Kwik Fixin’ Oakland

I love Oakland. It is immigrant, black, and blue collar. The town has a great history and a solid soul. Ours were among the first neighborhoods in America where all of the whites did not move out when blacks moved in. Of course, along with a heart of oak, the town also has a brain of well mashed potatoes. We celebrate diversity beyond parody and indulge in thousand clown politics“somewhere to the left of whoopee!”. Our schools work with immigrant kids that show up speaking more than two dozen languages (actually, nobody speaks two dozen languages. That’s the problem. Each kid speaks one. A different one). Like our libraries, these schools are collapsing under the weight of dodgy managers, paleolithic unions, and ineffective parents (not necessarily indifferent, just collectively ineffective outside of Crocker Highlands). My part of town, near Lake Merritt, has been brought together by a weekend farmer’s market and by the perpetual comedy of the Grand Lake Theater billboard (typical offering: “Prosecute Dick Cheney for torture” followed by “Kick Ass II”). We have a terrific neighborhood association which, like most neighborhood associations, is where liberals go to be conservative. Ours is earnestly opposed to rich corporations. And to poor corporations. But perhaps not to Trader Joe’s, because they are German and cool. Also not to Peets, because he was Dutch, their coffee is cool, and they come from Berkeley. (Starbucks: you are clearly suspect). We like “small local businesses” because they are so small and local. The Gap is a dilemma. It is local, but not small — so like Starbucks, we tolerate but do not embrace. What matters here is not whether you create stable, well-paying jobs with health care benefits or even whether you deliver useful goods or services. What matters most in Oakland is that you are small, local, and (ideally) ethnic. Our motto: we love you. Unless you succeed. Which pretty much rules out McDonalds. In 2004, the Golden Arches wanted to take over Kwik Way, a burger joint that had been abandoned for years. In 1980, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen memorialized Kwik Way in“Two Triple Cheese” on their Lose it Tonight album. The lyrics suggest that the Commander lived in this part of town, even if he takes liberties with the street names. His ode to saturated fat, salt, and cholesterol now enjoys a place of honor in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Watch it below: it’s pretty good. Post Cody, the Kwik Way became an abandoned dump and a favorite haunt of sketchy crackheadswho sold stuff in plastic tubes and left them lying all over the massive drive-in parking lot. McDonalds offered to renovate the place, hire local kids to run it, and keep it swept up. The arches might have framed the Grand Lake Theater quite nicely, but no wayThe ‘hood mobilized against the would be corporate trespassers. Conveniently ignoring the KFC next door, we stopped Big Mac by asserting that the traffic would snarl up the place (we argued, in short, that “we gotta stop this restaurant because it might be so popular”). Gleeful idiocy of this sort mixed with strong coffee is what keeps Oakland running. Truly if you polled my neighbors, 65% would nod solemnly at the assertion that McDonalds was responsible for Dick Cheney and his Guantanamo torture. (The sordid truth, of course, is that McDonalds has killed more people than Dick Cheney ever dreamed of and quite likely contributed to the Veep’s own lousy ticker. But the Oaklandish among us objected to the crowds that McDonalds would attract, not to the celebrated American tradition of serving cardiotoxins to teenagers.)Kwik Way crumbled until it was finally sold to a local developer with an appreciation of mauve, ecru, and other soothing colors. He relaunched it as a higher priced burger joint a couple of weeks ago. The place sells food that is arguably more salty, fatty, and sugared than McDonalds, but hey, it is small and local. Here is a video of the opening (a prime specimen of neighborhood values appears at the 1 minute mark). Comparing the two videos,who wants to argue that we have made real progress?

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