I’m in Love with you Oakland, I’m in Love & I Don’t Care Who Knows It

Oakland Civility Goodwill

Dear Oakland,

You make me swoon. You know this, hell, everyone knows this. I babble incessantly about your beauty. I got myself a 510 number. I hella love to say hella. My east coast Facebook friends blocked me from their newsfeeds because they’re sick of hearing about our deep love affair. But it’s not an affair. The honeymoon period is over but Oakland, you’re still the only city for me.

Nineteen months ago, I became an Oakland resident. It was impulsive, and you could argue it was also irresponsible or even stupid, like my parents did. After nearly a decade in New York, I was defeated. By crowds. By high rent. By flakiness. By my own deep sense of dissatisfaction. I escaped to San Francisco for a week and loved the mild weather, sense of community and strong weed. I made grand declarations to my mother and on Facebook that I would move here in 6-12 months. Then, a mere two months later, a college friend offered me her spare room in Oakland. I had no job, no money, only two friends in the Bay: no real, responsible, “adult” reason to move across the country. So obviously, I said yes. I spent the six hour flight sobbing quietly into my wine, terrified I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

Stranger Friend

I fell for you hard and immediately, in a way a committed commitment-phobe like me rarely does. As I walked along Martin Luther King Way my first day, around noon on August 19, 2012, I knew. Falling in love is not something I do lightly, easily or often. Yet as I stood on a convenience-store-filled stretch underneath the overpass, sunshine squinting my eyes, cars whizzing by, lavender swaying against concrete, something stirred inside me. A feeling of belonging, of hope, of rightness overwhelmed me. That is sappy as hell but it’s true.

Oaktown, you were so welcoming so immediately that I was suspicious. What’s the catch here? Strangers thank me for petting their dogs. New friends say we should hang out, then actually reach out with specific plans (this is mind-blowing to a New Yorker). Maybe I’m just lucky, but the people I’ve met here know how to listen and show up and give advice and teach and challenge and grow and love and laugh and hold each other up.

I love your resources. You taught me about real food. You taught me how to cook. You provided me with a fabulous wardrobe from clothing swaps, generous friends and thrift stores. I love that Oakland is full of amazing femmes and queers and that I am actually read as the big homo that I am, because of – and not in spite of – my lipstick and short skirts.

Lake Merritt Swoon

Whenever I return from another city and drive past Lake Merritt, my heart swells with gratitude and I’m not even that embarrassed to admit that my eyes sometimes do this weird leaking thing at the sight of it (fine, I’m a sappy-ass hippie. Don’t tell anyone). The Necklace of Lights glitters at night, the water shimmers in the daytime and I feel grounded each time I take it in. Swoon, swoon, swoon.

What makes Oakland so magical? It’s strangers who smile warmly and say hello as I pass. It’s the smell of fresh jasmine blossoming. It’s my first neighbors who left flowers on my doorstep when I moved in. It’s the family at the corner store who never charges me the 50 cent debit card fee. It’s running outside to clip wild rosemary in the middle of making soup. It’s the $1.95 strawberry mimosas at Lakeshore Cafe. It’s letting myself into my best femme’s house with the spare key and lounging in her hammock until she comes home to gossip with me. It’s the guy who tried to high-five me from his car, our hands stuck straight out our respective windows, feeling the magic in the air. It’s Mrs. King, owner of King’s Market on MLK, who told me my first day here “I can tell you’re from New York because you talk and walk so fast. Don’t worry, California will calm you down.” She was right. You didn’t just calm me down, Oakland: You healed me. You gave me hope. You made it all better. Thank you, Oakland, for letting me be me, and never making me apologize for it.

I love you.

Love,

Ash

P.S. Don’t worry, New York, I still like you as a friend.

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