Sunday, July 12, 2009

Running In the San Francisco Bay Area - July 8th & 9th

Wednesday, July 8
My sister and her husband were fortunate enough to have bought a house in Oakland BEFORE real estate prices went crazy. They have lived there many decades, and have always extended their hospitality whenever we have visited from Virginia. While visiting this July I have always started my training runs from here.

This morning I headed up the gently climbing road toward the Golden Gate Avenue intersection that everyone for miles around just calls "The Big Tree". Ocean View, Acacia, Cross, and Golden Gate all crisscross here, and slightly offset from the middle of the intersection stands an old eucalyptus tree whose trunk must be at least six feet in diamter. It appears unchanged since I saw it daily from the Key System bus I rode to Tech High in the mid-1950's. Actually, it is a bit less full, since virtually all its leaves and most of its branches were burned away in the Oakland firestorm of 1991 that laid waste to over 1,500 acres and burned 3,354 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominiums to the ground. It took several years before The Big Tree, its root system still intact, was able to grow enough new leaves to look normal. Today it appears pretty much the same as if it had never been burned.

My next running challenge was the long steep hill of Broadway Terrace. It climbs straight up the slope toward the top of the ridge, and before I had gone a block I had to slow to a shuffle, and then to a walk. I followed the old bus route, through the neighborhood where I had a paper route so long ago that I remembered one customer who had invited me into the house to see the newfangled television set they had just purchased so that they would be ready to receive TV signals when the first TV station in San Francisco, KGO-TV, was completed and began broadcasts for four hours a day!

As the street leveled out I was able to resume my run along Moraga Avenue toward the old firehouse. It was closed long ago, but I can still remember the shiny brass pole just inside the main doors, and seeing the firemen slide down it to the waiting trucks. I always thought that it was cool that the roof of the firehouse was made to look like there were flames coming from the peak.

The firehouse is right next to Montclair Park which used to be a dark swamp. The WPA - Works Progress Administration, formed to create jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression, built stone walls, paths, terraces, and a nice duck pond. The weeping willow trees that used to grow all around the pond are gone, as is the tunnel under the embankment where the Sacramento-Northern trains (also long gone) used to run but the park is still pretty, and well used.

The train tracks may be gone, but on the opposite side of where they used to be is Montclair Elementary School where I attended kindergarten through sixth grade. In fact the "temporary" portable classroom where Miss Milne taught me in 4th grade is still there 60 years later, and still in use.

A couple of blocks away is the Montclair Shopping Center. When I attended Montclair Elementary School, the shopping center had a big horse pasture next to the park, and several streets were still undeveloped vacant lots with water-filled sinkholes. La Salle Avenue, the main street, still look pretty much the same even though virtually all the stores have changed.

Heading back past the school down Mountain Boulevard toward my sister's house again I jogged past the quaint slate-roofed cottage that is the Montclair Library. Mrs. Glover the librarian has long ago gone to her reward, but I still owe her a debt of gratitude for encouraging my interest in books that has lasted me a lifetime.

The last point of interest on this nostalgic run was Lake Temescal, which long before even my time served as the water supply reservoir for the City of Oakland. It has been part of the Oakland Parks for many decades, and this is where I learned to fish, and spent many long summer afternoons hanging out at the beach and playing on the floats at the swimming area. Very early one morning in September when the air was chilly, the water still warm, and a thick layer of fog hung over the lake, Paul Maxwell and I, riding our bikes from Montclair to school at Clarement Junior High School stopped for the thrill of skinny dipping in a forbidden part of the lake.

By the time I had completed the loop I had put more than six miles of pavement under my running shoes.

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