Monday, August 31, 2009

Ghost Town Farm

a young fan

Before I headed over to Jack London for the Eat Real festival, I spent a few hours on Saturday helping out at Ghost Town Farm. It's a small farm in the middle of the Ghost Town / Hoover-Foster neighborhood, with bees, rabbits, chickens, goats and all sorts of fruits and vegetables. It's run by Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. This isn't some one-time stunt to ride the green wave; Novella has been urban farming for over 10 years. In conjunction with the Eat Real festival, Novella had an open farm, including a workshop on chicken slaughtering, and another on taking care of goats.

Grandma's cobbler

There was a lot of interest in learning more about what she's doing, but there's not much parking on her street. So she encouraged people to bike there if possible, but as many people were coming from out of town, that wasn't a good option for them. I directed parking for a while: bikes at the back fence; cars, well, your best bet is along MLK. There were also people there to sell Goat Town t-shirts and copies of Novella's book, and provide refreshments. One of her neighbors, Grandma, made an awesome peach cobbler.

removing the innards

I did get to see part of one of the chicken slaughtering demonstrations. I wasn't particularly interested in that, as (a) we don't have any chickens (yet) and (b) I'm a vegetarian, but it was still interesting to see. Sort of like what I remember from high school biology, though nothing I remember dissecting ever had organs that looked as readily identifiable as what came out of the chicken.

After the Eat Real festival, my wife and I stopped by so she could see the farm. It's pretty amazing what a variety of food is produced in a small area. Currently we grow some potatoes, but have plans to plant a garden again once I finish the house remodel. Now I'm thinking bees and chickens (for the eggs) would be good, too.

Eat Real

Lots of people were out at the Eat Real festival this past weekend, and there's lots of blog coverage of it. My wife and I enjoyed it despite the hot weather, and it seemed like a lot of other people did, too. Everything we tried was great. Some gelato, a corn empanada, vegi spring rolls, and of course the beer tent. The latter was actually a trailer, not a tent, and instead of eight 4 oz. samples, you got four 8 oz. samples. They probably did it because of the heat and the long line for getting beer, but I would have liked to sample a wider variety of beers for my $25. And if it had been cooler, I would have stuck around for some of the 'meet the brewer' sessions they had.

We also enjoyed getting a chance to see the food market that's being built at Jack London Square. It's huge (and blessedly provided some shade), and should be a great spot when completed. We stuck our noses into Bocanova, a pan-american restaurant that's opening near by.

I've posted some pictures from the festival. For more coverage and pictures from the festival, check out these other blogs:
I especially like the coverage at Cooking.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

signs: Lineman's Club

Lineman's Club

I've been keeping an eye out for this sign for a while. I saw a picture of it online somewhere, and it was described as being in the Oak Tree neighborhood. I finally discovered it today further up East 14th / International in Rancho San Antonio. I want to get better shots when I can, because this sign is wonderful. Besides neon lettering (which is in decent shape), it had a neon drink glass above and neon arrow below. The glass was an unusually shaped martini glass; sadly much of that has broken. But the crowning touch was the shape. Not only shaped like a power pole, it includes the insulators on the cross arms. Now, it would be in contention for best-sign-ever if they'd used real insulators, but I guess including the shape as part of the sign shows up better.

There's an older picture of it on flickr showing the unusual martini glass. I found this blog post about the International Lao Market that's there now asking about the sign, and a response in the comments. Go to the post to read the whole thing, but it sounds like it was quite the place once upon a time:

The club was kind of hidden between buildings and not too many people knew about it. I never let anyone know where I was getting my tickets on game day because they only had a limited supply. I think Ben Davidson or Jim Otto (or both) had something invested in the club and I saw some Raiders having a beer there more than once. Got to build up those carbs for the game, heh heh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eat Real Festival

Friday through Sunday is another Oakland festival, the Eat Real Festival. It features local food and drink, fresh, from the people who produced it.
Street food, fresh summer fruits and veggies, live music, handcrafted local beers, ice cream sold from the back of a bicycle. Come find it all and more at Eat Real, a free festival, taking place August 28-30 at Jack London Square. Buy from your favorite street food vendors, pick up a ticket for the Beer Shed and sample from among the 40-something microbrews, or shop in the Market for local produce and artisanal snacks. In between the good eats, enjoy the non-stop entertainment and activities that include chef demonstrations, dance performances, bands, films, food competitions, and lots more, for free.
There are lots of different events through the weekend, so check the full lineup on the Eat Real website.

