Jack London SquareThe Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Gothic architecture of the University of Chicago, Mardi gras, the Great Wall of China–all are highly visible landmarks, characteristics, or events that are emblematic of a particular place. In a more subtle way, there are other “landmarks” that are less recognizable but nonetheless suggest a specific place. Perhaps it is the local mall, or spring tulips in your garden, or abandoned warehouses, or an annual Fourth of July parade or October pumpkin festival. Write about a landmark, characteristic, or event that suggests to you a specific place.
Down around the intersection of Broadway and Embarcadero, between the chimneys and the channel, lies one of the few scenes that Oakland displays with pride to the outside world. It is Jack London Square, a ten-block area occupied by shops and offices, which looks out on the Alameda Channel and, beyond it in an appropriate direction, on San Francisco Bay. It is the site of numerous happenings, from the weekly Farmers’ Market to the Fourth of July fireworks, and for the remaining time it somehow maintains an air of hospitality — even festivity — foreign to most of the city. But to me, the Square is more than a physical location; it has a variety of connotations, all somehow connected to Oakland.
It is not accurate to say that Jack London Square is a symbol of Oakland; rather, it is a gathering place for a variety of individual representatives of the intellectual and economic mediocrity on which the city frugally survives. To one side is the Port of Oakland, the heart of the city’s commercial significance; it somehow irritates me that this metropolis of 400,000 functions as a distribution center, a mer…
…ironment, and to find the same sort of indicators of the social and cultural entity that constitutes whatever other city as I have done in Oakland. What I experience is perhaps nothing more than a form of academic interest. Just as I have tried to expand my academic experience — while focusing on mathematics, I have also taken interest in chess, CX debate, and programming, among other things — I want to know other places as well. I am not an inseverable part of Oakland. But it is a part of me, a fragment of my experience and my identity. Years from now, after I have finished college and graduate school, perhaps long after that, it is quite likely that I will return to Oakland. I will make the pilgrimage on foot to Jack London Square. And I will sit at one of the outdoor tables of the Barnes & Noble Cafe, sipping an Italian soda, and remember what Oakland is.