Two Sundays ago, I biked across town to a Little League game with my 6-year-old son. He was wearing his Red Sox uniform, blue shirt and white knickers, all set to take on the rival A's. In the farm league, coaches, mostly fathers of players, pitch to their batters from their knees.
We rode Lincoln to Park, Central to Willow, Alameda to Grand. My son rides a small red bike, an "Animator," and he's ready for the next large size up; mine is a beat-up mountain bike from the early '90s, when I lived in the city and anything shiny and new could get swiped.
I loaded my son's bat and mitt and cleats into the trailer on my bike, and he rode on the sidewalk, me paralleling him on the street. He's a happy kid; he enjoyed the ride. I'm a vigilant car watcher. Thank you to everyone who smiled and waved him on. Thank you, actually, to everyone who's ever smiled and waved any child on. It's a friendly gesture.
Riding down Grand toward the bay and the Rittler Park fields, on a slope that will have to count for a hill in Alameda, I felt lucky to be there in the afternoon breeze, in a peaceful place, in this sometimes-so-ordinary-it-can-feel-extraordinary life.
Ever since I moved to Alameda eight years ago, I've been contemplating what it is that makes Alameda Alameda. There's the unique history, I know, the legacy of the pre-Depression Coney-Island-style Neptune Beach — the Alameda that was a resort destination. And then the naval air station brought so many people and so much industry and energy to this town. There's Alameda's diversity — economic, ethnic, philosophical, religious. And there's also the strange fact of being a Bay island — albeit a man-made one, created in 1902 when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the channel we now cross on our way to 880 and beyond.
When I ask people why they chose to live here or what they like about living here, a few say that it's because they were born here or because there's a good commute from here to somewhere else. But most people say it's because they like the small-town, friendly feel.
At the core of "small town," I think, is the simple way people so often take care of each other. It's the friendly gestures and actions, thousands of them, every day. The good, old-fashioned "brother's keeper" behavior — ginger ale and saltines brought to the stomach-flu-suffering neighbors, a UPS package rescued from the rain, a senior, living alone, given a late-night ride to the hospital.
These are small gestures, not flashy or self-important or demanding of notice. They're mostly quiet, actually, except as background, defining each day, a chorus of decency that would be unremarkable except when we remember all the strife in the world — and how much strife can be provoked, even in friendly Alameda, over, say, a bus stop or a parking garage or a local tax.
In contrast to the world's cacophony, the small town tones is very pleasant to be around. There are the friendly waves, tiny favors, minute kindnesses — like offering, you take this shopping cart, I'll go grab another. And it's why so many people, like, say, an ordinary citizen biking to Little League on a weekend afternoon, so very much enjoy calling Alameda home.
Eve Pearlman also writes the Alameda Journal blog. Look for more news, impressions and discussion at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal