When I ride my bicycle to work in the morning, it’s dark. The last leg of the journey is along Wildcat Creek, on a path that has intermittent overhead lighting. I depend on the fact that I know where I’m going and even enjoy passing underneath branches that occasionally blot out the light and leave things in mystery. It may be a paved public trail just a few yards away from the road, but it makes me feel as if it may lead to Magonia.
I had an extra-long lunch break and thought I'd use it to take a bike ride around the neighborhood where I work in North Richmond. There's creeks and trails and stuff like that. I like creeks and trails. The air was thick with smoke from the wildfires. The roadsides were lined with scattered garbage. Every so often there was a mound of garbage 10 or 15 feet high. Most of the trails turned out to exist only on Google Maps: they were County-owned land, but fenced off - at least to people who pay attention to fences.
Where a trail did run along a creek, it was obvious the creek beds were routinely used to dispose of more garbage. Wildcat Creek near Verde Elementary School is apparently the go-to place for illegally dumping tires (outside of West Oakland, that is). Three or four massive piles of tires stood along the public creekside trail, in plain sight of the school playground.
I suddenly realized I had grown up in paradise. I had a creek and an elementary school, but those were different.
Still in explorer mode, I looked for a way to get down to Wildcat Creek itself. Then I noticed a guy walking along the trees lining the creek. He was definitely not a birder. He wasn’t obviously homeless, but what the hell was he doing? Another guy emerged from the trees and started following him at a distance. I rode by on the path above the floodplain, clearly visible. They both disappeared back into the trees. I thought, "This is a dangerous place. I need to start thinking about bike safety in a whole new way" and didn't try to find the creek bed.
Thinking back on it, could it have been a couple of gay guys hooking up? Both of them definitely looked much better than your average guy who suddenly appears out of nowhere in North Richmond. I want to think they were gay and enjoyed a steamy, satisfying sexual encounter along the barely flowing creek as flycatchers flitted overhead snatching bugs out of the air.
I want to think that, because I’ve never NOT enjoyed riding my bike in my life until I spent half an hour riding around North Richmond. All I could see there was garbage, environmental degradation and suffering. I should never have started to read “To Place Our Deeds,” about the history of the African American community in Richmond, and then gone for a ride around North Richmond. I should never have started to learn about North Richmond and its history at all. I should never had cared. It’s tears all around.
Riding home, I passed the park along San Pablo Creek where people who use drugs like to hang out and socialize. They were whooping it up, and then I realized I couldn't actually tell if they were having a good time, were fighting with each other, or just didn’t know the difference.