Besides the listed events, Ghost Town Farm will have tours, a goat raising workshop, and a chicken slaughtering workshop showing urban farmers how to kill the bird humanely, and how to pluck, clean, and rest the bird for the dinner table.

And all this week Oakland restaurants have been partnering with different organizations to raise funds. Tonight, for example, Doña Tomas partnered with TransFair USA, which is the licensing organization behind the Fair Trade certification for agricultural products in the U.S. Tomorrow (Thursday) Flora partners with Meals for Change; Saturday Bocanova partners with the California Food and Justice Coalition.

There'll be lots of good food and drink, so come and eat and drink local!

signs: Fandango Latino

Fandango Latino

Continuing the non-neon signs, here's Fandango Latino, a dance club and restaurant on San Leandro Street near 98th. The building is of the same vintage as the sign.

Fandango Latino building

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

signs: Scotty's Market

Scotty's Market

Just up the street from the Habitat for Humanity construction site is Scotty's Market.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

signs: Larms Building Supplies

Larms Building Supplies

On my way home from a farewell party for one of the construction supervisors at Habitat, I stopped to take some pictures of signs I'd seen before, including this great one at Larms that dc of Fragmentary Evidence reminded me about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

signs: Gallagher's Liquors

Gallagher's Liquors

Icame across this sign while dropping off some plywood scraps for someone on Freecycle. I'd been down that section of MLK before, but never noticed the sign.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

watch the Raiders, help Habitat

Planning to watch the Oakland Raiders take on the Philadelphia Eagles on October 18th? Buy your tickets through Habitat for Humanity East Bay and they'll get $14 for each ticket purchased to help support their mission of eliminating poverty housing, one house at a time. More details on the website (PDF file).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

signs: Piedmont Lumber

Piedmont Lumber

I've known about the sign at Piedmont Lumber for a long time, but I'm usually more focused on buying materials than looking at the sign. It's not neon, but it has some classic elements (the pinched waist and the pointless dots), and Piedmont Lumber has been around a long time, since 1934.

unique hills architecture

home of Steamboat Willie?

On my ride home from the Red Cross today, I went past some interesting architecture in the hills. The first I'd seen before on past rides. It's...interesting. Besides the trumpet / organ pipe towers, and the saxophone-shaped chimney, the railings are supported by modified treble clefs. Definitely not my taste, but better than the cheese house (no, really -- it looked like pieces of cheese; one part had small round windows like Swiss cheese) that used to be nearby.

Baker Millennium House

The other was a work in progress, the Baker Millennium House. According to an old article on SFGate, it's been under construction at least since 2006. It doesn't look so different now, but there were workers there (plus the helpful safety guy on the roof), so I guess it's still moving forward. Also not my taste, and not the greenest way to build, but given the history of fires and earthquakes in the area, I can understand the desire to build a house that will last. I can't fathom spending that much on a home, though.

(electric) biking Oakland, part 3

plus 48 lbs.

Yesterday I started taping and mudding in the dining room, and quickly ran out of paper tape and realized I was getting low on mud, too. Drywall mud is heavy. You can get small buckets (which don't go very far), or larger boxes, which weigh 48 lbs, or 5-gallon buckets which weigh a ton. So I pedaled over to Piedmont Lumber in search of more. I started to lock the e-bike to a railing display, and one of the guys in the yard said I didn't need to lock it. He joked that "He'd just ride it around the yard a bit." I told him that was fine as long as he didn't run over any nails.

I went in to get the tape and mud, and while I was doing that, the guy came in and asked, "Does that thing have a motor?". I replied in the affirmative, and he shouted back out to one of the other yard guys that he was right. So I went back out and told them about it. I went back in and paid, and came out to get my box of mud. Then another customer started asking me about it. He'd gotten two electric bikes at Costco that were on closeout, and found them a bit underpowered (similar to my experience trying electric bikes a couple years ago), but as they were on closeout, he got a good deal. I strapped all 48 lbs. of the box on the back, and off I went. It was definitely noticeable having the extra weight on, but more because of balance than slowing me down very much. Once I got to bigger hills, it did slow me down some, but I still made it up the hill to home.

