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

1 comment:

  1. Greg:

    I look forward to your comments about the neighborhoods the marathon will pass through.

    Also,Oakland is worth a visit just to visit the Paramount Theater, an art deco masterpiece, and the newly restored Fox Theater.