Articles by Ronald Owens

Ronald Owens

About Ronald Owens
Ronald Owens is a longtime Oakland resident who has lived in East Oakland’s Maxwell Park neighborhood for nine years.

To a Cop On a Chase, a Stolen Car May Be Worth More Than Your Life


                                                                 Ronald Owens

By Ronald Owens

What’s more valuable, your life or a stolen vehicle? To most people, that’s probably a no-brainer. Your life, of course.

Let’s rephrase the question. What’s more valuable to a police officer chasing a suspected car thief – the stolen car, or your life?

Judging from the frequency with which innocent bystanders are getting injured or killed as a result of a high speed police pursuit on busy city streets, you might say that a human being’s life doesn’t carry quite as much currency as an SUV on the run.

Just last Thursday, three people were injured in San Francisco’s busy South of Market area. Police were chasing a Lincoln Town Car that had been reported stolen. The pursuit led to a collision with three other vehicles, including a car driven by an Oakland man whose passenger had to be taken away on a stretcher.

And Sunday night, KTVU reported that the driver of an allegedly stolen sport utility vehicle was killed in San Jose, losing control of the SUV and crashing after a police chase on Highway 101.

On the last Saturday of January, the California Highway Patrol were alerted to an SUV that had been reported stolen in El Cerrito, and chased the vehicle all the way to the Oakland hills, resulting in a collision that left one passenger dead and four others injured. The driver got away.

Just before the New Year, the California Highway Patrol’s chase of a man in a BMW after a routine traffic stop in Oakland turned tragically deadly when the BMW plowed into the side of a car transporting five passengers, killing one and leaving three others injured.

A witness to one of the police-chase killings in Oakland was quoted as stating that “these kids” need to learn to make better decisions and be accountable, and that what they’re running from isn’t worth risking your life.

But those lessons appear to be ones that “these police,” in their positions of authority and as public servants, should also be held responsible for learning. After all, it stands to reason that if these suspects or traffic law violators were not being chased at high speeds on city streets by police, this unnecessary maiming and killing of innocent bystanders would not have occurred.

In its annual report to the legislature, the CHP reported that 21 percent of the victims in CHP injury collisions in 2010 were uninvolved third parties, and 31 percent of the fatalities from such collisions were uninvolved third parties, also known as “innocent bystanders.”

In a 2011 internal review of the Oakland Police Department’s pursuit policy and practices, the OPD’s inspector general found that police tracking of pursuits and accountability for those pursuits was seriously deficient, with barely half of the pursuits being reported as required, and much of what was reported being inaccurate.

The inspector general also found that police were reluctant to end pursuits even when conditions were extremely hazardous, perhaps explaining why 21 uninvolved third parties were injured in a 19-month period as a result of crashes of police-chased vehicles. The inspector general cited evidence of a police culture that minimizes the threat of injury that police chases pose, and places a greater priority on catching a supposed offender, even if the offense is relatively minor.

What makes these cops engage in such risky high-speed chase behavior, with such utter disregard for the human lives that are held in the balances? Would they act this way if they worked in their own suburban neighborhoods, where most of them live, where their own daughters, mothers and sons might be walking down the side street on which they’re hitting 90 mph in pursuit of a red light runner?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

White-On-White Crime Makes Lots of Noise, Even if You’ve Never Heard of It

Mass Murder, by Ronald Owens

By Ron Owens

Mass murders get some people all stirred up. TV news shows become obsessed and devote all their attention to the homicides and to peoples’ reactions to them. You go to work or to the supermarket and that’s all people are talking about. The President of the United States even breaks into national television programming to deliver a speech decrying violence and the use of guns to shoot innocent victims.

You rarely see such a horrified national reaction to the “day-to-day” murders that happen in places like Oakland and Chicago and Detroit. Never mind that these “smaller-scale daily killings,” as one national news service characterizes them, are far more common.  

