There’s No Place like Oakland

3318186624_396e94a2c4_mI’m falling in love with my hometown. Again.

I’ve just come home from six weeks in Iberocco (Spain, Portugal, Morocco). And more than any other homecoming from any other trip, I’ve been struck with a swooning sense of smittendom—for Oakland.

Coming home is always bittersweet. I love so much the headspace of traveling and who I am when I’m on the road—more open and willing to roll with punches, the literal potholes and uneven pavement of shoulderless highways. I love the feeling of constantly learning, constantly adjusting, figuring out buses and city streets and how to say “thank you” in whatever language (“gracias,” “obrigada” and “shokran,” in case you’re wondering). It’s always a serious bummer to board a plane and know that that will soon slip away as I settle back into the familiar, a chrysalis of complacency.

But as the jumbo jet tilted and spun and made its descent into SFO on Wednesday, I had another usual feeling encountered when coming home: awe. Even in my dehydrated, swollen-legged state of sleep deprivation, I was floored by the raw beauty of the Bay Area, its bridges and mountains and tumble of cities. You’d think I’d have gotten used to it by now, desensitized to the rugged coast and smooth blanket of ocean. But no. It still gets me. And, surrounded by eager British tourists, I had a sense of pride—yeah, this is where I’m from.

My dad picked me up, and we chatted about exciting family developments on the drive across the bridge. My brother’s gotten engaged, wedding preparations are in full effect, baby’s on the way. It was one of those perfect Indian summer days in the Bay, and the skyscrapers and billboards of Downtown San Francisco sparkled in the lazy afternoon sun. If you’ve gotta come home to anyway in the US, I’ve always thought, this is about the best place.

And then came Oakland.

We pulled off the freeway, stopped at a light next to a woman singing along to the bass-rattling radio, hyphy dancing in her gleaming-rims car. My dad looked over at me. “Good to be home?”

“You have no idea.”

I love my hometown in a fierce, unexplainable way that transcends the normal no-place-like-home adage. There’s really no where quite like Oakland—at once diverse and vibrant, crime-ridden and corrupt, filled with the tension of violence and drugs, and with a kind of kick-back coolness that gets under people’s skin, infects them with this cursed passion for the place that won’t let them leave.

There’s a reason San Francisco is called The City, and Oakland’s called The Town: it’s a city of neighborhoods, where people say hello and chat with each other. I can’t blame the encroaching tide of gentrifiers for snatching up bungalows, sipping coffee on their porches and talking about how much they love their neighborhoods, their new city, their adopted hometown. Even for the newly arrived, Oakland just feels like home.

And seeing as though I’ve never lived anywhere but Oakland, it’s truly the only place where I feel comfortable, feel like I don’t stand out like the 5’10, tattooed, throbbing sore thumb I am everywhere else. (Even in New York City, I’m constantly being stopped on the subway, the streets, in Jewish delis, and asked where I get my work done—so much for New Yorkers being unfriendly.) Somewhere amid the dreadlocks and full sleeves, the mulleted vaqueros and the clashing-prints Asian immigrants, between the Crod-clad yuppies and the Southern-accented old men, somewhere in the seams of all that, I find this funny feeling of home.

Oakland’s not an easy city to love. My first Matador article was about that, and, judging from the comments, I’m not alone in either my love for Oakland or heartbreaking frustration with it. And, while I really can’t get enough of traveling, of seeing the world and experiencing different cultures, I’m fairly certain that, fuck, Oakland’s got a grip on my heart. I’m a lifer.

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5 Responses to “There’s No Place like Oakland”


  1. 1 Sandra Kennedy October 24, 2009 at 3:02 am

    Hi! I want to tell you that your writing really touches me. It is poetic and informative.

    I will be going to Portugal in February for a month and I can hardly wait!

    I lived there many years ago when I taught at an American International School
    near Lisbon. I lived in Cascais for three years. Portugal is in my soul.

    Thanks for your personalcomments and kudos on excellent writing.

    All the best,

    Sandra Kennedy
    Twitter @livelifefully

  2. 2 Adam Visher October 24, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Hey Lauren, I love your writing. Now that I’m living outside of California, but flying home frequently, I’ve been able to renew my appreciation of Oakland. I especially love the video mural in the baggage claim area of the airport. It’s a perfect “first sight” when arriving (Bakesale Betty stands out in it in her bright blue wig). As I was sitting outside waiting for my ride, I was struck by how dirty the benches and sidewalk were. It was like someone had really tried to get them that way, beyond normal wear-and-tear. I was more struck by the fact that I couldn’t stop smiling about that fact, how it made me achingly happy to be home. I love that scrappy rediculous little town. I look forward to your future posts.

  3. 3 Alexi October 26, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with this post – perfect way to describe Oakland’s off beat appeal. It really is gritty and homey and weird and lovely all at once. I’ve been living there for 6 years now, and I have a hard time seeing myself live anywhere else.

  4. 4 Andy October 28, 2009 at 7:48 am

    I feel lucky that I get to witness this intersection of Oakland, language, and you. My incidental closeness with the three of you make this piece even more of a gift. Thank you.

  5. 5 Greenheart Travel October 28, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I’m being selfish when I say I’m a bit sad you are home, because I had such a great time being inspired by your travels and writing. But, that said, WELCOME HOME! I look forward to continue reading more about your adventures, whether they are in Oakland or abroad.


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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