Posts Tagged ‘El Sobrante’

When the story first broke, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to CNN News. CNN is the news outlet after all that continually flashes “Breaking News” or something similar across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Every thing is “breaking” or “developing.” My mind numbs itself in self defense.

But then something caught my attention. I heard the words “Richmond High School.” There are other Richmonds in the U.S., including Richmond, Virginia. I went back to my latest issue of Country Weekly magazine.

As I read, I heard the announcer, I think it was Kyra Phillips, mention California. My ears perked up. The gang rape occurred on the grounds of Richmond High School, Richmond, California. Once upon a time, I attended that very high school. My tenure there was brief, but still, things stick in the mind.

Richmond when I lived there was a classic All-American town, or perhaps I should say a classic California town. However, I’ve lived in many towns and the habits of teens weren’t substantially different from the habits of Richmond’s teens.

In Richmond, as in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, cars were a big deal, and every Saturday night, McDonald Avenue, Richmond’s main drag, would be lined with cars full of kids dragging the street from 23rd Street in the east to the train depot at the west end of town.

If the kids weren’t tooling up and down shouting at one another or at a gaggle of girls walking along the street toward the movie, they were parked in or just idling in any available spot near a drive-in with real live and often good-looking girls taking and delivering orders.

If you want to get a good idea of Richmond then, watch the movie American Graffiti. The movie wasn’t filmed in Richmond but in several nearby towns like Petaluma (the primary filming location), Pinole, Concord, Larkspur, Mill Valley, and San Francisco.

Mel’s Diner in the movie was filmed at a diner (since torn down) on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. And 4th Street in San Rafael was used for many of the street scenes. Another coincidence: my wife and I lived on 4th Street shortly after we were first married and then later in Petaluma.

Times have changed since American Graffiti was released in 1973. Most of the towns where the movie was filmed have undergone dramatic growth spurts accompanied by an influx of people from other areas of the United States and from foreign countries.

Richmond has also experienced its share of changes. But unlike the positive changes in many other Bay Area communities, the changes in Richmond have been mostly negative.

The reputation of Richmond today is a place to avoid. The town is widely known as the murder capital of the state. In 2007 (last year I have a figure for), there were 37 murders in this town of roughly 100,000 people. And, the part of I-80 passing through Richmond has achieved dubious standing as a war zone based on the number of shootings that happen along that short stretch of the highway.

To compound these negatives, the Richmond-San Pablo area has become rife with gang activity that often erupts in violence. And lesser crimes such as robbery and burglary are beginning to spill over into once small and peaceful enclaves like El Sobrante.

The causes of Richmond’s decline have often been attributed to its ethnic shift. While the town was once overwhelmingly white, today whites make up about 25 percent of the population. The balance consists mainly of Blacks and Hispanics.

However, the attribution of Richmond’s ills to its ethnic balance is a specious argument. So many variables come into play that it’s difficult if not impossible to narrow the root cause or causes to one factor. More likely, the cause lies in both economics and a failure of civic leadership to address Richmond’s burgeoning crime rate and rapidly declining infrastructure. McDonald Avenue, for example, that one-time image of Americana embodied in American Graffiti, became an absolute, decaying roadway to nowhere before the civic leadership seemed to wake up.

Regardless of the reasons for Richmond’s decline, there can be little doubt that many of the students at Richmond High School are products of the current culture of violence, poverty, drugs, decay, and a nation-wide attitude that drives individuals to seek the immediate gratification of their own desires.

Given such an environment, it was probably inevitable that violence would eventually reach the ground of the high school. In fact, at least one of the active participants in the gang rape apparently wasn’t a student and shouldn’t have been at the homecoming dance to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the school’s students are undoubtedly decent individuals doing their best to make it in a cruel environment. Moreover, the high school wasn’t exactly pristine when I attended it. There were fights, usually between individual boys over a girl, and other students would gather and watch, cheering on one or the other of the gangly teens.

But there were no rapes on campus, gang or otherwise. Those were different times. In retrospect, so innocent. Sadly, once upon a time will never come again.


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…and will suffice…

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like San Francisco or the North Bay or the Peninsula. All of these spots have their attractions and charms. What’s not to like?

For starters, the price of homes in SF is sky high. But then again, homes are expensive almost everywhere in California. For example, I would give a right arm to turn back the clock. I coulda been a millionaire (almost) if I’d held on to that spacious 3-br, 2 ba, encl gar, cent ht, cent AC, frplc in Tracy that we picked up for $15,000, $150 a month, a few years ago. Today, homes in that area are worth around $400,000.

And then there’s the sky-high murder rate in Oakland. How does society condone violence on such a scale? And in Richmond, too, the city now has more murders in a year than it did in all of the years we lived there.

Yes, there is much to dislike about all of the “Bays,” East, North, South, and Whatever. But good things exist, too. Here’s some positive stuff about the East Bay.

For starters, if you want to get away, you don’t have to cross one of those doggoned gridlocked bridges and get lost in the Maze or wind up somewhere in Modesto. If you’re driving to, say, Tahoe, you can avoid the main I’s out of the Bay Area by using a plethora of surface roads and state highways. Or you can head for the Oakland Airport and catch a flight with less hassle than you’ll encounter at SFO. My sister regularly drives from El Sobrante to Pleasanton on the back roads, a very enjoyable and pastoral trip.

And the views from the Oakland and Berkeley hills are spectacular, magnificent panoramas of the San Francisco skyline, day or night, as well as up-close and personal scenes of Marin County on clear days.

But the Berkeley and Oakland hills aren’t the only scenic viewing spots. From the hills around other communities, the sights are impressive, too. One little-known viewing spot is at the top of the hills around El Sobrante. You may have to search for it on hazy days, but San Francisco is clearly visible when the skies are clear. You can also find the Marin Hills and San Quentin even from some of the lower elevations. And while you’re at it, you can hike some of the trails that meander through a small park.

Despite over development, the East Bay still has it’s neighborhoods that remind us of less-harried lives. Orinda, for example, still has the old Orinda Theater sign clearly visible, and jumping South all the way to Alameda, the old town of Alameda is still suitably neighborhood-ish. Not to forget a drive through the old Alameda Naval Air Station where, if you’re lucky, you might catch the crew busily filming MythBusters. The show, by the way, also operates out of 1268 Missouri Street, San Francisco, and on Mare Island, Vallejo.

Back on the other side, the East Bay is also home to UC and the Marines. Why the Marine Corps decided to establish a recruiting station in Berkeley is beyond me. Do they expect to recruit imminent nuclear scientists, doctors of philosophy, and professors sick and tired of sassy students? I have a hunch they’d have more walk-in traffic in Richmond or Oakland. But, the reasoning of bureaucracies can be foggy sometimes.

But leaving the Marines aside for the moment, the campus is beautiful and worth a walk through. I’ve spent some time there not as a student but visiting a couple of friends. The campus still exudes an old-college atmosphere in spots. Hmmm. I wonder if the Marines would object if UC established an off-campus center in the Pentagon.

How do we continue to wander off-topic? Maybe it’s time to wrap this one up and have something to snack on at Denny’s on San Pablo Avenue, in El Cerrito. Denny’s isn’t the classiest cholesterol chain around, ranking right alongside the old Doggie Diners, but it’s our favorite breakfast spot, and it works well all day, too, as a quick coffee stop.

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