No one was more shocked than Oakland when Oakland was ranked at No. 5 in The New York Times' "45 Places To Go" list last year. It's now Brooklyn by the Bay, with massive hipster cred and gourmet ghettos replacing ghetto ghettos. Still, if you emerge from the 12th Street BART station and head out to Broadway after 9 p.m., prepare to be suddenly surrounded by the cast of Michael Jackson's Thriller video.
I always walk gingerly through, hellbent on reaching my destination while passing groups of screaming street kids with their even younger toddlers in tow, all of them out way past bedtime and being subjected to who the fuck knows what. There used to be roving bands of homeless trans youth who would congregate outside of DeLauer's as well, getting in knock-down weave-pullers almost hourly. They have disappeared. I don't know why.
So, having set the scene for you, imagine if you will an upscale bar spanked down in the middle of all this: the Tribune Tavern. Radio has long sat on the same strip of street and is indeed my favorite bar in Oakland, but it's funky and blends in well. The Tribune Tavern, however, is polished, expensive, and at least for now, far too clean (but give it time). It's hard to say if a nice bar can further gentrify an area; can we really say that the Bourbon & Branch has turned around the Tenderloin? "Gentrify," by downtown Oakland standards, would just mean more bodies. Actual people doing things like walking down the street, going into shops, and walking into moving vehicles because they are too busy on their smartphones. As of now, there aren't many, and there certainly aren't many once the sun goes down.
The Tribune Tavern sits, if you hadn't figured it out, in the old Tribune building. The designers have kept all the old school Golden Age of Newspapers touches like brass, wood, and gilded filigree lining the ceilings. A huge bar sits in the middle and booths and tables round out the perimeter. From the outside, the place has a cheery glow, like Nighthawks at the diner, O-Town style.
I sat at the bar, which features a ton of locally produced wines and beers, of course, because that's what everyone does now, and I felt really melancholy. Here's why, gentle reader. This is my second-to-last Bouncer. This was the second-to-last time I would take in my surroundings at a bar and then synthesize them for you in some silly little way. My mind was blank though. There was no overheard conversation, nor did I spark one up with anyone. I have made my living for the last 10 years by invading bars like they were tiny little countries and I was the guidebook writer. I cut my teeth as a journalist in the East Bay, so the Tribune Tavern was an easy pick for me.
But there I sat, with nothing.
Nutball German Eckhart Tolle says that in order to clear your mind, you must imagine that you are a cat waiting outside a mouse hole. Ask yourself, "I wonder what my next thought would be?" and think of that next thought as though you were that cat waiting for the mousie. It does indeed create an empty space in your head. As I sat on my stool, waiting for my shepherd's pie, I felt blank. "I wonder what my next story will be?"
And then, as always happens, some strange magical kismet arrives. It has to be the law of Bouncer attraction, because no matter where I go, something interesting always presents itself.
"Are you Michelle?" said the guy, pointing at me. He was dressed up a bit and had a shyish smile on his face. I knew instinctively that he was there to meet someone from a personal ad and he thought I was her. Oh, the fun I could have with this. Like the time I wrote about before, when my date was going so badly with the Republican that I told him I was a post-op transsexual. Or the time I told that one guy I invented Crystal Pepsi. This fellow seemed happy that "Michelle" was to his liking, so I had that going for me. But no. I couldn't go out like that, I couldn't have my second-to-last Bouncer be based on a lie.
"No, sorry," I said. I sat alone again, mind empty except for some fleeting sadness.
I will miss you, gentle reader. I wonder what my next story will be.