The victims of homicides from mass shootings totaled 151 in 2012, reports There were 131 homicides in Oakland alone last year. The city of Chicago ended the year with 506 homicides, according to the New York Times, while officials in Detroit said that the number of lives taken was 411.

While having never uttered a peep about the daily killings that plague cities across the country, President Obama broke into a National Football League game telecast last month to make a solemn, sincere pronouncement in response to the 28 people slaughtered in the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. Photos even showed the president apparently – and understandably – wiping away a tear over the bloodshed.

Then, on January 16, the president called a major press conference to announce measures to reduce gun violence, including background checks, and bans on assault weapons and ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets.

To be very clear: those mass shootings were awful. They all are. Painful, heartbreaking tragedies, and I feel for any parent, husband, child, and friend who has lost someone they love this way.

But what about the thousands of victims of urban crime that died last year? Why isn’t the president wiping away a tear for those communities and the multitude of innocent people cut down by stray bullets? Why isn’t the president announcing some plan to reduce those killings?

Maybe you can chalk it up to the general attitude of politicians when it comes to addressing certain cities’ dilemmas. Take California governor Jerry Brown, who said “Certainly I want to help where we can, but Oakland has to solve its own problems.” Please.

Some people I’ve spoken with claim that the Newtown killings got a White House reaction because the victims were white. Actually, a lot of people seem to be saying that. And they’re not all non-white.

A Washington Post article reported that mass murderers are overwhelmingly white middle class males. And, according to Northeastern University criminal justice professors James Fox and Jack Levin, most of the victims of mass murderers are white.

Curiously, you never hear the phrase, “white-on-white crime.” So unrecognized is the idea of white-on-white crime that Wikipedia – which normally has an entry for anything you’d ever (or never) want to imagine - doesn’t even make any mention of it.

 Do a Google search on “white-on-white” and you’ll find entries for a cleaners,  a bridal shop, a designer of decorative items for the home, and Jack White, a musician who fronts the White Stripes band. But you’ll get no results for white-on-white crime.

But punch in “black-on-black” on everybody’s favorite search engine, and one of the first results you’ll see is a definition, courtesy of “involving a black person against another black person, as in black-on-black crime.” Most of the search results for “black on black” appear to be about crime, violence, or rapper’s lyrics.

And yes, Wikipedia does have an entry for black on black crime, which redirects you to “Race and crime in the United States,” where there’s still no mention of white-on-white crime.

Maybe, despite what so many critics in big cities are claiming, the president’s reaction to mass homicides didn’t had anything to do with the perpetrators’ and victims’ race. There is, after all, no such thing as white-on-white crime.

A Tale of Four Fatalities in Two Days in One City

Illustration by Ronald Owens

By Ronald Owens

Four young people who were still in their teens were gunned down in the streets of Oakland on a grim Thanksgiving Day weekend last year. Two of the victims were killed on a Saturday and the two others were shot dead on a Sunday.

A 19-year-old young man and an 18-year-old young mother were that Saturday’s victims. Sunday’s victims were 15- and 16-year-old girls who were said to have been best friends. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found in the street near Brookdale Park in East Oakland’s Allendale district.

The four killings were initially reported in a single article in the Oakland Tribune. The article was mainly about the two girls who lost their lives on that Sunday. Just 49 of the article’s 156 words were devoted to the two Saturday killings. The 49 words – two sentences – were tagged on to the end of the article about the two girls. To this day, those 49 words were all the attention the teens killed on Saturday ever received.

The deaths of the two girls were more extensively covered in the news than the other two victims or, for that matter, than any homicide victims in Oakland this year, with the possible exception of the Oikos school mass murders.  In fact, the coverage of the girls’ homicides continues to this day, nearly a month after they were killed.

The newspaper coverage of the girls’ terrible deaths features their photographs, which is unusual in the reporting of an Oakland homicide.  We see that they were white girls who had dropped in on an uncle’s mobile home at 4 in the morning that Sunday, and they turned up dead a mile or so away around two hours later.

