Chicken N' Waffles

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They've gentrified me out, and all I can say is, damn.

Lake view, fireplace, balcony.

Yeah, that's right, I said lake view. As in, from my new balcony, I view Lake Merritt. Lake Merritt in Oakland.

Damn.

Berkeley got too pricey, so I skipped one town south, where the sun shines brighter, the cars drive faster and the bullets ring louder.

You get a lot for your money where UC Berkeley students fear to tread.

Don't get me wrong, my new hood is cool. But for those of you who've never left Berkeley, let me put it this way. In Oakland, you won't find rich white kids lying on the sidewalk insulting passersby.

Well, maybe you would once. But only once.

Oakland's fear factor has its advantages, though. Chief among these is authenticity.

Not far from my house the street formerly known as East 14th begins its 100-block southward tour, straight through the heart of Oakland's "hot zone," site of most of the city's drug-related murders.

In the 1980s and early '90s, the area got so bad the city changed the street's name to International Boulevard.

It was a prophetic name change. In the last decade, immigrants from Latin America and Asia have poured into the city. Most of the new arrivals landed here, in this East Oakland neighborhood called the Fruitvale.

Once an ghost town of abandoned store fronts, immigrants have revitalized the boulevard and the surrounding area.

The street bustles with life, billboards read in two languages and thousands of American dreams play out before your eyes.

It's proof positive immigration benefits the United States and California.

And while gun violence is still a regular occurrence, the city's streets are far safer than they once were.

I've read theories that immigrant communities are similarly reviving inner cities throughout the country.

Bringing back the working class values and entrepreneurial spirit that left with the middle class's flight to the suburbs, America's cities are rebuilding in a way as old as the country itself.

Back to the lake. Don't bring your swimsuit or fishing rod; it's not that kind of party. The lake is tidal and water flows in from under Interstate 880. It looks pretty, but clean it ain't.

The birds like it, I guess. What was once a swampy slough is also California's oldest wildlife preserve.

The city is a weird amalgamation of old, new, historic and abandoned. San Franciscans fled here after the 1906 earthquake and fire, threw up their Victorians willy-nilly, and city planning hasn't had much of a chance since.

Which makes it the perfect place to explore, to come upon undiscovered urban jewels.

A block from my house you find the coolest movie theater in the East Bay, the "Parkway Speakeasy Theater."

Pull up a couch, grab a beer and order a pizza while you watch second run and near-first run flicks. All for a ticket price of only five dollars.

Still hungry?Journey on over to the "International Delicatessen." Their speciality-Philly Cheese Steak.

Or cross on over to the "Merritt Bakery Restaurant," for a taste of East Oakland, old school. There you'll find a diner the way a diner should be found.

The hostess will wink at you and call you, "hon." She'll seat you in a high-backed booth of brown leather; yeah baby.

Take a look at the menu. What shall you have today? The fried chicken dinner, full size, mashed potatoes, lettuce salad with ranch dressing?

How about the hamburger steak? No, none of these will do. You want the house favorite.

Chicken 'n' Waffles.

You get two plates. Two fried drumsticks. One waffle. One bottle of syrup.

You've had your fill, morning or night. But your sweet tooth starts a tinglin'. You're in the right place.

Have a look at the double-sided, full-sized dessert menu. Want jello? You can have jello. With whipped cream, 25 cents extra.

Damn.

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