A soggy hour in Richmond
on December 4, 2015
Our plan was simple: Richmond Confidential student journalists would pick a spot and observe, just watch and take notes, for the same hour, recording everything seen, heard, smelled.
We knew this exercise could produce nothing at all conclusive about Richmond or anyplace else. But in a few cases, the observations seemed to capture something worth sharing.
We met at the Richmond BART station, early one rainy Monday morning, and fanned out. Matt Beagle came upon a classic barfly scene on San Pablo Avenue. Angelica Casas visited the Nevin City Center and found a taco truck. Mahlia Posey took in a nearly vacant City Hall. Levi Bridges tried his luck at the local casino. Brittany Kirstin took photographs, and kept us all company, as the rains came and went.
Matt Beagle: Jerry’s Cocktail Lounge
Jerry’s Cocktail Lounge is a log-cabin-shaped building of simple white stucco and red brick. Two signs out front say “Jerry’s” and there is a painting of a cocktail on the wall that looks like it was drawn by my 3-year-old niece. Jerry’s is very low to the ground. Actually, it’s squat, a watering hole for hobbits. What is it about impossibly small bars that is so appealing?
Once inside, you feel like you’re in a clubhouse. You’re in on a secret. Its interior reminds me of a mobile home—long and skinny with low ceilings, covered with faux wood panels. It’s dark, but clean and nice and warm. Bumper stickers hang on the wood shelf above the bar. The messages are hardly original, but somehow still funny. “No one’s ugly after 2 a.m.,” one says.
I like to imagine that for a number of years, Jerry’s Cocktail Lounge was a traveling bar on wheels, rigged to the back of a truck, driven by a man of few words. He found the corner of San Pablo and Rheem in Richmond. It felt right. “This’ll do,” he said, before removing the wheels forever.
Jerry’s opens at 6 a.m. At 10:30 on a Monday, the only patrons are a couple quietly chatting over coffee, and two guys talking sports while watching a college game replayed on ESPN. Two other TVs are showing The Price is Right.
I prop myself up on a stool and order a coffee. The bartender appears to be in her 60s. Short gray hair, spectacles, floral quilted jacket. The perfect “put-together grandma” look. Her name is Dolores … of course it’s Dolores.
Something about being in a dark bar this early makes me want to do other things out of the ordinary. I ask Dolores to make my coffee Irish and buy a lottery scratcher from the gas station across the street. I scratch it back at the bar and win $75! Best Monday ever?
Apparently I’m not the first one to get lucky here. The rumor is, the current owner worked at the bar for 18 years before winning the lottery and buying the place. A quick look through the deeds and a call up to the Lottery Commission in Sacramento confirms that the owner indeed bought the deed a few months after hitting a Super Lotto Jackpot from a ticket bought at a Pleasant Hill 7-11.
Jerry’s is everything you want a bar to be, except a place to sober up. It’s a place where everybody knows your name or soon will. Dolores greets the regulars with a familiar “good mornin’” and pours their drinks before they ask. I seem to be the only person under 50.
The bar phone sits on the counter next to the coffee maker. The cord gives it a look out of an episode of Mad Men. I wonder what kind of people can be reached on the phone at Jerry’s.
A woman downs three miniature bottles of rose´ while dancing to her jukebox songs: Willie Clayton, The Temptations, Gretchen Wilson, Brooks & Dunn. One guy comes in, orders a large Coke, talks football bets with Dolores, then is gone. The mailman walks in, drops off some letters, sits, downs a refreshment, and heads back out into the rain.
Angelica Casas: Nevin Civic Center and La Flor de Jalisco
The sky is the color of a white cat rolled around in dirt and ash. Sporadic rain sprinkled the sidewalks and the smell of wet grass fills the air only between sprinkles.
Civic Center buildings are open. The public library and an art gallery are not. The Richmond Senior Center, supposed to have opened in August after undergoing renovations, is still closed until further notice.
Despite the weather, seven hungry customers wait outside La Flor de Jalisco’s food truck on MacDonald Avenue to scan a menu of Mexican street food—mini tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas. It’s not yet noon.
Four guys wear hooded sweaters. A woman leans against her boyfriend, whose arms are wrapped around her as they lean against the fence surrounding the truck and store.
