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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Being There

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Originally published January 25, 2008

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay.

“Where am I?” It’s a question that has plagued great philosophers from the beginning of time, along with “Where do I come from?” and “Why am I here?”

On Grand Avenue near Jean Street, I found myself considering the same questions recently.  Although I am not in the league of great thinkers, I had no problem coming up with an answer to the last two questions — I was coming from home on my way to the local hardware store to get picture hangers.

Like the great thinkers, however, I had to ask myself “Where am I?”  I was parallel-parked on Grand Avenue between two signs I had never noticed before.  On the sidewalk near the rear of my car was a sign that read “Leaving Piedmont”.  About twenty feet ahead was a sign reading “Welcome to Oakland”.  According to the signs, I was not in either city but somewhere in between.  Yet, any map would show they are right next to each other.  There’s nothing in between Oakland and Piedmont.

If I was neither here nor there, I wondered “Where am I?”  As a general rule, I try to avoid the big existential questions in life.  I prefer the little questions such as “Where am I . . . going to get picture hangers?”  The answers tend to be more black-and-white and allow me to skip the grey areas.

Now, I found myself smack in the middle of a grey area on Grand Avenue.  In an effort to make the best of the situation, I decided to explore this area. It’s not much of a walking neighborhood — between the two signs, it’s only about twenty feet in length, and the width is that of the sidewalk there.

There is a store in the neighborhood but not a whole lot of shopping.  According to a sign, the store is affiliated with the hardware store down the street, however, the doors are locked and the lights inside are off.  A small handwritten note on the door directs you to the hardware store’s garden center for assistance. So, I guess it’s most accurate to say there is shopping nearby.  On a positive note, there is street parking – but only two spaces.  (If you want a spot, it’s best to get there early.)

I have found you can tell a lot about a place by the people. It seemed everyone there was headed somewhere else. Sometimes, you can distinguish the people in a particular neighborhood by their style and appearance.  I have to say the people looked pretty much like everyone in Oakland and Piedmont.

In all honesty, there’s not much in the neighborhood I could recommend to friends.  That’s just as well, because it would be difficult to say exactly where it’s located.  I imagine trying to hook-up with a friend saying, “Meet me between Oakland and Piedmont.” With no known place on the map between the two cities, it puts you in a bit of a quandary.

So, I was right back to my original question, “Where am I?” Like all existential questions, there was no easy answer.

Of course, I could go to the city government of either Oakland or Piedmont and ask them.  They would probably tell me it’s just a matter of sign placement.  Furthermore, they would say there’s nothing in between Oakland and Piedmont.  But, I would then have to ask, “What is nothing?” There’s just no easy answer.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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