Talking on the phone at Rockridge Safeway Plaza
on November 28, 2016
On a Thursday morning, the slate-gray plaza is peppered with about a dozen black tables and chairs, some occupied, some conspicuously empty. Near a wood-topped concrete bench are two concrete planters, each hosting a handful of well-spaced shrubs and spiky plants. The building behind those planters houses chains both local and national (1st United Credit Union, Great Clips, and Philz Coffee) and the building behind them houses the main attraction of the plaza: a Safeway. The plants seem to be trying to bring some color to this otherwise non-descript, half-public, half-private plaza–which sits just barely in Oakland, near the Berkeley border–but not quite succeeding.
At one of the black tables, two men–one older in a motorized wheel chair with a fanny pack that reads “US Army,” one younger in an electric blue polo shirt and neon-green rimmed sunglasses–converse in Farsi over cigarettes and coffee. Further down the bench, a woman in a long skirt, a pink hat, and a black sweatshirt that reads “Revolution of Love Ministry” sits down. A frizzy-haired woman, bursting out of her all-jean outfit, sits nearby, talking on her phone in Spanish, her full grocery cart beside her. Near one of the planters, a goateed man in a blue tie-dye t-shirt is talking on his phone. A janitor wearing a Bluetooth earbud replaces the bag in the trashcan in front of Great Clips. A woman in a jean jacket and headscarf walks out of Philz with a drink and sits down.
Suddenly, a shout punctuates the otherwise pleasant mutter of conversation in the plaza. “Fuck you!” says a male voice. It’s hard to place where it’s coming from. Maybe it’s someone across the street. “Fuck you. Fuck you!” the man repeats.
The sun momentarily peaks through the overcast skies.
“I’m at Safeway!” the man yells again. Ah, it’s blue-tie-dye-shirt-and-a-goatee guy, speaking into his phone. He storms off. Nobody pays him too much attention.
There’s a man sporting a ponytail and a bandana with sunglasses on top. He’s drinking orange juice and feeding pigeons. A man in a brown Northface jacket paces back and forth across the plaza, speaking what might be Italian on the phone. A woman in a long black dress, wearing shiny silver jewelry, who looks a bit like current-day Carrie Fisher, sits down, interfacing with her iPad.
Two pigeons momentarily fight one another.
Again, out of nowhere: “Are you fucking kidding me?” Tie-dye guy is back, just outside of the entrance to Safeway. “Why the fuck did you do this?”
His voice competes with the tinny sound coming from the speaker of the iPad, playing a video of what sounds like a business-oriented, mock-inspirational TED talk. “Want to do the right thing… Just need permission at the right moment…”
Back to tie-dye guy: “…just called her, and it’s still fucking going to Verizon Wireless. Anything to get this done. I’m fucking pissed off.”
Back to the Carrie Fisher lookalike’s iPad, “…can be daunting, but also can be thrilling.”
Tie-dye guy’s voice calms down. He seems to be making another call. “Gracie, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you. Yes, I’m coming today.”
A pigeon flies onto the table, then back off.
“Damn it,” tie-dye guy says.
“…relationship-driven business,” the iPad roars back.
“I got it worked out. I talked to Gracie,” tie-dye guy says, on the phone again. His voice soon betrays his irritation. He mutters the word “fuck” under his breath several more times.
Carrie Fisher wannabe gets up and heads into Philz Coffee. Tie-dye guy goes into Safeway.
Beneath the wood-concrete bench momentarily, there is something gritty: cigarette ash.
Beneath this pristine and sterile plaza, there’s still some color and some grime.
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