Oakland, California

Photo by Kai Schreiber.

Visiting Oakland is, I imagine, very different from living there. I play at being a city resident, spending the night at my boyfriend’s place in the Dirty Thirties, becoming semi-familiar with the menu at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, and wondering about “gentrification”, a word that no one uses casually. I consider my tech friends who live in the area: should they feel bad? Especially if they can technically—har har—afford the rent in San Francisco? Deciding whether I’m obligated to scold them isn’t worth the energy; it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.

Eventually my boyfriend and I will live together. If I moved into his current apartment, my share of the rent would be $250. That’s minuscule but I can’t imagine when I’ll be working enough to afford it. I’d rather stay with my parents as long as I can than scrape by in another city, without all the upper-class accoutrements I like having access to. The treadmill desk, the laser printer, the organic groceries, the chickens in the back yard. The therapy! I mean, there’s therapy in Oakland—my first therapist’s office was in Rockridge—but theoretically I’d have to pay for it myself. You could argue that the therapy is a survival thing. I don’t know. Plenty of people do fine without therapy, even people with my issues, but I have never been fine without it.

Everyone who doesn’t work in tech is an artist with a day job as a server of some kind. Bartender, waitress, espresso expert, combination thereof. Former barista Molly Osberg writes of gentrification in Brooklyn, NY, “The transition is that the neighborhood is known better for its production of capital-e Experiences than salable goods. These experiences feed new residents’ hunger for ‘third place’ [communal] interactions, as well as a growing tourism industry.”

cafe in Oakland, California

Photo by Neil Conway.

I read that and I was like, “WOW, TRUE.” That’s what happened in San Francisco over the past couple of decades, and now it’s halfway done happening to Oakland. I like to tell people that my city will be next—depending on how it goes down when the startup bubble bursts, El Cerrito is poised to be cool in 2025.

Osberg’s essay describes how the upscale part of the “service economy” forces people slinging commodities to become commodities themselves. You’re not just selling a latte with perfectly poured ~artisanal~ foam, you’re selling your “alt” charm, your tattoos and your music taste. The hipster elite is separated into two strata that rely on each other: the ones with money need lifestyle validation, reassurance that they’re cool kids, and the ones without money need change to fill up the tip jar. Strangely, everyone goes to the same bars.

independent writer Sonya MannGuest blogger Sonya Mann is an erstwhile student and reliable bunny-enthusiast, living with her parents in the East Bay. She writes a bunch of stuff, so check out her website. Her new book is Style Therapy: Fashion as Self-Care.

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