The Maze | KQED Truly CA
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The Maze | KQED Truly CA

August 13, 2019

(dramatic music) (somber music) – [Narrator] The MacArthur Maze. An intersection of three
major California highways: the I580, the I880 and the
nation’s second longest highway running from New Jersey to
the San Francisco Bay Area: The Interstate 80. This elevated, static river
of concrete asphalt and steel, towers some 90 feet above the ground. Also known by its original name,
the Distribution Structure, this interchange allows
300,000 cars, each day, to travel to all four
corners of the Bay Area. This multi-level junction,
packed with hundreds of vehicles that are
zig-zagging and criss-crossing while heading into various directions, is one of the most important
intersections in California. But long before the Maze
was built, another man-made structure rose above a
different kind of landscape. (man singing in foreign language) – It’s a burial site, a grave yard. A native grave yard. – (speaking foreign language) Thank you so much for coming out today. We stand here together,
we stand on a sacred site. The sacred sites of my ancestors. (melancholy music) My ancestors were right in this space. This place was the biggest
one of all 425 shellmounds that once ringed the entire bay area. Shellmounds are burial
sites of our ancestors and they got larger and
larger as people passed away. And they just so happen
to also work for us to have ceremonies as they grew on top. And on the top of those shellmounds we would light fires to send signals. And since there’s no electricity, imagine seeing those fires
at night, all along the bay. We were able to impact a lot of people. We were able to trade places. – [Narrator] But industry
and an amusement park heavily damaged the shell mound. And eventually made way for a
multi-complex shopping mall, luxury apartments and a
16-screen movie theater. All of it, conveniently built
next to the MacArthur Maze, which today stands almost twice
as tall as the sacred hill where the people who first
called this place home, laid their loved ones to rest. – People destroyed this, because they didn’t know what it was. They give us this little tiny
memorial, that’s supposed to represent thousands
of years of my ancestors. That’s not what’s it about. Even though the shape of the
land now looks different, it’s important for us to
continue to go back there. It doesn’t make it any less sacred because now there’s a
parking lot on top of it, or there’s a mall on top of it or there’s a school or bar or
railroad tracks on top of it. It is our relationality to
that land and that space. So, there are songs that
need to be sung there and there are prayers that
need to be put down there. (singing in foreign language) But I think that there’s no
honor of the Ohlone people. There’s no idea that we still exist. And that’s what’s so difficult
about living in this city when your traditional
territory is built upon by these communities
that came much later on and have destroyed those sacred places. – [Narrator] The Temescal
Creek, once the life line of the Ohlone people, today
remains a hidden waterway, covered by asphalt and cement. The I880 flyover touches down
right on top where the stream of fresh water, flows into
the San Francisco Bay. (gentle music) Willets, dunlins and marble
godwits are among the thousands of birds that flew from
all over the Americas to winter along the California coast. Some have opted for the muddy shore of the State Marine Reserve
that’s nestled against the Maze. But just a couple of feet
below from where the birds stick their beak into
the mud lies a mixture of toxic waste and landfill
consisting of rubble dating back to the 1906
San Francisco earthquake. Partly built on the
same fill in the 1930s, the Maze has since played a major role in the economic development
of the state of California. It’s an integral link
in a system that enables mass transportation of people and goods, which is at the heart of Oakland. – In the 1860s, the location
of Oakland was recognized as a really good location
for deep water vessels coming out from the Golden Gate, they needed a place to anchor. And that was the beginning of Oakland as a freight terminus. The next huge thing was the construction of the Central pacific railroad. It terminated in Oakland. It’s the place where the railway ends and where the shipping comes in. And when the Central
Pacific yards came in, they brought in huge numbers of jobs. They were pretty well paid
and they were permanent. So, it becomes a hub, it
becomes an attractant, it becomes a magnet. And if you wanted to travel
from Oakland, in the East Bay, to San Francisco, you’d
have to get on a ferry. So especially in that
area of the MacArthur Maze everything is really focused around there in terms of transportation. That’s what brought people there. That’s what gave people good jobs. Transportation. – [Narrator] As the engine
of the second industrial revolution started picking up steam and Oakland came of age as
the transportation nexus of the American West, dreams
that once seemed far-fetched were now within arm’s reach. – [Announcer] After 80 years of planning and three years of actual building. The San Francisco-Oakland
Bay Bridge is completed. The largest engineering structure ever conceived and built by men. Now for the official opening ceremony. The golden chain is cut
with an acetylene torch. Whistles shriek. The harbor fire boat streak
the air with ribbons of water. And the first cars to cross
