23 December 2010

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - # 3 - Auto Row

I'm not sure whether the Auto Row area along Broadway exactly counts as a "neighborhood", but it's certainly an identifiable area of Oakland with all of the car dealers and ancillary businesses including automobile repair and service shops.

My 1985 Jetta went to Fritz & Peter's car repair shop for many years when I lived in the East Bay and well into my Chico years, too.

OK, Auto Row may not be highly scenic but it's a significant part of Oakland's commercial life.

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - navigational links:
Backward to: Uptown
Forward to: Piedmont Avenue
Oakland Marathon website

17 December 2010

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - # 2 - Uptown

Oakland's Uptown area is to the immediate north of downtown.

This is also the area where the race ends on Telegraph Avenue.

Fox Oakland on Telegraph Avenue
The area is gentrifying rapidly west of Broadway with the recent building of apartment and condominum buildings, the restoration of the long shuttered Fox Oakland, and the opening of new bars and restaurants such as Luka's Taproom & Lounge at Broadway and Grand.

One of the most exquisite Art Deco buildings you'll ever see is the Paramount Theatre on Broadway.  Nice on the outside, but unbelievable on the inside, this gem had the misfortune of opening during the depths of the Depression in 1931.

Don't have the cash for a concert?  Well, go to see a "Paramount Movie Classic" that costs only five bucks, and includes a chance to win cool prizes with the Dec-o-Win drawing before the show starts.

Just two doors down from the Paramount is the splendid (and derelict) I. Magnin building.

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - navigational links:
Backward to: Downtown
Forward to: Auto Row
Oakland Marathon website

15 December 2010

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - # 1 - Downtown

The start of the Oakland Marathon is in the heart of downtown Oakland at Broadway and 14th Street.

You can see from the inset image from the course map that the finish line is very close to the start, which makes for easy logistics.  Two hotels, the Oakland Marriott (official race hotel and site of the expo) and the Courtyard are only two blocks from the race start.

For Bay Area runners, the Oakland City Center-12th Street BART station makes for easy transit access, far easier than driving and parking, considering the road closures necessary to conduct the race.

Oakland's restored Beaux Arts City Hall is opposite the start of the race.  Note the beautiful oak tree in front of the building.  It puts the "oak" in Oakland.

One of the best newsstands I know of anywhere is the venerable DeLauer's on Broadway.

The Cathedral Building on Broadway

Old Oakland, an area of restored Victorians, and now thriving with restaurants, shops, offices, and condos, is slightly to the south of the race start and west of Broadway, while bustling Chinatown is immediately east of Broadway.

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - navigational links:
Backward to: The "prequel" (the original marathon)

Forward to: Uptown

Oakland Marathon website

13 December 2010

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - The "prequel" (the original marathon)

How to hide a marathon.

Strangely, no one seems to know for sure what the last year of the old marathon was.  Len Goldman, longtime member and past president of Oakland's oldest running club, the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders, narrows it down to either 1983 or 1984.  That's as close as anyone I contacted could say.

If anyone reading this post knows for sure, please comment back and shed some light on what could be a Hardy Boys book: "The Case of the Missing Marathon".

Going through the file of clippings labeled "Sports - Track & Field" at the History Room at the main branch of the Oakland Library one sees various newspaper articles about the early years of the event but nothing past 1981.

Seems that it had a bright future but abruptly vanished, possibly with a whiff of scandal.

A fine article in the East Bay Express appearing shortly before the inaugural 2010 Oakland Marathon, describes the prospects for the new event, along with some history about the old one.

About a year after I originally wrote this post, I was at a 80th birthday party here in Chico for my friend, Lin Jensen.  Much to my surprise, on the wall with photos and other significant ephemera from his life so far, was a photo of him running the 1980 Oakland Marathon as well as a letter from the race director certifying his achieving a Boston Marathon qualifying time (3:05:50 at age 48!).  Lin graciously authorized my including these in this post.  Photos by Karen Laslo.

Lin Jensen running 1980 Oakland Marathon

Boston qualifying letter - full letter
Boston qualifying letter - detail
Boston qualifying certificate

At the History Room I was able to photograph a 1980 marathon program (produced after the race), as well as the entry form for the same event.

1980 Oakland Marathon program
1980 entry form

1980 entry form

While it's sad (and mysterious) that the original event did not have staying power, the course of the new marathon is vastly improved.  The old marathon's mileage was concentrated on an out-and-back course from downtown to the vicinity of the Coliseum.  The new course takes runners on a grand tour of the city that is both more scenic and more challenging.

1980 entry form - course map

The next post in the "Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour" will be the beginning of the tour in the heart of downtown Oakland at 14th and Broadway.

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - navigational links:
Backward to: Introduction
Forward to: Downtown
Oakland Marathon website

10 December 2010

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - Introduction

Industrial wasteland.  Dysfunctional school system.  Confusing freeways.  Ugly sister of the glamorous, cool, beauty queen across the bay.


Just no reason to go there unless you want to get mugged.

