For the past four years, I’ve covered Silicon Valley out of The Times’s bureau in San Francisco. But in between articles about the power and influence of the world’s biggest tech companies, I’ve also written a few stories about gritty places that added to the fabric of my adopted home, Oakland, Calif.
It began with a ballpark. When I moved to Oakland, I knew the city’s sports stadium, the Oakland Coliseum, was maligned as dingy and decrepit. Then I started going to Oakland A’s games, and found that it was also laid-back, inviting and freewheeling in a way that newer or more historic parks weren’t.
So I penned a love letter to America’s ugliest ballpark, calling it “baseball’s last dive bar.” A’s fans loved the moniker and even wrote it on a sign at a playoff game hours after the article was published. Three fans, Bryan Johansen, Paul Bailey and Carl Moren, started a line of merchandise with the phrase, including shirts, mouse pads and Christmas tree ornaments, with all profits going to charity. They have donated nearly $23,000 to local organizations, and several players have donned the gear.
Then, at the start of the pandemic, I began following my local bar, the Hatch, and its employees. After three months, we published a report on their struggle to keep the bar alive — and themselves safe. After six months, we aired an episode of “The Daily” that took an even deeper look. The Hatch, buoyed by reader donations, survived and even expanded, adding a flower shop next door called Pothead.
I also wrote an article last year about my journey on a yellow school bus that a local pastor was driving through an Oregon town destroyed by a wildfire. To give a sense of what was lost, I made sure to describe the smoldering husk of the town’s lone bar, Barkley’s Tavern. It was, “like most taverns, a place where people found a lot of fellowship and friendship,” the pastor told me.