There were no pictures of the Saturday victims, but it would be safe to assume that they weren’t white. It’s a safe assumption partly because of the very fact that there were no pictures. The race of a murder victim in East Oakland is more newsworthy if the victim is white, because it happens so infrequently. So you might be more likely to run a picture of a white victim.

One of the five (and counting) stories on the girls’ killings covered their upcoming funeral arrangements. The story even included guest books where readers could share condolences with the victims’ families. We get quotes from the girls’ parents, neighbors who rushed to their aid as they were dying, a school district official. There was even a 10-picture slide show.

No information has been reported about any funeral arrangements for that Saturday’s homicide victims. Maybe they didn’t have funerals. Or families and friends who cared. Or photos of their lives. Just the usual Oakland killing that gets no follow-up. They’re just dead and gone.

They are gone, and, in the usual case, they’re forgotten and lost in numbers of homicides that preceded and succeeded theirs. Like most homicides in Oakland, there will be no arrests and the perpetrators will literally get away with murder.

But the girls’ homicides are not the usual case. The latest story on their deaths reports that police have actually arrested two suspects in the killings and charged the 18-year-old alleged shooter with two counts of murder. Arrests and charges, of course, are pretty much the exception to the rule in Oakland homicides.  The story on the arrests ends by  providing a link to a website set up by the family of one of the girls to pay for funeral expenses.

 The tragic, abhorrent killings of these two girls on Thanksgiving Day Weekend seemed to get more attention from news reporters, police, and the general public than maybe 115 or so other homicides in Oakland in 2012. But murdering teen-aged girls is particularly appalling, disgusting, enraging, and sick.

Pamela Turntine, the Oakland Tribune’s managing editor, said the two girls’ homicides received the amount of coverage that they did because the girls were children who were still in high school, and they were killed at the same time, in the same incident. The 18- and 19-year-old victims, on the other hand, were considered young adults. “That’s not an excuse,” Turntine said, “but it’s not every day that two kids are killed at the same time,” and in the same place, under the same circumstances.

Turntine also cited family members’ willingness to talk to reporters as a factor in the amount of coverage a homicide will receive. The families and friends of many people killed in Oakland won’t even talk to the police, much less members of the press. Turntine also said staffing issues can play a role in coverage, in this age of dwindling circulation and bare-bones newsrooms.

But a crime victim’s race has nothing to do with the amount of coverage the story gets, Turntine said. “It didn’t matter if they were white, black, or Hispanic – two high school girls got killed at the same time. That’s news when a young child gets killed.”

If only we could think of all homicide victims as teen-aged girls. But the two who were killed on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend were “young adults” — 18-year-old Greysi Morales-Cordon and 19-year-old Aaron Marks.

This is the first mention of their names since the 49 words their deaths received on November 25, 2012. And it may be one of the the last mentions, along with more than 100 other victims. That, too, is tragic.

VIDEO: Pictures of Health in Our Bay Area Communities

What’s healthy about our community? What’s not healthy about it? How can we improve it? These questions were posed to patrons of the Oakland Museum of California at the institution’s free First Sunday on December 2, 2012.

I also solicited an opinion on Oakland from a man on the street in downtown Berkeley.

I found many beautiful things about Oakland – beauty that helps make our city a healthy place to live. I visited Jack London Square on the evening of the annual Christmas tree lighting, and took a ride on the #14 bus – safe, clean, and surrounded by nice people – heading down International Boulevard on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Reactions: Cop-on-Black vs. Black-on-Black

Cop on Black, Black on Black                               R. Owens

By Ron Owens

Hundreds of people showed up two and half weeks ago for a rally at Oakland’s City Hall, protesting the police brutality and racial profiling that they said resulted in the shooting death of Alan Blueford, who was an 18-year-old high school student.

