View all of our Oakland photos here

We even had a pleasant encounter at the next service station 30 minutes later when I attempted to buy a map of Oakland, the San Francisco map being so discrimatory that it didn’t even include its sibiling across the bay. The guy running the service station was from Yemen and kindly let us use his computer and printer to get directions. He wasn’t rapped about living in the US, it was just a place to make money as far as he was concerned, not like living in Yemen where all his family was. He didn’t mind Oakland, apart from the black people, which would be a problem for him as Oakland is a majority black population. I get an uneasy feeling in *any* big American city. There is a violent undercurrent just wandering around many American cities, or maybe it’s just the rewsult of the yanks pumping out so many episodes of Dexter and CSI. Still, it’s hard for an Aussie to totally relax in a gun culture and the insane freeways don’t help sooth the journeys. Oakland was at one stage the murder capital of the US, but it seems like that title is on constant rotation. Luckily for us we were far from a violent part of town. Our friends Josie and Andy live in respectable suburbia with a beautiful backyard and view of the hills. We had the nicest possible introduction to California with a BBQ to celebrate Andy’s birthday with a few of their friends. We had marinated chicken thighs, sweet yam (one hell of an unhealthy tasty dish), snags, bean salad and a nice local brew. There’s a real focus in the west coast on eating local produce and they have great food to choose from. I would give up my first born for the corn alone.

The politics of California and left-leaning Australian are very similar. It’s easy to forget that a lot of Americans on the coast think that the middle of their country is insane as well. There has been general despair with how little Obama has accomplished, real fear of the loony right wing, and general frustration with the direction of the country. It was interesting to talk with sufferers of the housing bubble pop over here as who I daresay have a different view on the stability of house prices that the average Sydney-sider. There was also a feeling that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for America to go through some tough times, learn some humility, and get back to the basics. The main streets of Oakland have a Mexican flavour to them with bright colours faded by the bright sun, lots of concrete and cars. It doesn’t take long though to head into the hills and get some greenery. For breakfast one day we went to Aunt Mary’s for some southern comfort. This is not yet another of Sarah’s relatives but a local restaurant specialising in grits and greens. Grits is a savoury corn meal porridge, mine served with (you guessed it) bacon. Sarah had the works, biscuits and gravy, eggs, potato hash and greens. It went down a treat.

Oakland felt like a home away from home, so we took the opportunity to do a few chores. On Sarah’s list was a haircut so she rang around the local places to make an appointment. To be fair, nappy hair is not common parlance in Australia, but in the States it describes the hair of black people. Previously a derogatory term it has now been reclaimed by the black population. So when Sarah rang The Nappy Hair King or something similar, the phone was answered by a very puzzled black woman wondering why this Australian was asking about a trim. We didn’t follow that up. Rather than taking the usual route down the coast on Highway 1, our next stop was the wilderness of Yosemite and Death Valley.

View all of our Oakland photos here

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