Oaklandic

I’ve recently accepted the position of barista at the esteemed Blue Bottle Coffee Company. I am now officially too hipster to exist. I need to go out and buy a beanie. And grow a mustache. And probably wear at least seven bow-ties at any given point.

And I’ll also now be speaking about mouth-feel and fruit-forwardness. You’re welcome world.

Long story short: now that I’m a barista, I’m too cool to use the term Oaklandish. So I’m making my own term: Oaklandic. Again, you’re welcome.

So, I moved to Oakland about three weeks ago. Crazy world. Crazy life. I still don’t really believe that I’m living in California. Living out my exact dream of being a barista and getting free coffee and also being able to write. I feel like at any moment someone’s going to swoop down from the sky and sirens will go off and they’ll put me under arrest for being too darn happy all the time.

Until that day comes, though, let me talk to you about Oakland.

I am straight up in love with this place. I love San Francisco, too, don’t worry. OH MAN DO I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO. But that’s a different sort of love.

San Francisco is that quirky person your parents absolutely adore. San Francisco always shows up on time for every date. And they cook you meals. And yeah, sometimes they shout crazy things at your window, but at the end of the day they mostly just want to cuddle.

Oakland is the person who always smells like marijuana and is constantly talking about weird stuff from their childhood and they maybe steal twenties from your purse if you aren’t careful, but they’re so damn real and they love you so damn much that you can’t really say no to their apologies. Oakland is the person you hate to love and love to hate.

Oakland is the sound of gunfire in the night that turns out to be fireworks.And fireworks that turn out to be gunfire.

Oakland is the kitten with the broken neck dead in the road.

Oakland is the smoke from the taqueria down the street and kids walking to school in their heavy navy uniforms.

Oakland is the chuckling of roosters at six in the morning. And five. And four.

Oakland is a children’s coloring book scrawled with swear words.

Oakland is seeing “Justice for Oscar Grant” spray-painted on the sidewalk and taking the BART from the station where he was murdered.

Oakland is your neighbors yelling at one another across the street and then offering to let you use their hand cart.

Oakland is an independent press featuring local artists and its old men speaking in Spanish about the wonders of Zumba.

Oakland is all the beautiful things, all the horrible things, all the worlds and places and none of them, a city all its own.

My whole life I’ve never really known where I belong. I didn’t belong in Indiana. I didn’t quite belong in Minnesota. I was only ever a visitor in Wisconsin. But Oakland feels like home. It’s rough and weird and scary and flawed and deep in its core, it loves. And what can one do but return love when you find it?

 

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Moving Words

PUN PUN PUN PUN

Someday I’ll be a mature “adult” writer and let my jokes speak for themselves. But that is not this day.

This day I tell you about my move to Oakland!

Part 1- The Journey (External Edition)

Sunday I moved from Palo Alto to Oakland. It started out with me riding my bike to the U-Haul center. And the following auspicious interaction:

Laura gets off her bike at the corner and walks it down the sidewalk towards the U-Haul Center. She passes a woman with a suitcase. Laura smiles at the woman because Laura is from Indiana/Minnesota/Wisconsin and is still learning. Woman says, “You shouldn’t be on the sidewalk. You should be in the street. I’m sorry but that’s the way it is.”

Good to know the anti-bike sentiment is alive and well in the USofA.

I got my U-Haul anyway. And then I was in my U-Haul.

Fun fact: no one should be allowed to drive a vehicle that large. I felt indestructible. You should not allow people to feel indestructible. We should always be reminded of the fragility of our human bodies. We should not feel like transformers. I felt the urge to go monster-truck on a bunch of parked cars. I didn’t, but the urge was real.

I drove my small planet back to the house.

Side note: If you didn’t know it, Carol Milstein is a saint. True story.

Anyway, I arrived and started loading all my worldly belongings into the U-Haul. About half an hour later I was done. As it turns out I have a lot of things, but they are all very small and squishy.

So with a tear in my eye and a song in my heart, I drove out of Palo Alto, managed not to side-swipe anyone (that I know of), crossed the Dumbarton Bridge and did not drive off into the Bay (wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles), sang and cursed loudly to myself, repeated the phrase “Okay, Laura, just don’t hit this car” over and over, didn’t get lost trying to find my way through East Oakland, and then I was home.

