Oakland Odyssey a/k/a Frisco Frolics With Florence

In the past, convention sites like Vegas
proved too stimulating for some delegates.

That’s why the view from our hotel bubble
looked down on modest Oakland this year.

However, just across the East Bay
lay the ever-so-tempting …

Golden Gate City …


… winking naughtily from the horizon.

If a distant view from the hotel
allowed delegates to dream …

…then BART, Oakland’s shared transit system,
encouraged the same to hop aboard the
“How-Fast-Can-We-Get-Out-of-Oakland” express.

 Oakland has lots of cool sh#%, I said to myself.
In solidarity, I committed to stay in town my first night.

Photo/Wouter Kiel

Not necessarily pining for San Francisco,
I hadn’t left my heart there yet,
just my cell phone on the pier one year,
which a roving German student found
and kindly shipped back to me.

Little did I know that a whirlwind night
with a footloose friend lay ahead…

Meanwhile, three blocks from our hotel,
the Occupy Oakland encampment
raged against the machine.

Just asking for a fiery, extended pepper spray fest in the face.

The city was on edge, unsettled.



 Days before our arrival, Oakland made headlines
when riots erupted between police and occupiers.


While the city was simmering with uncertainty,
I devised a plan to occupy the
All You Can Eat Seafood Buffet in Chinatown.

Less civic, less courageous,
less righteous, but let’s be honest,
at least my plan covered the sometime
sticky problem of where to nosh in the days ahead.

Along with fresh sushi and seafood,
strawberries mingled with the
authentic and intimidating.

According to my tetchy co-chair,
buffets are one-stop from
medieval plague-ridden troughs.

  Depending which buffet trough
you’re referring to though,
I really couldn’t agree less
with such flagrant elitism.

 It was D-Day minus one
before the convention opened.

Amongst our soon-to-be-arriving
local delegates was the super-alternate,
and vigilant vegan, Firenze.

“Fih-rehn-tsay,” to her Italophile buds.



On my foray into Oakland I headed south
 along semi-deserted Broadway,
through a quiet sliver of Chinatown,
past one or two random businesses,
and a highway underpass
housing a cadre of dodgy drifters.


In retrospect, not the wisest
direction to solo navigate.


Just blocks from the waterfront
and the ghost town of Jack London Square,
I bumped into Souley Vegan cafe.



Just cause it’s vegan and looks scary
doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious…

The day we lunched at Souley,
Firenze was as giddy
as a glue-sniffing schoolgirl.

And just cause it’s vegan,
and might occasionally look pornographic
doesn’t mean it isn’t wholesome.

On the other hand, was the throbbing yam
a foreshadowing of Firenze’s
opening night hijinks??
Stay tuned. . .

My only beef was with Souley’s tofu burger,
a quivering block of virgin tofu
imprisoned in a deep-fried cornmeal armor.

What was up with that?

Everyone knows tofu has to be tricked out
whether spiced, spiffed or sprinkled,
marinated or manipulated,
injected, infused, or invigorated,

All in the name of awakening its inner sponge.

Luckily, the barbecue tofu,
grilled and slathered with a smoky hot sauce,
made up for the Ouija ball burger.




During the convention’s
opening night meet-and-greet,
Firenze was conspicuously absent.



Turns out she was at a play in San Francisco,
starring one of her friends, who,
according to reliable sources,
was performing in an interactive sex show,
all of which uncannily aligned
with Firenze’s appearance in town!

Seriously …. for no one else but Firenze….
could the stars line up just so….



When you hook up with your local peeps
you feel a special solidarity at a convention.

Reconnecting with ex-pat Kristyn,
seeing Nichole at her first convention, and
2nd-timer Roger, who was entertainingly tipsy,
if his faux-threatening march up to my nose
was any indication,
all fun and collectively inebriating,
I mean empowering.


*    *    *

The next morning. . .
D-Day One of the convention. . .

. . . F was somewhere in the house.

During a break in the first day’s training,
I spotted the little minx at the bottom of a private stairwell,
transmitting a mass-text to her “little chickadees.”

