My favorite Oakland conman is a gentleman who plies his trade in the afternoons by the West Oakland Bart station.
Nattily dressed in a suit and loafers, he approaches commuters as they hurry to their cars. To those who will listen, he weaves a tale of woe, ending with an explanation as to why he needs a few dollars to get his car back home from work.
I miss this man, and not only because of our most recent encounter which ended with a knowing grin and the words, "Wait a minute! I've done you before, haven't I?"
Recently I've made the choice to abandon West Oakland in favor of a safer Bart station closer to my home. Sadly, this has reduced my exposure to petty tricksters and my ability to report on the Mandela Foods debacle.
A man must make such sacrifices to ensure his safety. Certain parts of Oakland have become downright deadly of late, and I'd rather not end up part of Mayor Oswald Bates' next set of talking points.
So it has also become with Oakland eateries. It's very nice that Dullums thinks we should "step up" and help put a stop to those committing takeover robberies on a daily basis throughout the city.
The problem is, I'd rather avoid being pistol whipped while enjoying my dinner. So, while Dullums and his ilk try to encourage bravery -- or perhaps I should call it foolhardiness -- among the citizenry, I plan to take my dollars elsewhere.
Though, I have to admit, Whole Foods' decision to staff its Lake Merritt store with armed guards does intrigue me.
Already, I've taken some extra time to sample the foodstuffs in San Francisco and North Berkeley, and I expect that to continue. I'll avoid eating out in Oakland until the situation improves -- if it ever does.
When I moved to Oakland nearly 10 years ago, I had reasonably high hopes for the city. Given its proximity to San Francisco and its gentrifying population base, it seemed like a sure bet to become a compelling urban area.
While I continue to believe demographic trends will eventually make the difference for Oakland, I am surprised and disappointed by how tightly the city holds on to its ghettoized past and present.
It's tempting to say that this situation is the product of a "few bad apples" who terrorize the rest of us and decrease economic activity by scaring dollars away from the downtown area. Though it is true that these criminals represent a small percentage of the population, their success is a direct result of policy choices made by the city's liberal regime.
The only solution to Oakland's near-term malaise is a significant police crackdown on crime at all levels. But I do not see this happening anytime soon. Too many forces stand in the way: consent decrees related to the Riders scandal, our leaders' opposition to strong policing and the constant siphoning of money toward bloated pay packages and welfare schemes.
No, I think the reality is we all have to sit around and wait for time, gas prices, house prices and whatever other economic forces are out there to move the gentrification process to the next level.
In the meantime, the only thing to do is to keep ourselves safe. If this means avoiding Oakland for eating and shopping, so be it. I realize this may contribute to the problem's worsening in the short term, but we are faced with little choice.