A Ride Through Alameda

August 6, 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Last Saturday, I took a little bike jaunt over to Alameda from Oakland. A good portion of the route I chose is flat and has relatively few traffic lights. The most difficult part is getting through downtown Oakland in both directions.

From my apartment building in Adams Point, I rode downhill toward Lake Merritt. Getting around the lake is one of the harder tasks, because it’s closer to go around the west side of the lake. However, Lakeside is one-way in the wrong direction, so I either have to maneuver my way around the pedestrian throngs on the pathway along the lake or choose another street. I continued along Harrison, which isn’t very bike friendly, all the way down to Jack London Square. I turned onto Embarcadero. From that point on, the ride is generally a breeze.

Embarcadero follows 880 south on the bayside. Therefore, for about fifteen blocks, it’s not the most scenic route, as anyone who’s ridden southbound on that freeway knows. Old, weathered homes, section 8 housing, rusty cars, and old warehouses, some converted into lofts, line the other side of the freeway. The busy expressway itself creates as much noise as one would expect. On the bayside, on which I was riding, the industry is a bit cleaner, mostly catering to boaters: water craft stores, bait and tackle shops, and the occasional hotel or Starbucks outlet. There are no stop lights on this stretch, but there are a couple cross streets that lead on to the freeway, and there is some glass and other debris on the roadside.

Embarcadero eventually turns away from the freeway and is lined by portside restaurants and taverns and an increase in businesses catering to water sports accessories. The road winds around a bit before meeting up with Kennedy St. Kennedy runs into 23rd, which has a bridge that crosses over into Alameda. A sign warns bicyclists to disembark and walk their bike on the pedestrian path over the bridge. I did so, until I was passed by a number of other cyclists still on their bikes, and I got back on mine.

Once in Alameda, I turned right onto Blanding, left on Oak, and right again on tree-lined Buena Vista Avenue. Compared to downtown Oakland and 880, Alameda always feels bucolic. I rode many blocks down this street, almost as far as I’d come from downtown Oakland before making a couple lefts and then back the other direction down Lincoln Ave., past mostly quaint, Victorian houses, interspersed with the occasional book store, burrito shop, or yoga studio. I made a right on Benton, hoping to surprise a couple friends who live on that street, but such was not the case. From there, I made a left on Central, which looks much like Lincoln. About five blocks later, I turned right on Chestnut, hoping to surprise yet a couple other friends who happened not to be home either.

However, I stopped at the Chestnut Encinal Market for a bottle of water and a bottle of wine to take home for dinner. This gives the impression at first glance of being the typical corner market, specializing mostly in liquor and magazines, with a few shelves full of junk food. While it does indeed have these items in abundance, it also has a respectable selection of food items and may very well serve the main grocery needs of many nearby residents. The store has probably been around for quite a few decades and is the size of what a typical grocery store was before the age of big boxes.

I turned left on Encinal toward Park St. I was tempted to go browsing through Kevin Patrick Books, which is one of those small bookstores that has piles of paperbacks and hard covers in complete disarray and is tempting as the complete foil to bordersbarnes&noble homogenization. A friend, however, warned me that the owner is a very outspoken right-winger, and that just sounded like a perfectly good way to ruin an afternoon, so I kept riding.

At Park, which, along with Webster on the other side of the island, is the most commercial and busy strip in Alameda, I got off my bike and walked, in search of a coffee shop in which I could sip a cup o’ joe, read a book, and repair for a bit before venturing back toward Oakland and home. I found the perfect location at Java Rama, which is an old coffee house with couches and comfy chairs and music programmed by the workers and not piped in from Starbucks-Central. I sat in a overstuffed chair and read the book at which I’ve been slowly plugging away, Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. As the music of the Yardbirds gave way to Neil Young, I gazed around at other customers, some typing, some reading, some sleeping, and I rested my head back against the chair, in no big hurry to get back home.

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