Having plotted that night’s activities,
she was checking in to see if anyone had the cajones
to join her on her next adventure.

Quizzed on her previous night’s activities,
Firenze grinned, “It was n-o-t a sex shooow….”

Fair enough.  However, her blow by blow
description of the play sure sounded like a, well…

One thing’s for sure,
if ever art and life blurs,
Firenze will have box seats….


 *    *    *


Following that sensational opening night,
F was on a roll, mapping out the next evening with
an agenda that would’ve cowed Lewis & Clark….




. . . make that Sacagawea.


I was excited.

I knew following in the go-go-boots
of Firenze would be an adventure,
and our timeline was, as Firenze delicately put it,
“Probably insane. . .”

But after 8 hours of training workshops,
I was jazzed and ready to go!

*    *    *

Having tossed our stuff back in our rooms,
we hightailed it to the BART station,
a block from the Occupy site.

An hour earlier, Ethan had warned the plenary
of a recent incident near the 12th Street Station,
not mentioning it was a fatal shooting.

The area appeared eerily quiet as we swung by
to descend the subway escalator.

F’s ambitious plan included touring San Francisco’s
five-storied Museum of Modern Art
before it closed. . .

The nearby Contemporary Jewish Museum,
before it closed. . .

The historic City Lights Bookstore,
before it closed,

And with time permitting, a streetcar ride
and a meal thrown in there somewhere as well,
before it and that closed.


 Above the atrium, in SF’s Modern Art Museum,
a hypnotic sculpture stopped visitors in their tracks.

People were hanging over the stairwell landings,
gazing at the hundreds of flickering LED lights.

Suddenly, you noticed dancing figures within,
leaping and twirling in a mesmerizing
twilight zone of acrobatic mime.

Sure-footed, camera-wielding.

Back home, Firenze I-Ain’t-Afraid-To-Tackle-That-Phallic-Yam
is a barrister, an artist, a docent, an astrophysicist,
and so much else it’s best I refrain
from full disclosure or heads might explode.

Shooting the artwork was totally legal by the way.

(Except for the newer photography)

But smacking artwork with your eyeglasses
cause the pair in the installation kinda matches yours
and you think that’s hilariously ironic is not.

I witnessed this startlingly daft move from
a Japanese teen trying to impress his friends.

When a nearby outraged guard hoofed it over,
I thought the kid was going to get the rack and pillar !

Instead, he was the recipient of violent gesticulations,
and a rigorous talking-to from the guard!

The rube’s friends looked properly embarrassed
and one of them gave him a healthy swat.



But he and his young friends were long gone
by the time a team of museum inspectors
swooped out to inspect any potential damage.


The pantomiming outrage from the guard
(possibly cause he thought the kid
was more fluent in WTF!? than in English). . .



. . . and the kid’s “Who me?” look with his Buddy Holly specs,
and the museum people tromping out to peer and squint
as if the Mona Lisa had been defiled,
well, it was surreal to have witnessed it,
yet strangely hilarious to have watched it all unfold,
and ultimately milk-through-nose-spurt-worthy
as my thoughts kept re-playing
the guard’s furious, orchestrally-conducted pantomime…

Firenze, who had missed the initial offense,
did wonder why a group of museum staff
were peering so fixedly at a framed installation
from all head-cocking points.



With its five levels of audacious modern art
San Francisco’s MOMA rates 6-1/2 out of 5 stars.


Art’s parallel with that guy’s shirt?
Happy coincidence.

The fit of his trousers?


Shortly after entering the museum,
Firenze’s GPS culture-tracking system kicked in
when she took an instinctive 45-degree turn
into an author’s book-signing reception.

Milliseconds later, we were enjoying
a complimentary glass of bubbly while
perusing the culture vultures about us.

No earthly idea who the author was
as we savored our
sparkly schahm-pahn-nyah…

Firenze shoots the beautiful planes of the majestic egg.
The installation was a live video of an egg,
being fed through 8 cryptically-stacked monitors,
so a series of live videos of one egg
on an egg-colored background
would result.  Capiche?

 Photo by Firenze

No?  Me neither…

But either way, provocative, eh?


