The breakfast crowd is riveted, all eyes fixed on Glynn Washington. He’s telling a story. It’s about a snap judgment his cousin made many years ago in Detroit. Washington, now 38, spent time there as a teen with his grandmother. His cousin lived permanently with her.
“She used to beat us for any reason whatever,” Washington recalls, without judgment. “One day a friend, Benny, said to my cousin, ‘Let’s rob a liquor store.’ They were on the way there when my cousin remembered an art project he’d made that looked rather like a totem pole and left on my grandmother’s kitchen table. When they were almost at the liquor store, my cousin had a sudden thought: ‘If I do this, my grandmother is going to kill me with my art project.’ ”
The notion prompted a snap judgment; a fork in the road. He turned tail and went home.
As it happened, things went wrong at the liquor store. Someone got shot. Benny ended up in jail. And Washington’s cousin? “He woke up to the fact that he wanted to make the world a better place and became a police officer.”
Washington is telling the story at an Alameda County Community Food Bank Leadership Breakfast. He’s the invited speaker, there in a dual capacity: as executive director of the Young Entrepreneurs Program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, which supports at-risk East Bay students, and as one of three winners—from an initial pool of 1,400 entrants—of a recent Public Radio Talent Quest.
The pilot that grabbed the judges was titled “Snap Judgment.” Over the next year, with a six-figure development grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Washington will put together a show for public radio. Menanwhile, he continues to flesh out and fine tune his concept online. You can listen to his early efforts on his Web site, www.snapjudgmentradio.com. On the show, Washington interviews real people who recount the life-altering decisions they made in the moment—like the one his cousin made.
Entertaining in a gritty way that holds the audience, Washington uses that story to segue into the challenges of the Oakland school system, the shortfalls of the nonprofit sector and some possible solutions.
“Yes, I’m certainly political and opinionated,” he tells me a few days later. And, he says, the radio show gives him a vehicle to express it “without needing to get on a soapbox. I just give someone a mic and say ‘tell me what happened.’ We can be real; we can make people care.”
He’s not short on his own life-changing stories and turning points. An early defining one involves his mother. She took the family to live, for several years, with what he calls “an apocalyptical cult.” The impact? “As crazy as it was, it made you think you were special. You alone had the truth. You didn’t have to follow the crowd.”
Not quite a snap judgment, and one that seems to have translated, in his radio show, to many special people, each with a unique truth to tell. Similar to his cousin the police officer, but in his own way, you could say this father of two is leading the world to a better place.
—By Wanda Hennig
—Photography by Lewis Smith
When Julie Hartell-DeNardo gets to work in the morning, she greets Steve, Eddie and Ada, three royal pythons. Then she moves on to say hello to Garr, whom she describes as “unusually sweet, nice and trustworthy” for a white-throated monitor, given that this species of lizard can lash with their tails, inflict a severe bite with their powerful jaws, and claw to good effect (or bad, if you are the victim). Next she heads off to see her special charges: five Grant’s zebra that become especially friendly when she’s carrying her red bucket filled with cookie treats.
As a zookeeper, Hartell-DeNardo is a human mom to this select group, all from Africa, plus several bird species, a troop of cotton-topped tamarind monkeys from Colombia, and a large African spurred tortoise. They are among the international population of four-legged, winged and slithery critters, large and small, that reside at the Oakland Zoo.
Hartell-DeNardo, one of 37 zookeepers, each responsible for designated species, has been passionate about animals since she was a child and her parents took her to the zoo in Minnesota, where she grew up and got her bachelor’s degree in ecology, evolution and animal behavior.
Hartell-DeNardo worked for three years at the Houston Zoo, before moving to Oakland two years ago. Here, she’s been honing her special interest—enrichment. This involves adding variety to life inside the enclosures. Hartell-DeNardo’s commitment to this creative activity recently earned her a seat on the American Association of Zoo Keepers Enrichment Committee.
