There's this curve on northbound Highway 80, right on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, where you have been driving between the grey barricades that form so much of urban freeway, and then you round a huge bend and suddenly the blue waters of the Bay and the glistening city of San Francisco are spread before you, and if you have even a little bit of luck there are fleets of sail boats to feast your eyes on. The sky and sea are open to you, and after driving down so many concrete corridors, it can feel like a gift.
I drive around this curve several times a week, on my way home from work. I teach college classes, so my hours are unusual, and I'm usually driving around the curve when there is very little traffic. I have a job I like, I'm healthy, the sun is shining and I'm going fast. In that one moment, with the Bay spread before me, I feel like I have somehow succeeded. I'm doing it right. I am the American Dream. IKEA and the Emeryville mall are on my right, the Hilton is on my left, I'm looking out over yachts, the enormous wealth of Berkeley and San Francisco are right here, at hand. I have had the brains and historical savvy be this person in this place.
That sensation lasts for maybe 14 seconds. And then I realize that I'm driving on a freeway that has barred almost all accessibility to the shore for the creatures and humans who live in the East Bay, and that in order for this version of the American dream to succeed, a whole lot else here and all over the world has to be sacrificed. And so then I think maybe I am not so much on the winning end of the American Dream as on the losing end of a game civilization has been playing for a while now. Maybe it is not so much my good fortune to survey the magnitude of everything we have built and acquired as my great misfortune to look out over the last of what we are going to lose, right before we lose it.
With a Perspective, I'm Tamie Marie Fields.
Tamie Marie Fields teaches critical thinking at the College of Alameda. She lives in Berkeley.