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Did that just happen? That just happened.

Part 2- The Arrival

The following conversation took place as I pulled my U-Haul up to the house:

Neighbor 1: You got new neighbors.

Neighbor 2: Yeah, they’re okay.

Neighbor 1: There they are, the new neighbors.

Neighbor 2: Yeah, they’re okay, long as they aren’t haters.

Laura: I’m not a hater.

Neighbors 1&2: *Blank stares*

I’m good at making friends.

Our house has red trim and is on Harrington Avenue, so I’m unofficially dubbing it the Red Harring. It’s happening.

Part 3- The Journey (Internal Edition)

Look, I have the privilege of being the author of my own difficulties. The most recent case being when I got too tired to refill my anti-depressants, missed a few days, got so depressed that I couldn’t go to work, may or may not have left a really long rambling message on someone’s phone about how sad I am that we aren’t friends anymore and how I probably am making it worse by calling and on and on and on… So… that’s on me.

I mess up my life all on my own. I moved across the country for really no reason at all. I quit jobs because I get depressed or because its just too existentially wearying to be taking out the trash as people stare disapprovingly at you and complain to your manager about your smell because you’ve been too tired to maintain proper hygiene.

So… that’s on me, too.

But I’m also really strong. I mean, body odor aside. I am capable of doing things. I get jobs, I make moves, I lift furniture. I’m such a mess, but I’m working on it.

Because I have these incredible people in my life. People who texted me or called me or ordered a pizza to my new address. People who give me love and support and encouragement at every turn. Even the act of liking my desperate, needy status is a reminder of the people in my life. You, you wonderful, beautiful people.

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Avery Johnson: a wonderful, beautiful pizza– I mean people!

If I am the author of my struggles, you all are the authors of my survival. If I accomplish anything worthwhile in life, it is because of you. So, as always thank you. It will never be enough, but thank you.

 

California, Dudes

Been here about a month and a half, and IT. HASN’T. RAINED. ONCE.

Just a gentle reminder that I’m now living in a desert.

My whole life I had dreams of moving everywhere, running across the continent, doing BIG things, leading a BIG life. And wouldn’t you know it? I find myself both accomplishing those dreams and realizing how different it is from anything I could have imagined.

A case in point.

Every day on my bike to work, I see mountains. Mountains are important to me, they remind me of reaching, stretching, climbing, things I’ve been attempting to do my whole life. They are vast and humbling and inspirational, and as I fly past them morning after morning, on my wending way through eucalyptus and towering palms, past the statuary of Stanford, I find my heart soaring along with my bike tires.

Then I show up to work at a fast food restaurant where I man the deep fryer and listen to people complain about how I overcharged them twenty cents (I didn’t) or why there shouldn’t be a tax on to-go food (take it up with the government?) or how they want a burger but with no burger and no bread and with cheese and pickles and why don’t we have mayonnaise and gouda cheese and wait they just want the salad… but no lettuce. Some days it feels like a cross between the “Doublemeat Palace” episode of Buffy and Bon Qui Qui.

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Me.

It’s this weird feeling where I simultaneously feel that I’m doing everything I need to be doing and also doing everything completely wrong. Here I am with my biology degree and my years of job experience, cooking fries and getting criticized for my Caesar salad mixing.

There are many highlights, of course. My co-workers are lovely. And the customers are for the most part a joy. Today I made a little girl giggle for about ten minutes just by opening my eyes really wide at her. The other day a couple of German girls came in, their faces when I started responding in German were priceless.

I believe I am going somewhere. I know that I am somewhere. A place I’ve been trying to get to for a long, long time. It’s just that there’s that saying somewhere about what you wish for and being careful or something something cliche with cheese.

I’m learning so much though: like how Californians walk SUPER slow, even by Midwestern standards. And how to use the word “hella” unironically. And how to grow succulents. And how to nonchalantly visit the ocean. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

Follow your dreams, kids. It’s kind of worth it.

Dogs of Peru

I promised blogposts from my travels, and blogposts from my travels you shall have.

You know when you travel and for a while you forget you’ve gone somewhere new until you hit that one detail that shakes you fundamentally? If not, it exists, trust me.

