Nine years ago, I flew halfway across the country for a job interview in Downtown Oakland. I don’t remember much from the trip, but when I think back to the day of the interview, I fixate on the moment I emerged from the 19th Street BART Station — suited up, talking points down, resume at the ready. The midday sunshine was unabashedly bright, and the streets were… mystifyingly quiet. It felt like I was the only human being around, right there at the heart of a supposedly major American metropolis. This place is a ghost town, I said to myself.
I landed the job, and became an employee of ghost town. It’s had quite a face-lift since then.
The most noticeable difference is an explosion of new bars and restaurants, upscale joints appointed with reclaimed hardwood, elegant lighting, and general swankiness. These establishments sling high-end booze and gourmet fare to an expanding customer base, many of whom live close by in luxury condos that first sprung up a decade ago, then sat half-empty during the recession, and now presumably enjoy robust demand. The resurgent economy has also attracted a variety of companies eager to set up shop near San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but for slightly less insane real estate costs.
Oakland still remains the Bay Area’s third banana, but last week, it briefly nabbed top billing over the region’s more prominent and prosperous municipalities, thanks to the Golden State Warrior’s own dramatic turnaround. The hapless franchise ended a 40-year championship drought with a remarkable run of dominance and luck that culminated in Cleveland, where a vanquished LeBron James endured postgame presser misery as the visitors in blue took turns smooching the Larry O’Brien trophy. After witnessing a night of revelry in the Midwest, the trophy jumped a plane to California, soon to take a victory lap with its new owners.
When newspapers confirmed that the victory lap would actually wind through the streets of Oakland, it felt like a coup. Cynical fans had assumed San Francisco would woo the Warriors to its side of the Bay for the championship parade, laying premature claim to the team that it’s not officially scheduled to inherit until 2018. If the City had jacked The Town’s swagger like that, many would be angry, but few would be surprised; over there they have riches and razzle dazzle while over here we have ruins and riots, at least according to conventional wisdom. Some residents likely wondered whether Oakland could even handle such a celebration, given its high-profile ineptitude with managing crowds during numerous social protests over the last several years.
I harbored a few doubts myself that Oakland was up for the challenge. Sure, it had come a long way since throwing the ghost town vibe at me nine years ago, but could it really pull off an event of this magnitude?
The answer, a resounding yes, became more and more clear as I soaked in the scene on parade day. From my office window, I marveled at the anti-gravitational drift of confetti, floating skyward as if lifted by the deafening roar of the masses gathered below. Jubilant players and their entourages waved giddily from open-top double-decker buses, which cruised by in a stream interspersed with fire engines, trolley cars, floats, and a giant metal snail that carried Mayor Libby Schaaf and MC Hammer on its back while snorting out great balls of flame. After the Larry O’Brien trophy rolled through, I headed over to Lake Merritt to watch the procession pass by again.
The midday sunshine was unabashedly bright, and the streets were incredibly noisy. Oakland was alive, and for that day, on top of the world.
Alec MacDonald is a writer and editor who lives in Oakland, California. Alec is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.