Firestorm Memorial

Today I donated blood platelets at the Red Cross on Claremont, and I rode the bike again. Getting there is a snap as it's downhill, and it's scenic because I get to go past Lake Temescal for part of the ride. After that I went and exchanged a t-shirt I got at the Art & Soul Festival, (helpful tip, whether you're working in the electronic world or the physical one: security through obscurity doesn't work; putting your address on your website and printing it on credit card receipts is not obscurity), then headed for home. I rode past the Claremont Hotel, and then up old Tunnel Road. I stopped to look at the exhibit for the 1991 Firestorm, then up the hill from there.

I used to ride that way on a regular basis with my late friend Dave. He and I would hop on our bikes at his house in Rockridge after work, ride up old Tunnel Road, then hang out in the hot tub and drank beer. Cancer claimed Dave in 2006, and the Enron-induced energy crisis claimed the hot tub some years before that. So it was a trip down (or up, in this case) memory lane for me. It's by far the easiest way up the Oakland / Berkeley hills. It's also blessedly (almost) free of cars, so it's a great ride. With the e-bike, it was hecka fun, to say the least.

And because I was just asked about them, here's some more technical specs on the bike:
  • 7 gears (Shimano shifter)
  • front disc brake
  • front shocks
  • rear caliper brake
  • 250 watt motor, 36V system
  • removable lithium ion battery
  • charging takes about 3 hours at 90 watts
  • 700-1000 charge cycles
I used a Kill-A-Watt to see how much energy recharging used. The Pacific E-Bike website says 4-6 hours, but the times I've paid attention, it's been closer to 3. The battery is easily removable (though there's a small lock to keep it from being too easy), which makes charging a snap. Just tip the seat up and pull the battery out, and you can carry it inside to charge if you don't have power where you keep your bike.

I'm not sure how much the bike weighs; as I've noted it's more like a cruiser bike, and the battery definitely adds some weight. But it sounds lighter than the ones the guy got at Costco, and has more power and range to boot. And it's not so heavy it can't be ridden as a regular bike with the motor switched off.

Can you tell I like this bike?

Part 2
Part 1

Sunday, August 16, 2009

(electric) biking Oakland, part 2

our e-bike

Our electric-assist bike definitely gets more attention than our regular bikes. A number of people have asked "is that an electric bike?" or the like, but the best (when I rode past them up a hill) was "what is that?". Most of the people who have asked about it are bike people of some sort, whether recreational or commuters. They're probably not the ones who would buy an electric bike for themselves, but they definitely recognized the benefits of it.

There's apparently some controversy over it, some 'snobbery' if you will, from regular cyclists, as evidenced in the article "Is my electric bike lame?" over on TreeHugger. But a reader of my first post about our bike pointed me to a study that suggests an electric bike is actually more energy efficient than a regular bike (PDF), unless you eat locally and low on the food chain, and your electricity is particularly un-green (e.g., coal.) To me, it's a no-brainer: every trip my wife or I take on the e-bike that would have been in a car (even our Prius) is a win, whether or not it's more efficient than a regular bike.

Our electric bike is from Pacific E-Bike in Berkeley. It cost $897 plus tax, which is considerably cheaper than a car. It's heavier than a regular mountain bike, more like a cruiser bike. But it's not so heavy I can't ride up a hill without the motor. I do notice the extra weight when I lift the bike up for stairs at BART or the like, but it's manageable. The range varies depending on how much you pedal, the hills involved, etc. I've ridden it to and from the Habitat building site, which is a 20 mile round trip, with 1000+ feet of climbing (mostly at the end, alas). I've ridden it to and from the grocery store, returning with a 12-pack of beer (a local Bay Area brew, of course) and two panniers full of groceries.

Is it lame? Not in my book. As I said in my first post, I used to ride more and was in better shape 10 years ago. But even then, I never rode my bike to the grocery store, and it was rare that I rode it as far as to the Habitat site and back. It's gotten my wife riding more. And every trip on the e-bike is one less car trip, and that's a win.

Art & Soul

gospel stage

Yesterday was the first day of the 2009 Art & Soul festival. The festival is going on today, too, from noon to 6pm. There are multiple stages with live music all through the event. My wife and I checked out Shawn Colvin on the rock stage and caught part of Men of Endurance on the gospel stage.

There are also lots of food and drink vendors, artisans selling all sorts of goods, and a variety of informational booths. Oaklandish has their truck there, with brisk t-shirt and hoodie sales.

community art

I think my favorite thing was the community art project. A basic background was painted, and the canvas divided into squares. Each person is given a small amount of blue paint or brownish paint depending on where in the image they're going to paint, and they paint whatever they want in their square.

free bike parking

I volunteered at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition free valet bike parking lot. Besides providing free and safe bike parking for the event, they're offering a deal on membership: for $20 you get discounts at 50 local bike shops plus their awesome bike map, plus a chance to win a fast commuter bike.