In Peru, that detail wasn’t the fact that you can’t flush toilet paper, or that you can’t drink the water, or that all the drivers seem to be operating under different laws of physics than the rest of us, for me it was the ubiquity of dogs. (I still want “ubiquitousness” to be a word. It sounded better.)

That first night was strange, don’t get me wrong. Our late night arrival in the terminal, weaving our way through a sea of aggressively friendly would-be taxi drivers, finally into a car where I dozed off to the sounds of “We Are the Champions” by Queen. It was a bizarre haze.

But it wasn’t a bizarre Peruvian haze until we hit Cusco and the dogs. The first one startled me. There in the middle of a bustling and beautiful city, was a dog, walking as if he owned the place. Tail up like a banner, tongue lolling. No collar, no owner in sight. And no passerby giving him a second glance. Except for me.

It didn’t take long for me to overcome my initial surprise and to partake of my favorite past-time: attempting to befriend stray dogs. It’s a wonder I don’t have fleas and rabies by now.

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You like dags?

Here’s the thing about dogs in Cusco, though, and dogs in Peru in general: they don’t particularly care about you. They aren’t unfriendly or shy, none of the ones I encountered were the least bit aggressive, but they were, in a strange and undoglike fashion, apathetic. They reminded me in fact of very small cows.

It surprised me, so I continued to watch them, and I discovered through my study much more about the country than I might have otherwise. The good thing about dogs is that they don’t much mind if you stare at them for extended periods of time. People seem to mind that. Not to mention I don’t ever want to continue exercising my white-person gaze. So, I looked at dogs.

The dogs of Peru don’t dislike you nor do they particularly like you, they are simply surviving. The dogs of Peru speak Spanish. The dogs of Peru occasionally get in fights, particularly regarding the female dogs of Peru. The dogs of Peru go where they like. The dogs of Peru love their leisure time. The dogs of Peru know the best places to nap. The dogs of Peru do not get hit by cars or moto-taxis though it is not from lack of trying. The dogs of Peru have very distinct socioeconomic status ranging from the bourgie tourist dogs of Aguas Calientes to the scrappy skin-and-bones dogs of Puerto Miguel. The dogs of Peru are dogs.

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The dogs of Peru do not understand selfies.

I wanted to make all sorts of ham-handed metaphors about the dogs of Peru. How, like their human counterparts, they are equal parts friendly and reserved, their Catholic faith clashing and combining with their indigenous roots, how sometimes people put them in weird shorts and shirts etc. etc. I won’t. I’ll just let you do that on your own.

As I always find in traveling, I am both surprised and gratified to see how the more different people are, the more their fundamental desires remain the same. And this held true, too, for the dogs of Peru: most of them were just looking for a nice nap, a good meal, and a friend at the end of the day.

More cliched Peru posts to come.

Peru-ving My Worth

In case you haven’t noticed all of my obnoxious Facebook posts, I am heading out to Peru tomorrow with my wonderful roommate (who I do not deserve in the slightest). I am very excited and very nervous and very excited.

I have had the incredible privilege of traveling globally three times already in my life: once in high school when I spent two weeks exploring Ireland and Northern Ireland; once falling in love with Egon Schiele in the coffee shops of Vienna, Austria; and once on that incredible ten week trip to Australia and New Zealand (see old blog) that remains one of the defining times of my life.

Now we’re heading to Peru, making South America my fourth continent and Peru my eighth country, and as usual the most constant emotion I have is overwhelming gratitude. I don’t come from a background of great wealth. I don’t consider us to be poor, at least not social capital-wise, but we’re not the sort of family who toured Europe together either. Of my siblings, only my sister and I have been out of the country (other than Canada), and only I have been multiple times. I feel, in this regard, grateful, a little guilty, and responsible.

It is up to me to make sure I am not squandering this amazing gift of travel. I need to travel respectfully, considerately, and wholeheartedly. I need to soak up every last moment of my time abroad. Because it isn’t just me who is traveling, it’s my family as well until such time that they too are off on their own global adventures.

So, I’ll do my best to blog when possible, keep my eyes and ears open, and bring back some pictures that aren’t completely worthless… we’ll see.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, even though this is kind of an out there wacky thing to do! I love you all!

See you on the other side.