Oakland: Is There a ‘There’ There?


It was feminist author and publisher Gertrude Stein who, recalling a visit to her home town of Oakland, Calif., wrote: “When I got there, there was no ‘There’ there.”

Today, on the streets of Oakland, I went in search of “There.”

“Can you tell me where I can find ‘There’?” I politely asked an Asian businessman.  I don’t know if I frightened him, or if he didn’t speak my language.  He glanced askance and kept walking.

I went up to some teen-aged skateboarders.  “You guys know where to find ‘There’?”  They told me to “Chuck off,” or words to that effect.

I approached a heavy-seat, middle-aged woman pushing a shopping cart.  “Do you know where ‘There’ is?” I asked.  “There? Well, I don’t know There,” she said.  “If you lookin’ to go shoppin’, the store is ‘bout two blocks that way. But that’s That, not There.”

A tall African American man was standing on an invisible soapbox, loudly preaching the Gospel to anyone who find stop to listen.  I asked him if he knew the way.  “I know that Jesus knows the way, son,” he said.  “If you follow Him, your search will be ended.”

An art-gallery receptionist looked puzzled when I requested help.  “’There’?” she repeated.  “I don’t know of any place named ‘There.’” I found a brochure in her gallery with a photograph of an ornate sculpture.  “Oh,” she said.  “Is that ‘There’?”

A bicycle cop used his radio phone to call headquarters. “Does anyone at Dispatch know how to find ‘There’?” he asked.  “No?  Because I have a visitor trying to find it.”

Clearly, this was not a question for an Oakland resident. Perhaps, as Stein had suggested, there really was no There there.

I sauntered past the ornate City Hall, crossed 14th Street and entered a contemporary business-and-shopping mall called City Center.  And then I saw “There.”

The colorful 1988 work by sculptor Roslyn Mazzilli was the centerpiece of a fountain around which more than a dozen people were sitting and passing the time.

I knew I was “There.”  A plaque beside the sculptor read: “‘There.’1988. Roslyn Mazzilli.”

It was clearly a meeting place.  But I wonder why nobody in Oakland apparently ever says, “I’ll meet you ‘There’!”?


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