January 28, 2003
War Zone

Even though the hometown team was in the Super Bowl this year, I didn't watch more than a couple of minutes of the big game on Sunday.

But then again ... I didn't really have to.

I knew when the game was starting: even with all my windows closed and the computer running and nice teeth-rattling Alice In Chains on the stereo, I could still hear Celine *Retirement Is Over-Rated, Anyway* Dion screeching at me from a hundred neighboring television sets.

I knew when Oakland scored its first touchdown: the entire complex erupted into wild, raucous, foot-stomping/back-slapping/brew-pounding cheers of jubilation. I knew when the million dollar commercials were funny (riotous laughter) and when the halftime entertainment fizzled (everyone went outside to smoke a cigarette and light the charcoal). I knew when the Raiders were in trouble: when silence descended across the complex, like coastal fog creeping over the Berkeley Hills, and then lingered there for the rest of the afternoon.

And I definitely knew when the Super Bowl was over. That's when the sirens started.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

"They're rioting in Oakland," David announced, as he walked through the door on Sunday night.

He'd spent the day watching the Super Bowl over at his parents' house in Walnut Creek ... a chivalrous gesture designed to 1.) give me a little football-free Alone Time, and 2.) ensure that he actually got to WATCH some of the game. As he drove home, he passed through the central section of downtown Oakland.

"Jack London Square is completely blocked off," he said. A row of police cars were lined up, four across, beneath the overpass outside of Jack London Square. No one could get into or out of the waterfront area.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said, shaking his head in amazement.

I told David that the sirens had started the minute the game was over. A handful of City of Alameda emergency vehicles screeched past our bedroom window -- "Five or six squad cars, a couple of fire trucks, at least one ambulance," I said, ticking down the list -- but most of the battle noise was coming from the Oakland side of the estuary. "It was like listening to war starting," I said.

We flipped on the TV to see exactly how bad it was.

All of the local stations were carrying live broadcasts of the mayhem, of course. Lots of nervous, third-string newspuppets standing around under street lamps, clutching microphones and ear pieces. Lots of murky video and muffled audio: glass breaking, sirens wailing, cars burning, the ubiquitous packs of inebriated young men in baggy pants, roaming up and down International Boulevard. As we watched the KTVU newscast, one particularly rabid group of thugs lobbed rocks through the windows of an Oakland paint store, then reached through the broken glass and helped themselves to cans of semi-gloss (which they promptly dumped on top of cars and parking meters and hapless passersby). Whenever they saw the television cameras pointed in their direction, they jumped up and down and waved at the cameras and hurled gleeful obscenities at the television audience.

Their mothers must be so proud.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

The good news -- if there is any 'good news' to be found here -- is that the vandalism didn't reach the Dirt Company offices, this time around.

When the Raiders won the playoff game, a couple of weekends ago, the violent post-game 'celebration' spilled over from the Oakland Coliseum, next door to our office building, and into our parking lot and the other office buildings in the vicinity. We all came to work that Monday morning to a sea of broken liquor bottles, empty beer cans, garbage, graffiti, smashed car windows, used drug paraphernalia, spent fireworks, puddles of vomit. One of the environmental techs found what appeared to be a used condom, hanging from the doorknob of the first floor lab.

There was none of that stuff this time around, thank god ... primarily because the Super Bowl didn't take place at the Coliseum. The rioters appear to have contained their revelry to downtown Oakland on Super Bowl night: they never made it to the Coliseum area.

In the meantime, Mayor Jerry Brown is busily trying to undo some of the damage to Oakland's already suspect reputation. This morning's Yahoo Newsblurb had him "... out talking to people along the street Monday, [where] has spent years trying to bring business and investment to the city. He said it was important to remember that the vandalism did not lead to worse.

'You look today, it's calm," Brown said. "We're putting things back to normal.' "

That may be true. Things were pretty quiet today. Still ... it's going to be a few days before I feel safe walking alone to the BART station, or waiting for David in the parking lot, or going across the street for a Hegen Burger. I feel like I've been living uncomfortably close to a war zone the past couple of weeks.

I don't want to feel that way again anytime soon, if I can possibly help it.

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