Street Gawking & Copters

This post is also up on WarriorsWorld. Spam in the guise of cross pollination.

I’m not sure how to connect this to basketball other than to say: Meant to write about Scott Rabb and Rajon Rondo…got a little bit sidetracked on account of the mass chaos outside my place.

When I left work, the plan was to bury myself in a laptop, knock out a post or two, perhaps the elliptical, then bed. Wake up the next morning, make Aeropress coffee, snatch the work photo ID from the abalone shell, grab the keys off the magnetic strip, can’t forget those…I’ve already found comforting routine in this incohate yuppiedom. I am a boring song on loop.

But when I left work in San Francisco, a disruptive force awaited in Oakland.

I got off at my 14th street Bart stop to the sound of low-flying helicopters. The station is next to Frank Ogawa Plaza, where Occupy Oakland tents had been multiplying. Had been. Police flushed that area the night before amid some uproar. But now, Hazmat bedecked aliens are simply cleaning this vacant square, behind a phalanx of Oakland PD officers.

(It’s all so…quiet.)

I walk down an eerily silent 14th, passing more cops than I’ve ever seen on one street. In their black plastic riot gear, they look like Made in China action figures come to life…or futuristic Buckingham Palace guards, sartorially darkened for King Harry’s funeral. The helicopters seem to track, and then, predict my path. The paradigm for rioting is certainly set.

Copters waft towards the library next to my apartment, and where protesters have congregated. Twitter speaks of a gathering outside the plaza, and suddenly, my feet are carrying me back from whence. Helicopters follow. Five of them.

Suddenly, the streets are swollen with humans, drifting towards the Frank Ogawa Plaza barricade. A police officer blares into his bullhorn, though his message is barely audible. This is progressing quickly, and I’m not sure if I belong in whatever this progression is.

(Did he just threaten to use force?)

The police are just too ominous–nobody wants a rubber bullet to the nostril. The crowd backs off, away from the confrontation point. Crisis averted. Cooler heads prevailed. I sweated stink into this shirt for no reason. Everybody is rational, hooray!.

Crowd members bellow: “Join us! Join us!”

It’s a spontaneous parade. Business owners hop in front of their establishments and cheer the marchers, who drift uptown. The mix of people is staggering in how, well, mixed it is. There is a strong contingent of what you might refer to as “Oakland hipsters,” but I see also see wheel chairs, football jerseys and gray beards. This lot is more representative than menacing.

I break from the crowd to rendezvous with my girlfriend. Once I find her, we have little clue as how to re-find the thousand-plus marchers. It’s whale watching if the whale mischievously tweeted the longitude, latitude of where he’d spouted 10 minutes prior. Really, that sounds more like something a dolphin would do.

So it’s back to the mostly vacant plaza barricades. We talk to a goateed, effeminate bicycle man. He waxes ambivalent about the protests, and I can certainly relate. Throughout this event, people digitally ask me: “Are you part of the protest?” Though I can empathize with the economic injustice that fuels this discontent, I am not a part of it. A certain set of neuroses prevents me from subsuming my personality into any collective emotion. It’s rooted more in an intense fear of getting manipulated than any grand, righteous code. Plus, this all started right after I (finally) got hired.

A sound builds from the north, the dolphin spouts yonder. The protesters are trotting towards us. People materialize from all directions, as though conjured by wizards.

Transfixed, Allie and I stare at what quickly becomes another barricade standoff. Protesters yell, chant, hold two fingers in the air. Police repeat the riot act, this time with clarity. I nurse some claustrophobia from “tiny” to “full-damned-grown.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Smoke flies in all directions as screams ring out. And we’re running down 14th street with hundreds, chased by an enormous, clasping poison cloud.

I tug Allie’s hand while weaving through slower escapees. I look back–mainly because Allie slows down to film with her phone. In this moment, the siege is horribly terrifying, but also beautiful. Hundreds running, as a ghostly mass swims through the sky, slithering around buildings lit by helicopters. Never imagined it–at least in any scenario that did not include painful death.

The air is acrid, tasting faintly of unripe fruit. We trundle into a favorite Afghani restaurant, where the middle aged owner shrugs at his cash register. I would imagine he’s seen worse. The surrounding chaos animates his son, a gregarious type who can’t stop laughing at the tornado above his cellar. We eat beside an open door.

As the cloud vanishes, protesters appear like the sand uncovered by a receding tide. And I follow, stepping through a movie set city. The first act was tension, followed by relief. The second was tension, punctured by explosive terror. The third act builds on the tension implied by the second.

It’s the waiting that does it. Now that I know of this unpleasant surprise, I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival. Thirty some-odd minutes pass while I brace for explosions and exodus. It isn’t that I want to gargle gas, it’s just: This is all happening outside my apartment and I simply can’t ignore menacing, enthralling, accessible history. I am a rubbernecker with a gas-scratched throat.

But after awhile, this tension isn’t worth waiting idly through. I can only assume Oakland PD has learned a lesson. The gas won’t come, the first time was too dangerous for this compact an area. It’s all too much like a Bruckheimer movie. I start strolling towards my bed.

Boom! Pop!

People run towards me as I whip  back around. The cloud is back and taller than ever. People are cursing through the mist. Shock has given to anger.

Though the blast breaks my stride, I complete my short journey home, where the girlfriend is wrapped in a blanket. She called me four times as I tried to snap pictures of the non-lethal battle. I am doing much to exacerbate her worry, doing little to reward her love. It’s all to revel in a protest I’m not engaged in.

It will take another standoff and gas dispersal for me to finally hold to the friendly apartment confines. Has the Siege of Oakland just begun? When will basketball start again?


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