ground by a Pelican defender.  Just an unbelievable shot.  And the Warriors went on to win in overtime. Just pure magic.  It was an Oakland moment if ever there was one.

And then the band turned out to be pretty cool, too.  Sort of dark metal, but with some melody, too.  Lots of shouted/chanted anthem-like vocals from the ladies.  If they lightened up a bit they’d almost be the B-52s.  I think it’s been 20 years since I’ve been in a little club watching live music.  So it was a great night for me, too.

I had a happy, contented buzz going as I left the club and hit the sidewalk.  On the curb right outside the club, there was a big pile of flowers.  It was a memorial to this bass player who had recently been shot and killed outside the club while he was loading his gear.  A stray bullet. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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I didn’t know the guy.  But he was good friends with a friend of mine.  So it sort of hit close to home.  It sort of left me with this eerie, unsettled feeling as I walked back to my little hotel room.  Everything might seem cool and happy and peaceful on the surface right now.  But it gave you this feeling that, at any moment, something like that might happen on the streets of Oakland.  Oakland is, and always has been, a tough, tough town.  That’s for sure.  Some things never change.

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