Enrichment can involve the introduction of different smells, a rotating selection of plants, options for different hiding spots or objects that spark curiosity and elicit the type of behavior an animal might engage in if it were in its natural habitat in the wild. The animals, she says, “are individual, just like us,” with different temperaments and ways of relating to the world. And from the time she greets them in the morning until she leaves them at night, she likes to see them happy, fit, healthy and—each and every one of them—suitably entertained.
For Oakland Zoo hours and information see www.oaklandzoo.org.
—Words and Photos by Wanda Hennig
You know why 3,500 city employees wear beards to work.
They get a free ride to the job site, work only in spring and summer, insist on working in parks, wear beards to work and get free lunches. Who are these 3,500 city contract employees and why do they get all the perks? They are none other than the four-legged firefighting team of goats hired by the Oakland Wildfire Prevention District to mow down the tinder in public parks and other public areas in the Oakland Hills. True Oaklanders know them as the heroes that keep fire danger low in an area that has lost 3,542 homes to major wildfires in the last century. You may see as few as 20 or as many as 600, and they work cheap, reducing fire danger at an amazingly low $670 an acre. And the best part, according to assistant fire marshal and goat wrangler Leroy Griffin, is that “goats don’t make sparks. If there isn’t a spark there already, the goats aren’t going to bring one in.”
—By Daniel Jewett
What’s the best way to dispose of expired, unused or unwanted prescription medicine?
Used to be, folks were encouraged to flush said pills down the toilet, to pour medicine down the drain or to foul the medication somehow (i.e., with water), then mix it with kitty litter and simply add it to the trash heap. But with traces of pharmaceuticals showing up in water sources, those methods are unpopular with the eco-conscious set.
The Teleosis Institute, a Berkeley nonprofit educational outfit dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of health care, makes proper disposal easy with its Green Pharmacy Program. The pilot program, explains program director Evin Guy, collects unused drugs at community-based take-back sites—pharmacies, veterinary offices, hospitals, doctors’ and dental offices, health-care centers and recycling sites. The free program was established in May 2007 to protect Bay Area waterways and to increase public awareness about the environmental hazards of medicine disposal after national studies indicated common pharmaceuticals were found in streams, rivers and drinking water.
Under the Green Pharmacy Program, data—from where the drug was purchased to the amount of the unused percentage—is collected for analysis, and the pharmaceuticals are incinerated at the Texas-based Chambers County Resource Recovery & Recycling Facility.
Teleosis accepts prescription and over-the-counter meds and samples; vitamins and supplements; medicated ointments, lotions, creams and oils; and empty inhalers. Teleosis cannot accept controlled substances, needles, syringes, thermometers, medical waste, aerosol cans or full inhalers. (Visit www.teleosis.org for complete guidelines.)
Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in Berkeley was the first take-back site, and its latest Rockridge outlet has followed suit. Others include the institute, VCA Albany Animal Hospital and Berkeley’s Transcendentist, Chimes Pharmacy, Elephant Pharmacy and United Pharmacy. While the institute wants to expand the program, its days are numbered without corporate sponsorship, Guy says.
However, consumers do have options: Check with the East Bay Municipal Utility District and Save the Bay for organized single-day drug take-back programs. Other area counties may offer similar programs, and some police departments do likewise for controlled substances.
The Teleosis Institute,1521 B Fifth St., Berkeley, (510) 558-7285, www.teleosis.org.
—By Judith M. Gallman
Rachel Saunders’ world is juicy, colorful and scrumptious. She makes jams, jellies and marmalades from the freshest and most unusual seasonal fruits she can find—the delicate, delectable and endangered Blenheim apricot, for example. And the tayberry: “It’s a black raspberry and loganberry hybrid,” Saunders says. “I make tayberry jam every summer.”
Saunders, who lives in Oakland, started experimenting with jam eight years ago. “There’s not a lot of information on the subject,” she says. So she set about learning through trial and error. The more she succeeded in creating delightful flavors, the more intrigued she became by the possibilities. “There’s a technical side you have to master. But beyond that, you can express your aesthetics,” she says. She found herself inspired by the plums, the berries, the oranges—the variety and quality of the fruit she gets, for the most part, directly from farmers—and by herbs she can add and flavors she can create, blending strawberry, blood orange and rosemary, for example.
