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Golden Gate Donut

on November 23, 2009

It was 9 a.m. on a November day in 2009, but Golden Gate Donuts seemed to be stuck in a 1970’s time warp. The orange tiled floor, the faux-wood wall paneling, and the brown Formica benches felt like a set from the sitcom Happy Days, and less like a modern-day donut shop in North Oakland. The steam from a glass coffee pot swirled upward as it slowly evaporated, and a tall glass case filled with every kind of donut imaginable greeted customers when they walked in.

Two men who looked to be in their eighties debated the relevancy of newspapers as they sat surrounded by napkins and the day’s paper, slowly eating their donuts and drinking coffee at a wood veneer table. They seemed like permanent figures at shop on Telegraph Avenue and 42nd Street, eagerly debating any topic that wandered into their minds.

The first man wore a taupe cardigan; his thin wiry white hair was in a disheveled mass on top of his head. His small blue eyes were fixed directly on the man in front of him. He looked like he was ready to make a point.

“If you look at the paper, there’s always a good article. It’s all in the paper. If you want to read it you can find it,” the man said as he tried to sway his reluctant friend. It appeared his friend wasn’t interested in the subject; he turned his head downward, which seemed to annoy the newspaper enthusiast.

With this lack of response, the conversation quickly shifted to the topic of love. “The woman I love—and who I still love—didn’t want to leave,” the man with the taupe cardigan said. “She said, ‘I was born in Manhattan and I don’t want to leave!'”

His friend, who wore a faded navy blue coat and thick-rimmed glasses, made a muffled response that somehow prompted this reply: “My father, now, he rolled his own cigarettes. It was cheaper to do it that way back then.”

The sun streamed through the windows of the donut shop, hitting all the seats facing east. The temperature inside felt like it was easily twenty degrees warmer than the cool morning on the other side of the glass. The smell of sweet things being fried made the air feel thick.

A woman entered the shop and made her way to the side of the counter to withdraw cash from an ATM before buying her donuts. Her winter hat with earflaps was pulled down over her forehead and her straw-colored hair stuck out in tufts on either side of her face. After her withdrawal the machine spat out a receipt. “Aw, dang,” the woman said in a flat tone, looking like she was disappointed with what she saw. Then she examined the small piece of paper. “I just got paid,” she said looking up with a smile.

A mother and her teenage son walked in and a loud buzzer in the doorway sounded. It was a piercing noise, but not a single patron seemed alarmed by it. The young man, who had a round face with patches of facial hair growing on his cheeks and chin, walked directly to the case and examined his breakfast options before scrunching up his nose and sticking out his tongue.

“You’re too old for that,” the mother said sharply, raising her voice with each word. “You’re 18.”

“Not yet,” he said. “I’m 17 still.” The mother’s shoulders lifted as she shook her head, let out a sigh and went back to rummaging through her purse. “You want a donut?” she asked.

“I want the big cinnamon bun,” her son said pointing to the case. The mother and son bought their items, which also included a carton of milk for the boy and a coffee and pastry for the mother, and they left brushing past a man wearing a lime-green cashmere sweater and brown-rimmed glasses. He was waiting for his six dozen donuts to be boxed up. He works for a biotech company in Oakland and was buying breakfast for his clients from Stanford. “They’ve really come to expect it,” he said.

The older men back at the sun-soaked booth wrapped up their meandering conversation, which had drifted into a heated debate on the topic of capital punishment. The man in the cardigan insisted that European countries were far superior in their dealings with convicted killers and declared that “Scandinavians are the best” as he began collecting the paper items in front of him and brushing the crumbs off the table.

“Look, I have to go,” the man in the cardigan said. “Read that article I told you about.” The men got up slowly and made their way out, and then walked arm-in-arm across the street.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

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