That’s all Oakland is, isn’t it?

Maybe it is if you want it to be, or if you just don’t know better.

I know better.

To adapt Gertrude Stein's quote: "There is a there there."

(This famous saying used often to insult Oakland was written by the quotable Stein not to mock her birthplace, but rather to note that the house in which she grew up had been torn down.)

Lake Chalet restaurant at the boathouse on Lake Merritt

I’ve lived in Oakland twice in my life.  Once for about 6 months in 1979 in my early 20s, and then again from 1990 to 1998 before I moved to Chico, Calif.  Because I’m frequently back in the area, I still feel completely at home in Oakland and the East Bay.

Is Oakland a victim of character assassination?  No.  There are reasons behind the reputation it has.  In fact, a friend and client of mine was recently robbed at gunpoint in the nice neighborhood where she lives.  The problems are real.  But they don't tell the whole story by any stretch.

Let me tick off the reasons why I’m fond of Oakland.
  • Nearly perfect weather
  • Interesting and attractive neighborhoods
  • A thriving Chinatown unknown by tourists (and even most people in the Bay Area)
  • Restaurants and drinking joints of every possible sort
  • Diversity that isn’t worn on its sleeve
  • A beautiful in-city lake (Lake Merritt)
  • A secluded and picturesque municipal rosegarden
  • Outstanding trail running in the hills
  • Transportation hub by sea, rail, road, and air
  • Compelling history
  • A downtown that is coming back from the dead

As in many other cities in our Golden State, you will see plenty of runners in Oakland - around Lake Merritt, on the trails in the Oakland Hills, in the neighborhoods – however the last running of a marathon was long ago in the mid-1980s.

That was until Gene Brtalik moved here because his wife took a job in Oakland.  Lucky break for Oakland, because Brtalik, an event director with Corrigan Sports Enterprises based in Baltimore, saw in Oakland many similarities to Baltimore: an unloved "second" city that would embrace an event that showcased the city in all its mottled glory.

Brtalik and Corrigan Sports should know.  They faced skepticism when they launched the Baltimore Running Festival in 2001.  Since then, the event has become hugely successful, both for runners and the community.  Not counting this year’s race in October, since 2001 over 100,000 runners have participated in one of the Baltimore events: marathon, half-marathon, 5K, 4-person marathon relay, and kids fun run.

They saw the same potential for the Oakland Running Festival, and got the inaugural event off to a smashing start the weekend of 27-28 March 2010.  By the accounts of everyone – runners, residents along the route, city officials – the races came off flawlessly and the community turned out in droves to support it and their city.

I didn’t get in on the ground floor but at least I’ll catch it at the mezzanine; I’m running the 2011 Oakland Marathon on 27 March 2011.

For a couple of years I’d thought it would be fun to write a series about Oakland’s neighborhoods but never got around to it.  Now inspired by the race, I am.  I’ll follow the route of the marathon and focus on the neighborhoods it traverses.  Different in style from most of my posts, these will be short pieces:  just a few paragraphs to accompany pictures.

I’m calling the series the "Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour".

I heartily encourage Oakland residents to post comments with insider knowledge of what makes their neighboorhood noteworthy, good, bad, or otherwise.  It could be a special coffeehouse, restaurant, or bar, a nice walk, notable views, history, you name it - just write about it.

This series will run concurrently with the Amtrak series and anything else I throw in along the way.  But to make it easy to move from chapter to chapter, at the bottom of each post you'll see "Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour navigational links" that give quick access to the previous or subsequent chapter, as well as to the index of all chapters, the series introduction, and to the Oakland Running Festival's own website.

And if you're a runner, why don't you give some thought to joining me at the Oakland Running Festival for your own self-propelled tour?  In addition to the marathon, there is a half-marathon, 4-person marathon relay, and 5K.

I hope this series demonstrates that Oakland is more than a place you have to go through in order to get somewhere else.

Before the neighboorhood tour starts, I'll write a short "prequel" post about the original Oakland Marathon.

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - navigational links:
Forward to: "the prequel" (the original marathon)
Oakland Marathon website

07 December 2010

Amtrak Service and Fares # 3 – Routes – Long distance trains – Western (Pacific coast to Chicago and New Orleans)

This is the second installment on Amtrak's routes, looking at trains in the West that operate eastbound from the Pacific coast to Chicago or New Orleans.  (The first chapter covered long-distance trains operating in a roughly north-to-south direction.)

Let’s move from south to north.  With one exception that I’ll identify, all trains from the west coast to points east (Chicago or New Orleans) take 3 days and 2 nights to reach their destination.  For example, if you left Seattle on a Thursday you would arrive in Chicago on Saturday.

Two trains, three if you look at it differently, begin in Los Angeles and head east to Chicago and New Orleans.  One train leaves from Emeryville (Oakland/San Francisco) bound for Chicago.  One more leaves begins in two separate sections from Portland and Seattle, but becomes one train in Spokane for its run to Chicago.

