I’m sitting in Gaylord’s on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, California. In what could possibly be the most un-Oakland part of Oakland. Sitting in a window seat inside a coffee shop charging a $1.50 for internet usage and blasting songs by Minor Threat at an unbearable level for any food establishment, it’s unclear which side of the fishbowl you’re on. While it’s certainly more comforting to think of myself as a quiet, invisible observer in this pristine little bubble, it’s difficult not to entertain the thought that everyone here is trained from infancy in the art of identifying “outsiders”. Funny…to think of myself as an outsider in my own city.
Upon completing my local community college’s two-year culinary program last fall, I’d figured out two things: 1.) I was not cut out for the hot, noisy, high-volume kitchens of fine dining restaurants and 2.) I could not have chosen a worse time to abandon the cushy, care-free life of a student. I was leaving a world where my personal failures elicited little more than a gentle slap on the wrist, and entering a world where the same mistakes could easily seal my fate as one of the millions of Americans who would remain nervously unemployed as one of the worst economic recessions in U.S. history blew over. For those of us who put in our time in educational institutions, it was like being promised the protection of a nuclear-ready storm cellar, only to find ourselves in the middle of a monsoon…followed by a tornado…hurling softball-sized hailstones at seventy miles an hour. A natural disaster not even those state-of-the-art cellar doors from the Ivy League where ready for.
The months of unemployment that followed “graduation” were devastating. Each day spent with my eyes suction-cupped to a computer screen, pouring over what seemed like the same 250 job postings on craigslist for hours on end. It robbed me of emotional and psychological energy; utterly destroying whatever last shred of dignity still clung to the deep reaches of my broken chi like burnt cheese that still persistently hangs from the ashen grates of a dirty toaster oven. It rendered me gravely dysfunctional as a human being, and made me completely useless as a friend and confidant to those whom had been there for me in the past. To be frank, I was lucky to come out of it alive.
So here I am. Sitting in Gaylord’s on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, across a tiny, water ring-stained table from Isaura, ex-girlfriend-turned-best-friend of more than 6 years now. She made the fatal mistake of falling in love with the Bay Area, moved here from L.A. in the winter of 2009, and together we watched the economy go from bad to worse. Armed with a degree in Journalism from Humboldt State University (where we first met), she’s doing her best to whether the storm. She is the person with whom I’d trust my life, my partner in crime, my constant dining companion, my bathroom buddy, the only one willing to talk s--t about me straight to my face.
In a nutshell, this blog is my humble attempt to make sense of this f---ed up world our generation has fallen into, one meal, one album, one bad episode of reality television at a time.