Also: city of oakland, cA, sf bay area race relations, san francisco, california, rockridge and race, black white oakland
|Rockridge, Oakland, CA|
Normally, a trip to the gym would be the next stop but that's not relaxing, really. Fitness work is just that: another kind of work. The fantasy of having a glass of whiskey at a Rockridge, Oakland, California restaurant next to Rockridge BART - the owners I've known for a long time - seemed like a fun idea. Not meeting anyone; just totally spur of the moment.
So I arrived from Rockridge BART, walked in, and noticed the lower level bar area was totally redesigned. The bar itself was smaller than before and two people took up most of it. The bartender, a nice Latino man I've seen before, invited me to sit at the high table nearby.
I sat down as he brought over a glass of a great whiskey and a glass of water. I drank more of the water than the whiskey at first. Much of my time was spent using (or is it playing around with) Foursquare. The geo-location social network such that one can "check" in at places, but not at this establishment because it wasn't on it.
I asked the person who obviously was the floor waitress about this, saying "excuse me, are you on Foursquare?" She hadn't even heard of it, so I showed her how it works and said I'd tell the person who's the owner about it. Then I returned to surfing. Relaxed? Yes. For a time.
After a while I decided I wouldn't mind having another whiskey and water. Of course, I expected someone to notice my glasses were almost empty, but that didn't happen. Meanwhile, the white brunette floor waitress was literally helping every other person around me, but me.
First, I worked to ignore it, as well as the fact that no one else including the bartender, came over to ask if I wanted anything. There was no reason for that treatment at all.
After 40 or 50 minutes of that, I decided to go straight to the owner, who I know, for help. I calmly and humorously said "Great to see you. Say, you're service is terrible" (and yes, you can say that in a funny way.) Then I told her what happened and she was angry for me.
As soon as she came downstairs in front of me and it was obvious we were talking you could feel the air change. The bartender suddenly jumped up and rushed over from behind the bar to ask "Do you need anything?" I said "It took me getting her before anyone helped me? What am I a sphinx?"
Then my friend the owner introduced me to a Berkeley City Council member who walked in and we all started talking about politics. Then the wait staff realized I was "a somebody." That was awful.
At first, I was just going to forget the whole thing, but after I finished my second glass and left, it hit me that I just felt sad and depressed.
I considered contacting San Francisco Chronicle Food and Wine Editor Michael Bauer about what happened, but then I realized he would not have the same feelings for what I went through. So, I decided I didn't care if I came off as "Black Guy Complaining" because what happened to me occurred because I'm black and male. I don't care what any counter reason offered is -- and that set of responses is predictable -- after a time on this planet you know it when it happens in the Bay Area.
The one problem with the San Francisco Bay Area is that in the context of social interaction, there's a pecking order: a white person seems to expect a black person to talk to them first. And more often than not, black men fall right into this set of expectations by doing just that.
I wondered long ago what would happen if I acted just like the people who seemed to avoid saying anything first, and yes, who were white. What happened was that a lot of conversations I would have just stopped and I learned a lot about those people and Bay Area society. But I also learned who my real friends were.
This problem even extends to black women: they expect the man to talk first. So between both sets of "folks" the black man is left to do a lot of the social heavy lifting. The problem for others is they can wreck a business by bringing that "pecking order" behavior from the street into a restaurant.
That's what happened in Oakland's Rockridge restaurant on Wednesday. If I'd spoken up, I'd have been helped, but I was not supposed to. They were supposed to treat me like all the other white patrons at the place: with the respect of asking me if I wanted something else. Instead none of them made eye contact with me.
Look, I told one waitress about Foursquare, and thought I'd recognized another from somewhere else. So I wasn't being closed. But service and treatment at a place of that stature - or any place - dictate that I should be treated as a valued patron.
It's not the owner's fault. Frankly, and my feelings are still raw, I wish she'd fire the staff and start all over again. That's the only way they'd learn. I know for a fact had I been white and male that would not have happened. Oh, and I was well-dressed, too.
Enough is enough. If you're working for a restaurant, don't bring the pecking order way into it, you're hurt the establishment. That black guy you're ignoring just may be a somebody. But then, we're all somebody. That's what Dr. King was trying to tell America decades ago.