 Like infinity maybe?

So we could privately linger,
or dash as personal need dictated,
we split up on our self-guided tours.

But every so often we’d criss-cross,
she so blissfully unaware of any peripheral activity,
immersed in an intimate piece of art,
or absorbed in an entire passageway.

Observing this highly-functioning creature
was nothing less than a civic duty and I knew
the Sleepless in Minneapolis Committee
would expect a full report.



What struck me about F’s modus operandi
was how unconcerned she was about our timeline,
how in the moment she always was,
drinking in her environment . . .

No mad dash through the museum
or frenzied gulping of champagne for this one.



A Jack Handy deep-thoughts lesson.



The Jewish Museum had closed by the time we exited,
but along the way, we ran across MLK, Jr.’s watery memorial.

Behind the 50 foot high, 20 feet wide waterfall
are back-lit photos from the civil rights movement,
glass panels inscribed with Dr. King’s inspiring words.


It was getting late for me, a Midwesterner.

But F’s “I have a dream,” speech
was so inspiring, so inviolable,
that clearly, hopping on a streetcar
and rattling up and down the perilous hills
of San Franciskee in the dark would revive me,
and was the best option for any
brain-fried somnambulist.

At the same time as these thoughts coalesced,
the rest of the voices in my head warred with me:
You are not cut from the same cloth as Firenze.

Hers being of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat kind.

As the dark blanket of night fell over sparkly Frisco,
Firenze hung on to the rollicking old cable cars
with child-like zeal and a touch of pirate-like glee. . .

So infectious is the radiating energy
molecularily orbiting her person,
not unlike Jupiter’s Rings, that yes,
her ear to ear grin lit up
the San Franfriskey night
as she inhaled culture and life with a gusto
rarely seen in normal hominids.

And she wasn’t even drunk…

I mean, any effect that champagne had
had long worn off, is what I’m sayin’.

*    *    *


Seriously, with the bumping and grinding
and hand-cranking shifting of gears of the trolley
as it heaved its way up and down the hilly terrain,
we should have all had a cigarette
with the operator after that ride.


*    *    *


So natch, after the dizzying heights of the trolley,
F was poised for the famous City Lights Bookstore.
quite a hop and a skip from our street car deposit,
so we walked along the spooky dark side roads,
then caught a cab with the coolest local cabbie
who deposited us safely onto City Lights’ doorstep.


Photo by Elijah Nouvelage 

Lying snugly between City Lights Books
and the Vesuvio Cafe is Jack Kerouac Alley.

Once a repository for random refuse and rough-housers,
now it’s a vibrant pedestrian passage
linking Chinatown and North Beach,
screaming with colorful murals of revolutionaries,
and etched with eastern and western poetry.

As a symbol of the Beat Generation,
City Lights bookstore is a beacon to fans worldwide.

The dust, the mist of time permeates its creaky wooden floors
and shelves upon shelves of subversive literature,
biographies and electric poetry color its rooms.

City Lights was fronted by a would-be beatnik who took
umbrage at my taking a spontaneous photo of him.

When I asked him (after the fact)
if it was alright if I took his photo,
he positively bristled, “Actually – no!”

Trying to catch “a moment” means sometimes
not having time to ask for permission to take a photo…

It also means you sometimes risk losing the
good will and trust of a pretentious, goateed subjectee. . .

I already took the shot anyway, so what was the big whoop.

I’m pretty confident he wasn’t Amish.

Who did he think he was?
Jack Don’t-take-my-precious-photo Kerouac?

Frankly, I’m confident Jack would’ve kicked him in the nuts.


After our leisurely, delightful book-browsing,
F and I traversed the Streets of San Franciskee,
stopping at an off-street sushi place
where an initially cranky owner blossomed
under Firenze’s guileless healing powers…

What I mean is, after his initial coolness,
suddenly he wouldn’t stop bugging us,
stopping by to chit chat,
like a tommy gun on auto.

Who put a quarter in him, I wondered.

“Wish he’d get lost,”
Firenze muttered under her breath,
most unlike her usual genial self,
after he finally broke away
to look after a lone customer.