Inside the store, the cashier yells across to the man behind the meat counter, who unpacks frozen red bricks of merchandise into the long pantry behind the glass.
The baker had not yet been in the store to replace leftover pastries from the previous weekend. The cashier did not know why.
Levi Bridges: San Pablo Lytton Casino
The first thing you notice about the San Pablo Lytton Casino is the people. Not the characters themselves—although there are plenty of them, too—but the sheer quantity of men and women walking in and out of the casino’s broad doors on a Monday morning.
In one direction a steady stream of folks, many with a hopeful spring in their step, filters toward the casino’s doors. A trickle of gamblers with empty pockets comes in the other direction, eyes dark, pupils shrinking as they exit through the door and the daylight outside.
Some silvery-haired patrons seem to prefer beige polo shirts. They blend in well with the crowd. An Asian man stands out. He has slicked-back ebony hair and a half-unbuttoned shirt, flung open like a discarded magazine to expose his smooth upper chest. He steps outside and lights a cigarette. He re-enters the casino behind an African-American woman. She has tattooed arms and wears a red 49ers hat. A tassel on the hat bounces around her dreadlocks.
A bald man checks IDs at the door. He squints through fogged-up glasses at the hopeful gamblers headed inside. He waves to two Latino men wearing paint-speckled jeans. They may be on break from a construction site. He beckons them toward the door. He turns away a teenage girl, wearing a track suit.
On the other side of the doorway: faux Corinthian columns, well-worn carpeting, a smell of cleaning solution and air freshener, somehow coconut-infused, a hint of the tropics.
People sit with their necks craned over slot machines. Partly consumed cocktails and glass dishes sit on the machines. The games have names like “Party in Rio,” “Celtic Queen,” “Arabian Gold.”
Neon everywhere. I think what it might be like entering a supernova, or an intergalactic truck stop. Electronic jingles are blaring from each slot machine. The gamblers are silent, serious, watching. Those wearing glasses reflect back from their faces images of the blackjack games on computer screens. Through the din, a waitress, yelling, “Coffee, Coke, cocktails!”
My notetaking gets noticed. A short security guard named Flavio accosts this reporter on grounds of suspicion for scribbling in a notebook and conducts a thorough search through all of his belongings.
Flavio shows me the door. The reporter walks outside as a middle-aged couple pulled up in an old sputtering Dodge minivan. An employee, showing up for her shift. She kisses the driver goodbye and steps out of the car.
She walks inside the casino behind a young woman with a broken leg wrapped in a cast. He hobbles towards the casino on crutches.
Mahlia Posey: City Hall
More puddles than people are outside the city government center. Nearly everything is closed. The Richmond Art Center’s sign confirms it’s closed on Mondays. The library hours of operation start at noon. The Richmond Memorial Auditorium is closed to the public for a special event.
There are signs around the civic center plaza to remind residents that offices are closed on Veteran’s Day, which is a couple days off, but it feels closed here already. The only noise comes from the wind blowing, rain falling and birds flying away.
City Hall is open. Most of the people inside are employees. The first-floor receptionist talks with another employee about his daughter. He said, “She wants to become a business owner.” The receptionist smiles. The man talks to her more about his daughter, their voices fading as I move up to the second floor.
Here’s a bigger crowd. A couple sit together at the planning commission window in front of a woman behind the glass. They speak Spanish, their body language suggesting they are upset. The woman tightens her fist. In profile, the man’s face has a defeated look. His head hangs low. This scene feels sad, so on to the next floor.
The third floor, which is home of the city manager’s and mayor’s office, appears to be deserted. No one is sitting at the front desk. There’s a sweater on the office chair and the computer screen is on, as if the receptionist would come back to work soon. Ten minutes pass; still no one.
The mayor rushes through the glass doors, looks at me, then continues walking abruptly to his office. Quiet again. I ring the bell, to see if anyone is in the office. On the second ring, a woman comes from around the corner. “May I help you?” she asks. I ask her about some documents. She gives me a helpful answer directing me somewhere else. I thank her and leave the office. The staircase is still empty. No echoes of footsteps or conversations come from below.
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