Check out more coverage in the Oakland Tribune.

Friday, August 14, 2009

signs: Broadway Motel

Broadway Motel

Wrapping up hotel/motel week in the signs feature (but by no means the last hotel or motel sign) is the Broadway Motel. Sorry for the late post, I was out to Habitat for Humanity today (and scouting for more signs on my way home.) Hope to see you tomorrow or Sunday at Oakland Art & Soul!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

signs: Rio Motel

Rio Motel

Next to MacArthur BART is the Rio Motel. The sign is in excellent shape. It's got some classic elements of signs of the era: an arrow, the wobbly cloud shape, and a pen stroke font for "The Rio". If it weren't for the modern replacement windows, this looks like it could be the 50s.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

signs: Hotel Touraine

Hotel Touraine

Named ultimately for a region in France, it was a popular hotel name, with examples from Paris, France to Buffalo, NY to here in Oakland. This sign is in bad shape, but searching for history on it, I came across pictures of another sign on the other side of the building. It's also in bad shape, but considerably better than this one.

Society in Decline
on Flickr

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

stop BART's Oakland Airport Connector

Becks at Living in the O and others have links to a petition to stop BART's current plans for the Oakland Airport Connector. Calling it a boondoggle is an understatement, to the tune of $500 million (or more -- the price keeps going up.) The latest, as Becks reports, is that the planned speed for BART's OAC will be even slower -- slower than the speed limit for cars and busses. It will cost a ton of money, and the projected ridership won't begin to cover the costs, even at $6 a ride (vs. $3 for the current AirBART.) Better alternatives, like a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to replace the existing AirBART have been proposed, but BART seems hell-bent on spending the money. Read more about it on the TransForm website, and make your voice heard!

signs: Sutter Hotel

Sutter Hotel

Continuing with hotel/motel week, it's the Sutter Hotel near the Federal Building.

Monday, August 10, 2009

signs: Hotel Menlo

Hotel Menlo

All this week it's hotel/motel week on the Our Oakland signs feature. I've posted a few (Harrison Hotel, Oaks Motel) before, but I came across a number of new ones on my ride the other day.

Hotel Menlo

First up is the Hotel Menlo. The hotel looks as if it's seen better days, but the Seoul House restaurant on the ground floor was doing a good business when I went past.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Walk Oakland - Bike Oakland

Walk Oakland - Bike Oakland is a non-profit organization dedicated to making Oakland a better place to live by making it a better place to walk and bike.

WOBO at Whole Foods

Today until 3pm they're at Whole Foods on Harrison and Bay Place, offering free mini bike tune-ups, and information about walking and biking in Oakland. That's to mark being the recipient of Whole Foods' Nickels for Non-Profits program for the month of August. If you take your own bags for shopping (and you really, really should), you can tell Whole Foods to donate 5 cents to WOBO for each bag you use.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

signs: Parkway Theater

Parkway Theater

The Parkway Theater was a much-beloved pizza/pub/theater for 14 years, and before that a more traditional movie theater for many years after its construction in the 1920s. There have been hopes that the theater might reopen, but the East Bay Express reports that deal has fallen through. Zennie Abraham at Oakland Focus has an interview with the Fischers who ran the Parkway for the last 14 years. And Oaklander Online has a nice write-up on it, including some historic photos from its construction and different phases of its life. Apparently the Parkway, unlike its sister theater in El Cerrito, was making money. So there's hope it could still be re-opened.

Parkway Theater

Friday, August 7, 2009

signs: Woody's Laundromat

Woody's Laundromat and Cafe

Across the street from the now-closed Parkway Theater is Woody's Laundromat and Cafe. The cafe is apparently new, but I haven't checked it out yet. I took this on my way home from the boathouse ribbon-cutting.

blog pulse: parking II

The storm keeps swirling, and not just in the Oakland blogosphere. There's an op-ed over at The OakBook that's well-reasoned, but doesn't offer any alternatives, just recognizes that some creative thinking is needed. For some good alternatives, again check out City Homestead.