There was no rally for Hector Matias, an 18-year-old restaurant worker who was Oakland’s 108th homicide victim of 2012. Or for Wilbur Bartley, the city’s 107th victim who was shot dead inside his cell phone store after being robbed. They were not shot by police.

Hector and Wilbur were the victims of thug brutality, not police brutality. They weren’t killed because of racial profiling by police. Nobody organizes a rally to protest thug brutality.

It seems that if you’re not killed by a cop, you’re a just a garden variety homicide victim. People don’t get too upset. You might get an impromptu curbside memorial, with shiny helium-filled balloons in various shapes and sizes. You might get veladoras – those candles adorned with religious figures. And empty beer, wine and liquor bottles, with their contents poured out in commemoration. And RIP signs on cards or spray painted on buildings.

The typical, garden variety homicide victim in Oakland will get a mention in the local newspaper. If the homicide victim was a noteworthy person in the eyes of the journalist – say a business owner or an athlete of some sort – the article reporting his death might be longer than the usual 80 or so words.

The local TV news might mention the killing in passing. The well-dressed, impeccably coiffed anchor might say, “A man was found fatally shot inEast Oakland today, near 73rd and Bancroft. It was the city’s 110th homicide this year. Last year at this time, there were 109 homicides.”

Then the newsreader will move on to the next story, unless a reporter happened to encounter any relatives or friends or neighbors of the victim at the scene. In that case, there will be close-up shots of the  distraught acquaintances, expressing their horror and disbelief, and exclaiming that it was so wrong and so unexpected that something like this happened.

And then, the victim of the day will be forgotten until the next man, woman, or child gets shot and killed. Most likely the next dead body will be that of a young black man, shot and killed by another young black man. And, most likely, the killer will get away with murder, given the Oakland Police Department’s low rate of success in solving crimes, as evidenced by the annual report of the OPD’s criminal investigation division.

People seem to get up in arms only if a cop does the killing, à la Oscar Grant or Alan Blueford. If it’s black on black, it’s business as usual. But if it’s cop on black – oh, damn, it’s on! Now we’re going to get mad and go out in mass numbers and protest with fists in the air, waving slick, screen-printed protest signs.

It’s like using the N-word. It’s OK to use that racist term if you’re black, but if somebody from some other race dares to use it, there’s going to be a federal case made out of it. And all the while, rappers and their (white) record companies profit from the sales of N-word-powered product that would be condemned as racist if anyone but black artists were making it.

That’s the problem. It’s OK for black people to be racist toward each other. It’s OK to profiteer in self-hate. But as long as the self-hate goes on, the “garden variety” killings will grow. There will be no en masse protests, unless somebody other than the usual suspect does the killing.

VIDEO: Raid on Occupy Oakland – One Year Later

Protesters, spectators, passers-by, and police gathered at Oakland’s city hall plaza on October 25, 2012, marking the one-year anniversary of  the day the police tore down Occupy Oakland’s tent camp encampment at the plaza.  West Oakland resident Janay Smith, 20, talks about the anniversary event and the relevance, and the irrelevance, of the Occupy movement.

VIDEO – An Oaktoberfest Poll: Obama’s Reelection Chances

By Ronald Owens

What are President Obama’s chances of getting reelected? With the election less than 2 weeks away, I posed the question to some revelers Oaktoberfest – Oakland’s take on the world famous German celebration of beer.

Held in East Oakland’s Dimond District, the 5th annual Oaktoberfest lured masses of happy people who only got happier as the perfect, sunny afternoon on 2012′s first  Sunday of October progressed.

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East Oakland’s Walmart Is a Great Place to Do Your Gun Research

Walmart gun ‘zines (R. Owens)

By Ronald Owens

On a recent visit to the Walmart store in the heart of East Oakland, I discovered that the world’s largest retailer carries tons of magazines about guns.

