Tuesday, November 11, 2008

17th & Webster

The first thing I see in the morning as I exit the freeway from 980 heading into downtown Oakland is the Donut Shop at the corner of 17th and Webster and as I think now I don’t even recall if it has a formal name, a place run by a Mom and Pop who have two kids—a girl and a boy—both in college. I know this because I have talked to Mom about becoming an empty nester. Sometimes during this past summer, she mentioned that she and her daughter had fights, the girl hissing that she couldn’t wait to leave for college, and this hurt her mother. She says that the boy who is already at Cal Poly is different, isn’t that way, keeps his feelings to himself and we admit together that “boys are different.” As soon as they see me enter the door they know I will have a small latte to go and begin the steam low-fat milk in the espresso machine for the layer of foam dusted with cinnamon that gets me going. Sometimes I don’t feel altogether great about being so absolutely predictable so I’ll order a glazed maple donut or a dozen donut holes to bring upstairs to share. There are two oak tables in the front and several counter spaces toward the back of the shop where people are already nested with breakfast and a newspaper, or memorizing the numbers of a newly purchased lottery tickets. We talk about different things in snatches as the growing line of people permits. One day we chatted about the rising price of rice in Asia, almost everywhere. There are people in the donut shop that I recognize from AC Transit, but mostly not. People are coming in for their morning coffee, cans of soda, tea, and of course, donuts that tempt me every morning from behind their glass counter that separates me from sugar and fat, but I hold steadfast most of the time, donuts being something that I only ate for lunch in junior high school, six rings at the time, chocolate flaking on my tongue like eaves from Hansel and Gretel’s candy house in the woods, or sometimes donuts dusted with a spring coating of powdered sugar. I’ve eaten enough donuts and have fond memories of all of them. I’m happy to order a latte, nodding as Mom or Pop point to the espresso machine. During the summer, both of their kids worked for a few days in the shop, making change at the cash register and getting breakfast sandwiches of bagels with something spread between them. I usually have two dollars in my wallet for the price of a latte that I unfold and place on the counter like a bet. I never can get enough coffee, its bitter taste spreading throughout my mouth, straining between my teeth. On my way out, whoever made my coffee, Mom or Pop, reminds me "to have a good day." Standing just outside the store is Patrick, another regular. When it rains, he’s on the inside of the shop, closer to the lottery ticket machine. Patrick’s a homeless guy who sells the Street Spirit to his customers. I am one of his regulars. For 14 years he played with Fats Domino and Chubby Checker, practices on the piano when he can at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music. One day I met Patrick’s daughter who was walking with him on the street past the AC Transit parking lot on Franklin. A beautiful African-American woman , 27 years old, with the same dark sparkling eyes as her father. Patrick told me her age when I asked him later. He’s got a crooked smile and those sparkling eyes, always wears a hat, an ambassador on the corner of 17th street waving us on as we head toward the elevators of downtown Oakland. On our way out, he reminds us to “Have a good day.” The donut shop is where we make our transitions, where we gather as a breakfast tribe with donuts, coffee machines, and lottery tickets on our way to work.


Jaime said...


My name is Jaime Luckey and I'm a grad student at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA. I'm giving a presentation Monday on your story- Stranger in Paradigm- and I was hoping to ask you some questions about it.

Please email me at jaimeluckey@gmail.com.


Paul Corman-Roberts said...

I see Patrick every day on that corner on my way to pick up air samples for asbestos testing...love the Oaksterdam neighborhood (I lived there for 5 and a half years.) I'm writing a love poem for the neighborhood.

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