Today's print version of the Montclarion was nothing but parking stuff above the fold:
  • New parking fees meet stiff opposition
  • Charity flourishes after rate increases - Residents donate unexpired meter receipts to strangers
  • Council turns into meter monsters
  • Oakland merchants mobilize protest - Business owners consider shutdown
According to Oakland North, only 9 out of 50 businesses took part in the Thursday strike, but Michaan of the Grand Lake Theater apparently had plenty of support at another meeting. The council is listening; the same article says they're considering an emergency meeting instead of waiting until September when they were scheduled to reconvene.

And even Boing Boing is talking about parking today, quoting UCLA urban planning teacher Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking. I haven't read the book yet, but I've seen it quoted numerous times. Ideally parking should be priced high enough to encourage turnover, but not too high. That may mean charging different rates in different places, and/or at different times of the day. But given those shiny new parking machines, that should be easy enough to implement.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

blog pulse: parking

The Oakland blogosphere was briefly abuzz with talk about Oakland's budget deficit. I even wrote about it after the special election. Besides concessions from the firefighters and various changes via the special election, one way the city council decided to address the budget deficit was through changes in parking. Longer hours, higher rates, costlier tickets, and increased enforcement.

Well, that's released a veritable blogstorm. I first read about people being upset in the Tribune or Chronicle, but I didn't think much of it. Some people are upset at pretty much any change, but ones affecting their God-given right to drive a car are guaranteed to raise a fuss. Then I read on Fragmentary Evidence about the owner of the Grand Lake Theater having a meeting, and circulating a petition to recall the entire city council if the changes weren't rolled back. A strike was called amongst businesses in the Grand Lake area. That story was all over the blogosphere (Harrioak News, A Better Oakland, etc.) Well, the threat coupled with the general uproar apparently worked. Two council members called the changes 'a mistake' and said they'd address it when the council reconvenes in September. So he's won, right? Apparently not. He was out at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Lake Merritt Boathouse today gathering more signatures, and was uninterested in listening when I mentioned the aforementioned.

While I understand people being upset about how the changes were made, and the increased costs in general, I think he's handling the campaign poorly. Lots of hyperbole (I've told you a million times that doesn't work) and no practical alternatives offered (cutting the parking fees without an alternative source of funds isn't practical) makes me want to avoid the Grand Lake Theater, not recall the council. I'm not the only one who things he's handling it poorly; Becks on Living in the O has a great write-up on the right way to handle such protests. And for some practical alternatives, check out the post from Artemis on City Homestead.

Lake Merritt Boathouse

Lake Merritt Boathouse

Today there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the renovation of the Lake Merritt Boathouse. It was built in 1909 to house a pumping station in the center; the boathouse and public pavilion in the wings were added later. The pumping station was to be an emergency water source in case of fires like those that devastated San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. The building had gotten somewhat run down in the last years, so was in need of some care.

Now it will house The Lake Chalet, a restaurant and bar run by the same people who run The Beach Chalet on San Francisco's Ocean Beach at Golden Gate Park. It's a really beautiful spot for a restaurant, looking out over Lake Merritt. (There's a nice ode to Lake Merritt over on monteskewed that Monte wrote recently.) I'm hoping the food will be better at the Lake Chalet than at the Beach Chalet; it's not bad, but with so many other great restaurants around Oakland, the Lake Chalet will need to have great food to compete, otherwise it'll just be a nice 'destination' restaurant, not a true gem.

local dignitaries

A fair number of people turned out for the ceremony; speakers included Mayor Ron Dellums, councilmember Pat Kernighan, and a representative of councilmember Nancy Nadel. There was much speechifying as is to be expected at such events. I listened to a few, talked to some friends who were there, and wandered around checking out the work.

I also checked out the newly painted bike lanes and restructuring work done along Lakeside Drive (Walk Oakland Bike Oakland has a nice post on it.) The new lane layout is nice. Instead of 4 lanes of cars, there are 2 lanes plus a bike lane. One thing that left me scratching my head though is the on sidewalk parking. There's a traditional row of parking inside the bike lane, but there were also spaces marked on the sidewalk, and a ramp at the driveway to Camron-Stanford House. It had temporary signs for press and VIP parking, so maybe it's just temporary, too, but the lines seemed permanent enough. Amusingly, two cars (including what I think was the mayor's) were parked in the bike lane with the hazards on, even though there was parking set aside for them that was closer. Another thing that I hope is only temporary was the lack of bike racks. On my ride around Chinatown and Downtown yesterday, I generally found places to lock up where I needed.