Ordering a nice glass of wine,
F downed it and rolled her eyes

Hmmm,  Lesson #2
Firenze does have her limits…

But Lesson #1
Yes, she can go on all night.

Witness the following, if you please. . .

Oakland skyline

It was creeping past midnight
when we returned to our hotel.
In the elevator, I was just basking
at having survived
a San Francisco romp
with the indefatigable Firenze,
when suddenly, she turned towards me
and asked excitedly, her eyes as fresh as
a Krispy Kreme at 5 a.m.,
“Hey, wanna go for a coffee or a drink or something???”

In retrospect – Why not!
At the time – Hu-u-hh?? (tm DeeDee)

*   *   *


The next day. . .

At our “executive meeting” on the 21st floor. . .


Morris considers leaping during the in-house lunch meeting.

Just as Margarita loves her some colorful fruit,
we will all miss her colorful personality,
heightened by her hair-raising profanity.


*    *    *


If I was not in a very social mood while in Oakland,
my co-chair seemed obstructive, at times petulant,
possibly taking out frustrations on me,
but in any event taking rudeness to the next level
by inappropriately chastising delegates in public elevators,
and disloyally flattening co-chairs during the plenary.

I was flummoxed because we lucked out
with a good group in our committee,
allowing them to break out early,
while M and I stayed late to work on a
draft of our proposed resolutions,
so things seemed fine that first night.

Firenze had been released early from her committee as well,
and naturally made the best of it by
flying off to visit the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill
racing to view the Coit murals, and
catching the David Mamet play “Race” and
of course, catching another crazy cable car ride,
a different route of course !



 I smiled thinking of all the fun stuff she was doing,
as I crawled under my Marriott bed covers that night,
so cozy was I sleeping, dreaming in Noddy Land
while Robo-Lady/Wonder Woman/Flash Florence/Bat Girl
cavorted around town at all magical hours o’ the night
probably combating crime where convenient…


*    *    *

Returning home was bittersweet.
But I was plenty exhausted from
the shenanigans that drain you
at most conventions. . .

Shortly after settling in,
I learned of another Occupy suspense story
gripping the headlines.

Ripped straight from the Billings Gazette:


After employees reported “a disturbance in the finance department,”
building owners discovered a rogue cockatiel
had plastered herself against an office window ledge.

True to the movement, Bitsy had chosen to occupy
a special corner of the United Properties building.

Photos/Dave Grubb, Billings Gazette

Bystanders watched the drama unfold as building engineers
tried to first coax, then pepper spray, the cockatiel down from the ledge.

I will now stop with the Occupy jokes.
Nothing funny about protesting staggering wealth inequality,
out-of-control human greed and government collusion.


PS  Bitsy is safe, back home, and licking her freedom feathers.


*   *   *

Speaking of greed and collusion, we just rented “Client 9 – The Rise & Fall of Eliot Spitzer” – a documentary of the one-time political Lone Ranger who took on Wall Street crooks before it ever became fashionable, and when no one, literally no one from the government would.  Single-handedly operating on behalf of the “little guy,”  the film covers the curious dichotomy and complex personality of Eliot Spitzer, who self-destructed in one of the most unexpected political suicides seen in this decade.

The soundtrack is heady, bluesy, perfect.  You won’t be as disgusted with Spitzer as much as disappointed, the unashamed embezzlers openly making a great case for top predators.


Enter stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn
Must pay most dearly in their turn.

Engraved on the doors of Gringotts Bank
thanks to J.K.R.


  *   *   *



“There are more important things than things,
like friendship and bravery.”


One thought on “Oakland Odyssey a/k/a Frisco Frolics With Florence

  1. Olga, this made me teary-eyed, both from laughing hysterically (I’ll never look at a yam the same way) and from the warm affection you’ve expressed. Your rendition of the eyeglass infraction is priceless and I didn’t even know about the hipster snubbing until I read this! Reading this also convinces me that we MUST take a trip together sometime. If we had this much fun in 6 hours, just think of the adventures to be had over a long weekend or — God forbid! – a week, Whee!

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