Tactical arms. Shotguns. Concealed pistols. You name the type of gun, and East Oakland’s Walmart has a magazine that’s devoted to it.

I wasn’t looking for gun magazines, or any magazines at all, really. I stumbled upon the magazine aisle while searching for HP printer ink. The fact that the Walmart store even had a magazine aisle was a little surprising. To me, at least. It was a pretty extensive one, too, with a seven-foot high double-decker rack taking up the entire length of the roughly 30-foot aisle.

I flipped through all 14 or so of the magazines that were specifically devoted to guns. The slick, glossy photos of shiny metal weaponry beckoned me, and it was easy to see how someone might want to get his hands on these. The precision-stamped black steel body, the perfectly turned trigger, the finely textured grip, so detailed you could almost feel it. This was gun porn.

Gunderwear! The shorts holster – a great place for packing all your heat. (Concealed Carry)

One of the magazines, Concealed Carry Handguns, featured an ad for special underwear in which you can holster your concealed Glock, Beretta, Sig Sauer or Colt. The buff, Caucasian underwear model was pictured in several poses, including one from the rear, with his black metal tool nestled on his right hip, stuck in the waistband holster of  his tight-fitting white briefs.

There’s also an ad depicting a white woman wearing a thin, orchid-colored dress that a gust of wind has blown up to reveal a gun secreted in the garter of her sheer, thigh-high black nylons. Sex and guns. There seems to be a connection.

Another photo in Concealed Carry shows a white man aiming his gun at a poster depicting a Black man in a knit skull cap, who’s menacingly pointing a gun at the viewer. The photo accompanies an article about snub-nosed revolvers and their efficacy in close-range shooting scenarios, or “’bad breath distance’ gunfighting.”

Sex and guns (Concealed Carry)

Why does the East Oakland Walmart have so many gun magazines? Located as it is in an area notorious for gun violence, why does it have any gun magazines at all?

Maybe it’s Walmart’s general policy to carry these gun magazines in all its stores. Maybe they carry these same magazines in stores across the United States.

Or, maybe not. I drove down 880 South to the San Leandro Walmart, just two exits past Oakland’s. They too had an extensive magazine selection. But they had about half as many gun magazines as the East Oakland store.

What about gun magazines in stores other than Walmart? Bookstores are a dying breed so there aren’t many to choose from. But I visited Fog City News in San Francisco’s financial district to check their inventory.

Fog City News is devoted to magazines, and stocks a vast array of titles, from art to almost X-rated. On its website, Fog City claims to carry the largest stock of magazines in the Bay Area, addressing subjects of every description. At first I thought they didn’t carry gun magazines. They were so well hidden on the top shelf of a rack that you wouldn’t even notice them.

Black man practice (Concealed Carry)

Solmi, 18, a Fog City employee got up on a step ladder to point out the gun magazines. There were seven of them. Who decides which ones to carry? “We all decide,” Solmi said, referring to herself, her coworkers, and the store’s owner. But the decisions stem from customer requests, she told me.

I contacted Walmart’s media relations office and asked them to tell me how gun magazine decisions are made in Oakland and at other locations. It’s been more than a week, but Walmart has not yet responded to my request for information.

One thing’s for sure, though. Guns are big business at Walmart. It’s the largest seller of shotguns and ammo in the United States, wrote Eric Lichtblau in an April New York Times article. Lichtblau also reported that a Walmart executive was the co-leader of the criminal justice committee of a conservative group that supported stronger self-defense laws in shooting incidents. That group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, successfully advocated “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Glock with laser (Concealed Carry)

Walmart withdrew its support for ALEC after the tragic Trayvon Martin shooting, in which the gunman, who is accused of murder, claimed the “stand-your-ground defense” in shooting the unarmed Black teenager. In leaving, according to Reuters, Walmart cited “concerns about ALEC’s decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission.”

