Alice B Toklas lived in oakland nearly sixty years ago, her pot brownies were made famous when she lived here. We should celebrate it as part of Oaklands lesser known history..
. It has been fifty-two years since the first edition of Alice B. Toklas’ Cookbook was published after the American publisher Harper’s had censored one recipe. While the recipe is often said to be for brownies it was actually “Haschich Fudge” misspelled as it was. The British edition featured the recipe and made the book infamous overnight. Alice couldn’t have done more for the lovers of Cannabis. Ironically, the British edition spelled it "canibus sativa,".
Alice’s lifelong partner was Gertrude Stein. She grew up in Oakland and is responsible for the often misunderstood saying,” There’s no there there.”. when she couldn’t find her childhood home that had been torn down. It is often misunderstood that the saying is an attack on Oakland or somehow compares Oakland to Paris, which was the expatriate home for Alice and Gertrude. The whole saying goes like this: “What was the use of me having come from Oakland, it was not natural for me to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.”
Oakland admittedly has an image problem. I remember the old city signs that said,” You are now entering Oakland” as if it was a border with an unsafe territory. Thankfully, the city changed the signs to “Welcome to Oakland.” That was a smart move. When I tell people I live in Oakland, they often dredge up images of sideshows or shootings or whatever the news in their town manages to throw out for public consumption. I have to say,” Oakland is the best kept secret in the East bay.” There are plenty of wonderful neighborhoods with plenty of nice folks.
Another famous Gertrude Stein saying is, "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." I’ll say this much, Oakland is hands down the best place in the bay area to grow roses. That might not sound like a big deal. It is. San Francisco roses look fine when the peak of summer hits but in the winter, they have black spots and rust on the leaves, powdery mildew too. In Marin County, they only thrive in the late spring and summer. In the east bay, Berkeley has a better climate but being at the foot of a hill makes it slightly colder. The south bay also has temperature issues. The part of Oakland where roses truly thrive is not the wealthier homes in the hills rather the great expanse of the blue-collar flatlands from San Leandro in the south to the north Oakland border. From pill hill to west Oakland, I’ve noticed roses blooming on Christmas day and even new years. All the geographical elements and endless cement retains warmth and keep the roses just warm enough to never enter a true dormancy. Cannabis too flourishes here too both indoor and out. It seems fate has bestowed Oakland with a quirky array of blessings. Oaklanders are fiercely proud of their city. During the L.A. riots, there was no violence in Oakland. Even if people agreed with the righteous indignation of the Angelinos they decided not to trash their city. Oakland is a great place to live.
My fellow activists hate when I ask why there are hundreds of liquor stores in Oakland and only four medical Cannabis facilities. They tell me their perspective is that liquor stores should be free to do what they want just as Medical Cannabis facilities should be left alone as well. Even as the city of Oakland shuts down a few problem stores here and there , there are hundreds left. I believe anything that becomes a magnet for crime must bow to some degree of regulation from the city it is in. At the peak for the Oakland Cannabis club scene there were eight or nine clubs operating with little or no trouble. Most clubs had security and tried to be good neighbors. All seemed well at that time. Even though there were grumblings from different factions in the medical scene, for the most part, all was well. The fact that patients were offered a choice brought the cost of medicine down. The city however focused on a now infamous Fox news channel two report regarding reselling in the so-called “Oaksterdam” triangle of Broadway, Telegraph Avenue and nineteenth street. Having owned a business there I never witnessed herb being sold rather vicodin, jewelry, car stereos, Raider tickets, sex, and anything else you can imagine. I wonder if the city ever called Al Davis, the owner of the Raiders and told him to have tighter control on those Raider tickets or heaven forbid a child might go to a Raider game.
The clubs then endured a process to “apply” for permits. Clubs renting buildings owned by absentee landlords in Hong Kong, had at their own expense, improved them, only to be shut down by the city. I personally witnessed rat infested structures, boarded up since the earthquake, cleaned, and then shut down by a city which was supposed to be bringing people downtown or as they call it,” Uptown” Ironically, tobacco companies tried unsuccessfully to market a cigarette called “Uptown” to African-Americans in the early 1990s. http://www.wclynx.com/burntofferings/packsuptown.html I wonder if the city knew this.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the clubs were only allowed to be in certain areas, away from schools. While this sounds OK on the surface, the city allowed schools to move literally next to existing, previously permitted clubs and then force the clubs to move at great expense. It seemed the charter schools were used as pawns in a real estate game. I am sure when the redevelopment kicks in to high gear, the schools will be moved out of the immediate downtown to make way for businesses. One unnamed club installed a very expensive air conditioning system to keep the mostly older crowd comfortable during the summer months only to be forced to another building with broken air conditioners and a building owner who lived in Hong Kong. The club was forced to buy yet another air conditioner. All clubs, which had passed the process, had to pay a permit fee, which was quite a few thousand dollars. Most clubs wouldn’t comment on the amount because they didn’t want to upset the city, which “allowed” them to operate. I wouldn’t have called myself a free market capitalist but after the city clamped down on the clubs, I noticed parking which had previously been very hard to come by was suddenly available. One fellow I knew who owned a small, beautifully remodeled club with a modest clientele called the area “Ghosterdam” after he was forced to shut down. The variety of choices at all the different clubs brought people in from all over the state. I met many medical patients who actually moved to Oakland so they could use their medicine in peace. I would witness people breathless from a long trek from some high sierra town, exit the car and ask where they could get their Cannabis card. They looked like runners getting ready to cross the finish line. They would exit the building, card in hand and go to a club. Afterwards, they would eat, shop and support local businesses. Much of that is gone now. Yes they still come for their Cannabis card but they don’t have as many choices and many of them leave. It’s ironic how a club can open in Santa Cruz or Los Angeles or San Diego using so called “Oakland guidelines” which were once viewed as cutting edge and now smack of a better time when the city of Oakland could do no wrong in the eyes of medical patients.
I wonder if Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas came to Oakland today what would they say? I’m sure Alice and Gertrude would like to visit the city center sculpture called “There” by Roslyn Mazzilli. I wonder though a half-century after her cookbook was published how Alice would view the city. Would she want to move back to Paris or would she see the flourishing art scene and all it’s ambitions? Would she see the gay and lesbian activists and their almost being able to marry? Would she cheer the Medical Cannabis activists? What would she make of a city, which made it so much harder for sick people to get their meds while truly bad businesses get a slap on the wrist? I wonder. Just like so many Oaklanders, I wonder.