Here is a closer look.  (Remember, you can click on a link in the name header of each train that takes you to a detailed page of route information at Amtrak.com)

SOUTHWEST CHIEF (trains 3 / 4)

The Southwest Chief, the descendant of Santa Fe’s Super Chief, operates between Los Angeles and Chicago, with principal stops in Flagstaff, Albuquerque, and Kansas City.  For a good deal of the trip, this train parallels the old Route 66.  This train traverses the classic scenery of the Southwest before reaching the vast flatness of Kansas and beyond.

SUNSET LIMITED (trains 1 / 2)

The Sunset Limited runs between Los Angeles and New Orleans.  The Sunset Limited was the original name of the train operated up until Amtrak day by the Southern Pacific.  It is one of two long-distance trains in Amtrak’s system that operate only 3 times per week each direction.  (All other long-distance trains are daily.)  The big cities served along the way include Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston.  (Phoenix is not served directly, but a stop at Maricopa, Ariz., is only 30 miles away.)

Some Amtrak passengers may remember when this train ran all of the way to Florida (first to Jacksonville, then later to Orlando).  The service to Florida was suspended after damage to tracks along the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  Though the damage was long ago repaired, the service to Florida never resumed, and as of this writing (July 2011) there is no indication at all that it ever will.

TEXAS EAGLE (trains 21 / 22 and 421 / 422 )

The third eastbound train from Los Angeles, the Texas Eagle, isn’t a train of its own when it leaves; it’s part of the Sunset Limited.  This requires a detailed explanation.

The Texas Eagle is a daily train that operates daily from San Antonio to Chicago.  Important stops include Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, Little Rock and St. Louis.

Three days a week a sleeping car and a coach that begin their trip in Los Angeles headed eastbound on train 2 (the Sunset Limited) are uncoupled in San Antonio and then coupled to train 22 that leaves San Antonio headed to Chicago.

A passenger in a Chicago-bound sleeping car or coach does not have to change trains in San Antonio, because the car itself gets switched from one train to the other, but because of a 9 ½ hour layover in San Antonio it makes for longer overall travel time from the origination in Los Angeles to a final destination of Chicago.  (The process works in reverse for westbound travelers, with cars that begin in Chicago being uncoupled in San Antonio and coupled to westbound train 1.)  This is the one train that would produce a 4 day, 3 night overall travel time from the west coast to Chicago because of the more circuitous route and long layover.

Passengers booked eastbound on the Texas Eagle between Los Angeles (and intermediate points up to but not including San Antonio) to cities beyond San Antonio as far as Chicago are typically booked on train 422.  In reverse, they are booked on train 421.

CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR (trains 5 / 6)

The California Zephyr, heir to the name of the renowned train that did not even live to Amtrak day (discontinued  March 1969), runs between Emeryville (Oakland) and Chicago.  (San Francisco is served via a bus connection from Emeryville to San Francisco over the Bay Bridge.)  Noteworthy stops include Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Denver, and Omaha.

This train is considered among the best for scenery because of the rugged crossing of the Sierras and the long stretch along the Colorado River and in the Rockies.  Unlike the original postwar California Zephyr, the train does not traverse the Feather River Canyon (except for the very rare detour) but instead runs on the former Southern Pacific Donner Pass route, which was part of first transcontinental line when completed in 1869.

EMPIRE BUILDER (trains 7 / 8 and 27 / 28)

The last of the western long-distance trains is the Empire Builder.  The name of the train was inherited from the railroad that created it, the Great Northern Railway (later part of Burlington Northern), which named the train after its founder, James Hill.  In his day Hill was dubbed the "Empire Builder".  Headed eastbound, the Empire Builder begins its journey as two trains.  Train 8 with coaches, sleeping cars, and a dining car, originates in Seattle headed north to Everett where it makes an eastward turn and crosses the Cascades bound for Spokane.

Train 28 on the other hand starts in Portland, crosses the Columbia River over to Vancouver, Wash., and then makes its eastward turn to run along the Columbia for about 200 miles to Pasco, Wash.  The Portland-originating section of the Empire Builder includes coaches, sleepers, and a lounge car.  It continues to Spokane for a midnight rendezvous with the Seattle-originating train 8.

In Spokane, the two trains are coupled together to become one train operating east to Chicago.  Westbound, it works in reverse; the train splits into two pieces in Spokane for the final legs of the trip to Seattle (train 7)  and Portland (train 27).  Portland-bound and Seattle-bound coaches and sleepers are clearly identified, so it is seldom that a passenger needs to move from one car to another in Spokane.

Between Spokane and Chicago the principal stops are Whitefish, Mont., Havre, Mont., Fargo, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee.

Like the California Zephyr, this train is highly regarded for great scenery in Oregon and Washington, Glacier Park, the vast reaches of Montana's Big Sky Country, and some pretty landscapes in Wisconsin.  By most accounts, the on-board service on the Empire Builder is presently the best among all of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to Routes - Long-distance trains - North to South
Forward to Routes - Long-distance trains - Eastern (Chicago to the east coast)