Oakland’s Walmart does not sell guns. But it will help you make an informed choice when you decide to get one. Operating in a city that is notorious for its shootings, that’s a sound business strategy.

Racially Profiling: The Blacks of East Oakland, Part 2

This ongoing series explores the unusually diverse racial terrain of the eastside of Oakland, California. It asks members of East Oakland’s varied racial groups why they chose to live there, where they came from, where they’re going, how they see their own race, and about their experiences with members of other races.

The Secret to Your Success Is Inside a Hair Styling Salon at the High Street Strip Mall Shopping Center

Janice Ward (R. Owens)

By Ronald Owens

When I walked into Janice Ward’s The Secret Inside Salon, I figured we would talk about the business of beautification and the ups and downs of doing hair in a dingy High Street strip mall.  But I discovered that Ward doesn’t just do peoples’ hair. She does their heads too, reaching inside and restyling their brains to turn negatives into positives.

The Secret Inside Salon is sandwiched between a coin-operated wash house and the On the Runway fashion boutique in the High Street Center. The whole building is a rough-around-the edges, one-story structure that also features a donut shop, a burrito joint, and a check-cashing place.

You can’t miss the center if you exit 580 East at High Street and make a right. It’s right there. There’s a Walgreens across the street, as well as a fire station.

The 30 or so parking spots in the lot in front of the center were mostly taken at 11:15 on a Wednesday morning, but the numbers didn’t seem to add up. There were just three people in La Mejor Taqueria, maybe four in Dick’s Donuts, and just one at that time in Ward’s salon.

Ward, who’s been a stylist at The Secret Inside Salon for nine years and its owner for two, said she often notices that the lot will be full of cars but nobody’s in the stores. Sometimes cars are parked there and businesses aren’t even open.But she said her business is doing OK. “Stabilized. That’s about all it can be these days, no matter what industry you’re in.”

Even though it was still early, five or six customers gradually straggled into the salon: stylish African American women who looked like they knew what they wanted, and where and how to get it. Most of Ward’s customers are black, but she has Latino and Samoan clients, too.

The Secret Inside Salon (R. Owens)

When Ward took over the business, she retained three original stylists from The Secret’s previous incarnation. Ward, who’s 49, said she does mostly short cuts and weaves.  She said there’s also a male stylist who works exclusively on dread hairdos for men, women, and kids, too. “There’s also an Asian lady who does feet and nails.”

Ward and I conversed on one of two long, vinyl sofas that faced each other by the front window of the salon. From the outside, you see the dark, plate-glass windows of a garden variety 1960s-era strip mall storefront.But open the salon door and you see a heavily mirrored Afro-Tiki-bar kind of space that’s larger and longer than you might have expected, with six or seven styling stations. It’s a peaceful atmosphere, and kind of homey. “That’s the secret inside,” Ward said.

Ms. Ward was very personable and seemed to possess an ability to absorb a person’s vibe and secrets on contact, although she assured me that any confidences I shared would be safe with her. She said a big part of her job is talking with her customers on an intimate level. She’s part psychologist, building up her clients’ self-esteems.

Sitting Room (R. Owens)

A lot of black women have issues surrounding their appearances, she told me. “I want them to know that they have beauty within themselves, and what I do is reflect that beauty on the outside.”

A lack of self esteem did not seem to be one of Ward’s issues. From the top of her short, red-highlighted hairdo to the bottom of her decadently low-cut black top that revealed a brown bosom tattooed with the words “God” and “Soul,” it was Ward’s world, and her purpose was to make you a better part of it.

I had set up the meeting with Ward a week earlier, after two other proprietors in the strip mall had turned down my requests to interview them about their businesses. “I agreed to talk with you after nobody else would, but I knew it wasn’t about that,” she told me. Ward seemed to be saying that there was a purpose in our meeting, and it was part of God’s plan.

“I’m an evangelist and a motivational speaker. I can read people. I could see that you were a guarded person when you asked if you could talk with me.” I couldn’t disagree with her.

