By Tom Webb
It may seem odd to suggest that a homeless woman actually has a place to call her own. Ms. Lola is a middle-aged African-American woman who stands vigil on International Boulevard near 50th Avenue each day. I introduced myself to her last September and she told me her name. A neighbor told me Ms. Lola has lived in this East Oakland neighborhood for a long time. She can be seen most days at her post in front of the Kelly-Moore Paint Store on International. Sometimes she is chased away by a zealous security guard. She then simply re-locates a few yards away to a nearby corner, placing her various bags around her and either sits on the street corner or slowly marches up and down International Boulevard.
But there are times when Ms. Lola seems to disappear. Quite by accident I discovered her alternative residence at the corner of 50th Avenue and E. 12th. There she sits down with her back comfortably propped up by a tall, battle-ship gray, wooden 12- foot high fence that seems to secure a large, hidden backyard.
This alternate spot, Ms. Lola’s refuge, is comparatively calm, especially in the early evening hours. The rush and roar of traffic on International Boulevard a block away is filtered by small, modest homes which dot 50th Avenue, a handful of small businesses, a tiny, cream-colored Church of God in Christ building and the omnipresent large warehouses which separate this neighborhood from San Leandro Boulevard and 880.
In the evening hours, neighbors, residents, passersby and the Oakland Police Department officers on their beat traverse this street quietly. Bicyclists avoiding busy International Boulevard peddle peacefully down E. 12th. Drivers pass through the four-way intersection, adhering in varying degrees to California traffic ordinances requiring a full-stop at marked intersections.
And Ms. Lola sits calmly taking everything in. Occasionally, a passing motorist will stop near her. Some drivers actually get out of their cars to give her gifts of coffee or food. Others wave dollar bills from the side of their vehicles. Ms. Lola then dutifully arises from her resting place, ambles across the street and appreciably takes their small offerings of charity. She returns to her resting spot, sits down and contentedly watches life pass her by.