“It took me a long time to feel I knew what I was doing,” says Saunders, a French major who has been a passionate baker and dessert maker ever since she could knead dough. In 2007, all the positive feedback convinced her it was time to launch her business, Blue Chair Fruit. “Evocative of an earlier era,” is how she describes the name and “modern nostalgia” is how she thinks of her packaging, inspired by the fruit-crate labels of the 1920s and ’30s. “My jams are made in an artisanal fashion,” she says, “but using modern ideas and flavors.”
Saunders let us in on two secrets she’s discovered jamming away in the commercial kitchen she rents. “Letting the fruit be the main flavor as opposed to the sugar,” she says. “And cooking it for the least amount of time possible.” This makes for the brightness of flavor that has become her trademark, from the Meyer lemon marmalade with mandarins and lavender to the “grown-up” strawberry jam with Drambuie.
For stores and farmers markets that sell Blue Chair Fruit products, visit www.bluechairfruit.com or call (510) 459-6135.
—Photography by Lewis Smith
Oaklanders can thank Seth Katz and his very active tree-climbing pup, Crema, for the latest addition to the dog park scene at Mosswood Park.
“He dogged the city until it happened. It kind of takes that,” says Kip Walsh, assistant to the director of the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department. “He stayed on it.”
Katz, a software manual writer who lives near Mosswood, readily admits to “hounding” the city, starting the process in 2003 by writing a proposal for a Neighborhood Preservation Initiative grant. Ultimately, the city forked over $39,000 from the Redevelopment Agency to build the Mosswood Park Dog Play Area, which Katz characterizes as a “blight-fighting physical improvement to the park.”
Like most area dog parks, this one is quiet at midday and night, but there’s a rush of people with mutts, pedigreed pooches and pampered pets most mornings and evenings since the grand opening this spring. Unlike bucolic Joaquin Miller Dog Park tucked into the Oakland Hills or scrappy Hardy Dog Park under the Highway 24 overpass, Mosswood isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of park. It’s two dog runs, really: one for little guys under 30 pounds and a second designed with the over-30-pound set in mind.
The dog runs are near the tennis courts, in the old horseshoe pit and an unused brushy area popular as a homeless encampment where Katz personally removed “two barbecues, a microwave, diving masks, a stereo, mountains of needles. It was a garbage heap.”
So far, the park has made a favorable impression on its users. One, dog owner Mary Eisenhart, says she loves it, because it’s “well-suited to my two geezers!”
“Dog runs drive drug users out of parks. People can then use their parks,” Katz says, commenting on the well-known Mosswood Park problem. “Tired, well-socialized dogs are good, quiet dogs. Parks with dog runs are safer, cleaner parks.”
Another dog park is slowly making headway near Lake Merritt, and there’s an effort underway for something at Marcus Garvey Park, Walsh says. Until then, however, remember that Oakland has a no-dogs rule in its parks.
The Mosswood Park Dog Play Area is looking for water fountain sponsors. If you can help, contact Seth Katz at email@example.com.
—By Judith M. Gallman
—Photography by Seth Katz
New Releases from East Bay Authors and Musicians
Bonk, The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
(W. W. Norton & Co., 2008, 319 pp., $24.95)
Oakland’s own best-selling author Mary Roach explores the science of sex in her latest well-researched and wry humor-infused tome in which the footnotes are juicier than most of the clinical boffing going on. As in Stiff and Spook, Roach obsessively reports on her topic, traveling across the United States to Taiwan, Denmark, England, Egypt and beyond to interview subjects, surgeons, pig farmers, clinicians, urologists and others for titillating tidbits and details on their latest research projects. Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, Kegel, they’re all here, along with penis cameras, sex toys and studies as bizarre as the sex life of rats in polyester versus cotton-poly underpants. Sex alone will earn Roach some readers, but her wit, insights and storytelling ability will keep them turning pages.
Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again!: Handook for a Spiritual Revolution by Wes “Scoop” Nisker
(176 pp., Stone Bridge Press, 2008, $14.95)
Wes “Scoop” Nisker is best known to Bay Area baby boomers as the cosmic newscaster on free-form KSAN-FM, 94.9, in the 1970s, and occasional commentator on KFOG-FM, 104.5, today, advising “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” Here, the East Bay writer, performance artist and Buddhist teacher distills scientific and philosophical themes that run through previous books (The Essential Crazy Wisdom, Buddha’s Nature and The Big Bang, the Buddha and the Baby Boom) into 10 brisk chapters, a long Allen Ginsberg–inspired poem, a new sutra based on evolution and advice on exercising the “awe muscle” in “Be Here Wow!” He turns the dilemmas of being an insecure 21st-century earthling on an endangered planet into opportunities for entertainment and, yes, enlightenment.
Gyan Riley, Melismantra
(Agyanamous Music, www.gyanriley.com)
The classically trained guitar-playing son of new music avatar Terry Riley (In C, Rainbow in Curved Air, etc.) grew up in the Sierra foothills outside Nevada City listening to Indian and modern classical music, minimalism, jazz, rock and folk, all of which the Berkeley resident seamlessly folds into original compositions and suites on his brilliant second album. Overdubbing nylon-string, steel-string and electric guitars, Riley is joined by tabla master Zakir Hussain, electric violinist Tracy Silverman and drummer/percussionist Scott Amendola in the creation of complex, melodic and raga-influenced sonic tapestries that are never less than enthralling.
Ed Reed, The Song Is You
(Blue Shorts Records, www.edreedsings.com)
Making the leap from featured singer in a San Quentin inmate band (that included alto sax giant Art Pepper) to recording artist was a long time coming for East Bay vocalist Ed Reed. The Los Angeles native and former cohort of Art Farmer, Hampton Hawes and Dexter Gordon was 78 when he released last year’s debut, Ed Reed Sings Love Stories. His sophomore effort, recorded with a sextet led by East Bay-to-New York transplant Peck Allmond, includes 15 standards that this comfortably expressive singer turns into intimate and enthralling short stories. Fans of Nat “King” Cole, Billy Eckstine and the lesser-known Bill Henderson take heed.
—By Judith M. Gallman and Derk Richardson
Nestled inside an old steam-generation plant, through a two-story stone arch and under a 150-foot smokestack, is a new way to get fit, grab some exercise and meet friends in Oakland’s ever-growing Uptown district.
Touchstone Climbing launched the Great Western Power Company indoor climbing gym in November 2007, the fifth in a series of gyms that includes Berkeley Ironworks and San Francisco’s Mission Cliffs. “We were the first to marry indoor climbing with fitness,” says GWPC general manager Lyn Verinsky about Touchstone, the company that started the indoor-climbing-gym trend when it opened Mission Cliffs in 1995.
Members can learn to climb on the club’s 42-foot-tall colorful stucco rocks covering 11,000 square feet of terrain, but that’s not all. The gym also offers yoga and a floor full of workout machines and attracts non-climbers who like the younger, hipper environment.
“This gym is for people who don’t like the 24-hour fitness club atmosphere,” Verinsky says. “Climbing is a great alternative sport; it calls to a different kind of individual.”
The club also caters to families and offers a great workout for kids, Verinsky adds. “Parents have an activity they can do with kids, and the kids actually want to hang out with their parents.”
Local high school student Matt Johnson agrees and loves to stop by the gym after school. “It is a really fun place to hang out,” he says. “I can set goals, work out and be social at the same time.”
It seems the social aspect is one that clients, particularly the downtown 9-to-5 set, love. “It is very social. Some couples make it a date night,” Verinsky reveals. “I know Berkeley Ironworks has been responsible for numerous marriages.”
Great Western Power Company, 520 20th St., (510) 452-2022, www.touchstoneclimbing.com.
—By Daniel Jewett
—Photography by Jeffery Bowling