“You’re passive-aggressive. Writing down what people say. I used to be passive, too. I can show you how to use aggression. Give me three hours, I can have you rewired.”

Just three hours? I asked Ward if she could give me a weave, and joked that I’d come in for one and she could straighten me out then. She laughed. “Give me three hours. I’m gonna call you! I’m serious!”

A tempting offer. But I guess I’ll probably have to respectfully decline. Although her assessment of me was startlingly accurate, my general preference is to keep secrets. Inside.

Racially Profiling: The Blacks of East Oakland, Part 1

At 92, She’s in No Hurry to Leave Oakland – If You Are, You’d Better Get Going

Mary Chester has lived in her Maxwell Park home since 1972. She bought it for less than $30,000. (Ronald Owens, Oakland Voices 2012)

By Ronald Owens

On most afternoons, if you happen to pass by the corner of Walnut and Renwick streets in Oakland’s Maxwell Park neighborhood, you’ll see Mary Chester sitting on a neighbor’s short retaining wall, leaning on her aluminum walker, soaking up the sun, and smiling at all passersby. She sits on the corner until the sun goes down over her house, waiting and willing to talk with anybody who stops to talk with her.

She is a 92-year-old African American woman, and she says she’s lived in the same house on Walnut Street for 40 years. Chester came to the Bay Area from Arcadia, Louisiana, by way of Southern California, following her sister’s lead. She eventually headed north with the man she married, Willie Chester, her second husband. He was a cement finisher. He died 14 years ago.

Chester says the neighborhood hasn’t changed much. She lives on a street partially lined by magnolia trees, thanks to a free tree-planting program the city sponsored in the late 1990s. “The houses look better now,”  she says. The racial demographics have changed over the years, but it hasn’t made a difference to her. “People have always been nice.”

Although she never smoked or consumed alcoholic beverages, Chester says she is “addicted to Ensure,” a nutritional drink that’s supposed to promote muscle health. Her doctor told her she can have only one bottle a day, but she was drinking three.  She’s on dialysis, and if she drinks too much Ensure, her kidneys can’t keep up and she can’t breathe.

Her kidneys don’t function any more, but dialysis four days a week works well for her. “A lot of people have hard time with dialysis, but I don’t,” she says. “I feel good, and I don’t have any pain.”

Mary’s block (R.Owens)

A guy in a new-looking SUV waves at Mary as he drives down Walnut. A woman driving down Renwick does the same thing. Mary stopped driving a couple of years ago. Was it voluntary? “Well, not exactly.” She got mixed up on which pedals she should use and had a collision.  “My neighbor drove until 100,” she says, but stopped after refusing to get better car.

Chester used to walk around the block, but she doesn’t walk too far anymore. Getting around on the walker is slow going. But she gets herself out there and out of her house, where she lives by herself. She doesn’t have any children.

Mary misses her friend who recently died, a retired fireman who lived at end of block. She was kind of sweet on him, but it never went anywhere. The man never told his age, and she never understood the point of that because he looked like a senior citizen. “He wasn’t going to fool anyone,” she said.

She later found out that he was 82.

Chester used to have a dog, but says the woman who used to walk it allegedly absconded with it, thinking it wasn’t getting the proper care. Chester is still kind of ticked off about that. The dog walker happened to pull up in her car while we were conversing, and pulled over with a car full of dogs. Chester yelled, “What happened to my dog?” The dog caretaker put her hand over her face and wearily shook her head.

Chester says she still has land in Arcadia, which is near Shreveport, and it has oil on it that is sometimes drilled. Her niece is thinking about moving back to Louisiana, but Chester doesn’t want to sell her Oakland home. She says she bought it for $29,000, and she doesn’t think she’ll get what the house is worth if she sells now.

She told her niece, “If you’re in a hurry to go back, you’d  better hit the road, because I’m not going anytime soon.”