Oakland, California, is a sprawling city covering 78 miles from the San Francisco Bay to the wild hills above “where bobcats and coyotes roam.” Oakland’s population is one of the most diverse in the United States, and in addition to several different racial and ethnic groups, the city has the largest population of lesbians and “gay- and lesbian-headed households.” The city “prides itself on its open-mindedness,” Slater explains. This diverse group of people have their own “homegrown slang” and they comfortably live, work, and worship together. Their city may be large, but Oakland shares an interconnectedness, and their “stories tangle together.”
Slater’s mention of bobcats and coyotes underscore the geographical differences in Oakland—the city is both urban and rural—and the people are just as different. Oakland’s diversity and large LGBTQ population implies tolerance and inclusion, which makes Sasha’s attack all the more unbelievable. Oakland’s interconnectedness makes the city a community, and their “homegrown slang” is a reflection of their shared identity.
Oakland, however, is also a place of “stark contrasts.” The year of Sasha’s attack, Oakland ranked nationally as one of the worst cities for income inequality, falling just under New York City. Oakland residents pay some of the highest rents in the United States, yet it is the second most dangerous place to live based on the violent crime rate. Most of the city’s wealthy residents live up in the hills, and while some places in the Bay Area have experienced an economic resurgence, this means very little to Richard, who lives in “the flatlands of East Oakland.” Two-thirds of the city’s murders happen in Richard’s neighborhood, and the schools and surrounding communities are poor and neglected.
This passage draws attention to the economic inequality present in Oakland, just one of the social injustices examined in The 57 Bus. High rent is often associated with luxury and desirable locations, yet East Oakland is poor and neglected. Families like Richard’s are kept poor by skyrocketing rent, and even though parts of the Bay Area have been revitalized, Richard’s family certainly can’t afford to move there. Slater suggests that Oakland’s violent crime rate is directly related this economic inequality.
The route of the 57 bus travels eleven miles from the wealthy hills to city’s flatlands, and it also passes through Sasha’s middle-class neighborhood. Oakland High, where Richard goes to school, is in the heart of Sasha’s neighborhood, and the bus route “terminates” near Richard’s own house on the southeast border of the city. Sasha and Richard are on the bus together for eight minutes each day after school. If not for the 57 bus, Slater writes, Sasha and Richard’s “paths might never have crossed at all.”
The fact that the route of the 57 bus “terminates” at Richard’s house suggests that it is the end of line, and that his neighborhood is one of the poorest in Oakland. Sasha’s own middle-class neighborhood is a world away from Richard’s, and there is no real reason why their lives should cross. The bus’s route is more evidence of the interconnectedness of Oakland.