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Archive for the ‘Oakland’ Category

New Deal in the East Bay

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on July 8, 2007

I’m often stunned by the turn to the right that politics in this country has taken in the last twenty-five years. And I lived through Nixon’s presidency. It’s been said that Richard Nixon was our last great liberal president, in that he still had a fundamental commitment to the policies and principles of the New Deal. The turn to the right I’m talking about is the one that began with Ronald Reagan, a turn away from the New Deal and all it represented in government planning and intervention, towards the fool’s paradise of free markets. The social infrastructure of the country has been deliberately underfunded and allowed to crumble, providing the justification for increased privatization of social services and government functions. So successful has this conservative counterrevolution been, there are proposals to replace Franklin Roosevelt’s portrait on the dime with that of Ronald Reagan.

Which brings me to this story in the Berkeley Daily Planet, about the not-so-hidden New Deal legacy to be found in the East Bay.


A recent wedding party at the Berkeley Rose Garden, one of the many local New Deal projects. Photograph by Gray Brechin.

Posted in Bay Area, Berkeley, Berkeley Daily Planet, East Bay, Franklin D. Roosevelt, life, New Deal, Oakland, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, San Francisco Bay Area | Leave a Comment »

Oaktown revisited

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 22, 2007


People talk shit about Oakland: poverty-stricken, crime-ridden, gang-plagued, drug-infested, with a brutal police department and a corrupt city government. I moved to Oakland when I came up to the Bay Area in 1991, and I thoroughly enjoyed the eleven years I lived in the city. I spent many a “dark night of the soul” walking about downtown or around Lake Merritt, grieving after my parents died. Not once was I mugged or robbed or even harassed. I liked Oaktown’s racial diversity and pleasant weather and radical history and the fact that I was only a BART ride away from Berkeley or San Francisco.

I didn’t like Mayor Jerry Brown much. I considered him a faux progressive and a crass opportunist. I have a soft spot for Ron Dellums ever since the Vietnam War years, but he seems to be struggling to find his stride as the new mayor. He is criticized for being an absentee mayor, a charge that he denies. His website features a report of his accomplishments in his first six months in office. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I’m willing to give Mayor Dellums a little more time to prove himself.

Posted in Bay Area, Jerry Brown, life, Oakland, Oaktown, politics, Ron Dellums, San Francisco Bay Area | 1 Comment »

Of Volvos and tanks

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 8, 2007

I drive a 1990 Volvo 740 GL. I’ve owned the car for five years. It’s a tank. I’ve driven Volvos like it for the past fifteen years, ever since my tiny 1987 Honda Civic was totaled by a 4×4 with those monster truck tires as it ran over my car’s front end in running a red light. I was in LA at the time, playing the tourist, and I had to tow the car up to my parents’ house in Ventura to store it while I arranged to dispose of it.

I bought my first Volvo station wagon after that incident on the basis of a story I’d heard. The Loma-Prieta earthquake in 1989 caused the collapse of the multi-level Cypress Freeway in Oakland. A couple managed to survive, buried under tons of freeway rubble, because their Volvo station wagon held under the weight until rescuers managed to dig them out. Rumor has it that Volvo bought the car from the couple, and it’s now on display in a museum in Stockholm. After having a near-death experience in my flimsy Honda, I told myself, now that’s the car for me.

I’ve been pretty happy driving Volvos ever since. Sure, they have problems. Their heater/air conditioning fans invariably break down. And they cost more, in both parts and labor, to work on if you go to mechanics that specialize in Volvos. But it’s been worth it in peace of mind alone. I’ve had three fender benders, all three involving cars that have run into me from the rear. In two of those incidents, while the car owners wailed over crunched front ends, I casually noted a scratch or two on my rear bumper. When a massive old Chevy Impala rear ended me at a stoplight and drove my car into the vehicle in front of me, I found only a bent license plate on my front bumper. The driver of the Chevy had a dent in his chrome bumper. The car I hit, again some tiny Japanese import, had a torn-off bumper and a dangling wheel well panel.

What brought this up was a little accident I had recently. I was driving my wife’s 2006 Lexus IS 250 last Wednesday when I was sideswiped by a woman driving a Ford Focus. Her side mirror smashed up the side mirror on the Lexus, and left a long black streak down the driver’s side of the car. I won’t go into how the other driver fled the scene and how I chased her down. Nor will I describe the shit she gave me just for wanting her insurance information or the fact that her car suffered almost no damage. The whole process of dealing with insurance companies is such an incredible hassle.

I’m pretty confident that, had I been driving my Volvo at the time, the damage ratio would have been reversed; virtually no damage to my car, and a fair amount to hers. Just the look of my car – fifteen years old and clearly a junker – usually keeps other drivers steering clear of me on the road. Indeed, when I drive my wife’s Lexus around, folks driving vehicular equivalents of my Volvo blithely pull out or change lanes right in front of me, assuming that I don’t want my new car to tangle with their junker. They’re right on that score.

Well, my Volvo has issues. It needs a new muffler, and a complete brake job. I’m looking to get another car, and while I’m not interested in something brand new, I’m tired of owning a vehicle that’s a decade or more old. Unfortunately, Ford Motor Company purchased Volvo in 1999. Call me an American hater, but I’m not at all confident that the newer Volvos are any good. I certainly don’t think they measure up to the pre-Ford Volvos. And I’m not willing to put my life in the seat of one of those tiny plastic Japanese numbers again. So, unless I can find a make of car that’s as sturdy and durable as a pre-1999 Volvo, I may get stuck owning another ten year old car just to feel secure.

Posted in 740 GL, accident, auto insurance, Civic, Cypress Freeway, Ford Focus, Ford Motor Company, Honda, IS 250, junker, Lexus, life, Loma-Prieta earthquake, Oakland, San Francisco, Stockholm, tank, Volvo | Leave a Comment »