Oakland’s City Hall sticks out like a sore thumb. The rectangular building, a beautiful pearl, is surrounded by the sounds of construction in a gentrifying city.
Pigeons fly above me as the nearby construction sounds pause. I hear their wings flapping against their bodies.
On the amphitheater steps outside of city hall, the circle is divided in two: a shady part and a part in the sun. The shade comes from the official Oakland oak tree. This is the plaza where Occupy camped in the autumn of 2011, demanding an end to police brutality and economic policies that disadvantage the poor and working class. Some people now refer to it as “Oscar Grant Plaza,” to honor the African American man who was shot and killed by a BART police officer in the Fruitvale just two years before. But today, a young couple, dog walkers, passersby and homeless people occupy the area.
One woman wearing a hoodie tries to open the door to city hall, but is unsuccessful. A man sits on the wheelchair ramp as he changes his phone in a random outlet. He wears all black: black hat, black pants, black mismatched shoes. One has a white stripe and the other a red stripe.
A couple sits next to me. The woman has a short fairy cut, almost like the one Tinkerbell has in Peter Pan. The man boasts a heavy head of scraggly curly hair. Their pale skin glows in the sun, and as the woman rests her head on the man’s shoulder, she hums a melody. She smiles, wrapping her hands tight around his bicep.
Seeing them makes me think of love. How many people have been approved to be married here at this hall? Will the couple next to me get married?
Valentine’s Day is coming, and I’m bummed, my plans for romance dashed. Another woman sits in the shade. How can a place be so hot and cold at the same time?
In the most crowded section of the park, a group of people gather on the sun-soaked benches speaking loudly, almost like this is a common meeting ground.
There is a bird on the grass with a broken wing. An African American woman with a bandana tells another woman walking her dog to be careful. “Watch your dog, there was a bird with a broken wing there earlier!” she yells.
The strong smell of weed takes over.
A woman sitting next to a man wearing a coat him calls him a “man of the night.”
A gardener with a leaf blower cleans the perimeter of the park.
A T-Pain song starts to play from one of the speaker held by a homeless man: ”I got money in the bank.” The group of men sitting on the benches start singing along. They smell strongly of alcohol, and the empty Hennessy bottle lying in proximity to them explains why.
The woman with the bandana refers to another woman as “Tupac.” Tupac wears no shoes, and she walks with her stomach as far out as she can. She holds yellow flowers. She resembles someone learning to walk as her steps are steady, calculated to make sure not to lose balance.
The woman yells for another person: “Dwight!” she yells, but he can’t hear her.
“I got money in bank” continues.
Tupac begins to undress.
A man with a skull cap on calls for a man named Bobby. He walks by, reeking of alcohol. Then he calls for a man named Douglas.
Tupac keeps saying that that Douglas is smoking weed.
“That ain’t no weed, that’s grass,” says the lady in the bandana.
The woman with the bandana yells at Tupac, who has taken off her pants. “That’s so disrespectful. Put your pants on,” she says.
Douglas begins smoking on the bench next to me. It is, in fact, weed.
A woman with red nail polish who has been sitting next to the bandana lady walks away.
“See you later baby, love you!” says the woman in the bandana.
”Love you, too!” says the woman with the nail polish.