Ode to Our Sidewalk

I feel sorry for the sidewalk on my street. I know it might feel like a tremendous stretch – to express care and concern for an inanimate construction which was legislated into existence, but there it is. First of all, the tectonic upheaval of a patchwork quilt of concrete that runs down our block is in no way in compliance – not with federal laws mandating its width in order to meet ADA requirements, and definitely not with Transit for Trikes: A Sidewalk Manual for Neighborhoods That Say They Love Children and Seniors But Which Fail to Demonstrate It on a Regular Basis™.

At first glance, our lumpy trottoir bears very little resemblance to its ancestors – those revolutionary footpaths along which headless bodies, decorated with “vive la revolucion” placards, were lined up, like those the orange and white NO PARKING barricades randomly dropped up and down our block, warning all passers-by: “No bourgeoisie-ing here.” (See also: The Official Guide to BART Parking Annexes™)

We have placards, too. They also speak of revolution:

“Cat Brooks for Oakland Mayor”


“We Stand with Oakland Teachers”

Then there’s the bungalow with a graphic black and white poster with the face of Alex Nieto in looking out one window and the duplex with the “Black Lives Matter” yard sign that is now less black and white and more shadow gray and eggshell. (This last one, by the way, makes me wonder about how movements can become more grayscale as the urgencies of the now disperse us across multiple fronts.) While it might not seem like an obviously revolutionary act, one neighbor even installed a poster on a child-sized easel, celebrating the life and mourning the untimely death of the yellow tomcat who belonged to none of us and to all of us. And isn’t that what solidarity is about at its most fundamental level?

But I digress. I feel sorry for our sidewalk. Even though it has a strong German name, Bürgersteige (which literally means “path for the people”), and though the sidewalk concept emerged out of the best of human intentions. Ours needs help. The trees, proposed by long ago, gentrification-oriented City Managers and planted by underpaid service workers, have decided that they want to fight for their own liberation. The roots are leading the way by erupting through the seams that construction norms deemed necessary. Crab grass, yellow mustard, and purslane are in cahoots with the roots (yes, the rhyme is on purpose). The ants have thrown down and started a whisper campaign. All of them have gone to work, infiltrating the micro-fissures, breaching the defenses of the 10, 20, 30, 50 year old concrete. And none of this is the sidewalk’s fault. (See above: inanimate, mandated, constructed, etc.)

And then there’s the people – the two-legged kind, the four legged kind, and the kind that get to ride on or in wheeled things. As if its independence and self-esteem weren’t already compromised by its lack of agency, our sidewalk has become the receptacle of any and all manner of waste (which by the way, sidewalks were intended to help humanity transcend). This waste comes in various and nefarious forms including poop scrapings, pee tricklings, chewing gum smashings, ketchup spillages, and “I’ve had too much to drink at the karaoke bar” vomit puddling. And if that weren’t enough (and it probably actually is), all I can say when friends leave the house after a great evening of revelry is: Be careful. Joanna tripped and fell on the sidewalk just over there. It’s pretty precarious.”

Is it any wonder that our sidewalk has decided to throw in the towel?

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