the world’s largest bridge come rolling along like
a regiment of soldiers. – [Narrator] And meet what
was built in the shadows of this new world wonder:
the distribution structure. Basic and far less grand and
impressive than the bay bridge. But undeniably linked. And in the following 80
years, the interchange and its freeways would
leave a lasting impact on the communities surrounding
this modern-day crossroads. The bright side of the bay flourished. And the screeching sound of
steel wheels coming to a halt, echoed throughout West Oakland, as trains still dominated transportation. Every day, dozens of
black workers arrived at, and departed from these yards. And as they unionized, the Brotherhood of Sleeping
Cart Porters instilled the activist spirit that the
town would become known for. Traveling all over the
United States by rail, they advertised this place
called Oakland, California. And the black cultural capital
on the Pacific became a home. – My family has been here since the 1860s, and I have never ever forgotten what Oakland was about, I guess. And in certain sense I have some type of
romantic idea about Oakland. These were the people
who were able to make a pretty comfortable
living for their families. – [Narrator] Despite the
restrictions and racism black people faced in the Golden State, the first generation away from slavery was able to enjoy a middle class life and own their own
property in West-Oakland. – It was really kind of idyllic. But there was white flight. – [Announcer] There is an internal treat. Like a cancer, it thieves
upon and drains the economy and vitality of the entire city. Almost in the shadow of the city hall can be found the end result
of this disease: the slum. Yes, this too is Oakland. The tax-payers in the
good areas of the city pay for the slum. City officials and department
heads have worked together to assure steady progress
and proper planning for Oakland’s rejuvenated future. To prevent the spread of deterioration. – [Man] The Cypress street
viaduct is essentially a two-mile-long double-deck structure, connecting the bay bridge
distribution structure on the north, with the east-west section of the east shore freeway. The completed project provides four lanes north bound on the lower deck. Four lanes south bound, on the upper deck. We are now arriving at the
distribution structure. With appropriate pomp and
ceremony attended by notables too numerous to mention
the Cypress Street viaduct was opened to traffic. – [Narrator] The new
freeways that sprouted from the Distribution
Structure in the 1950s and wrapped their tentacles
around West-Oakland were bigger, wider and higher. Displacing hundreds of
families, businesses and cultural institutions. It cracked open the social
fabric of the people who made this strip on the south-east
corner of the Maze, home. – And we became more and more isolated. The freeway just displaced
my whole life, I feel. And some people in my
community, they don’t know it, but they really had an impact on making me the women I am today. They’re gone. And just little kernels
and nuggets and stuff. In certain circles, they
saw the freeway as a conduit for them getting to
where they needed to be. They could get to San Francisco, that’s where the jobs were. But nobody wanted to get to us. At the same time, dope was being dropped into our neighborhood. – I’ll never call this home because I don’t want this to be permanent. That’s why I probably haven’t got a tent, because it’s like admitting, you feel me? It’s some type of shelter. It’s not a very good shelter
because when it rains and you’re still under the freeway, you’re still going to get wet. Surprisingly, they’re
steadily building condos for people who aren’t from here. They just care about
money and getting richer. So, people say it’s economics,
it’s not race anymore. It is race to a certain extent. I think it’s not fair for a
person that didn’t grow up in a neighborhood flooded with drugs, to judge a person who did
grow up in a neighborhood overran with drugs for being on drugs. There’s a group of people
that moved down here that turn their noise up towards us and pointing their finger towards us. It’s not just homeless people,
it’s homeless black people. The freeway is not a roof
over my head brother. A roof over my head, I’m
thinking four walls right up under that roof, some type of heat, some type of couch and
some type of cable TV. (car engine roars) Very hard to hear. Very hard to sleep, very hard to sleep! Constant noise. Cars. Police sirens. (train hooting) – [Alternier] The Maze is a mess as far as I’m concerned. The Maze, it’s a necessary
evil in this day and time. Because people have to have it in order to get where they’re going. – I try not to fight the traffic, but at the same time it’s like… ugh, 6.11. There you go buddy, enjoy it. Look at this. There’s nothing communal about this. Communal kind of gives this picture that we’re in this together. I think we’re all little
individual modules. We don’t interact unless
you’re asking me to be let in or I’m asking you to be let in or you’re flipping me off
or you’re honking at me. Fuck you! You’re not getting in! This is a physical manifestation
of the rat race, right? This is what it feels like. What is this guy doing? We’re all these little beings trying to get to our very important lives and trying to navigate this maze. So, maybe if I wasn’t navigating the maze on such a regular basis
I could see beauty in it, but it’s very hard for
me to see beauty in this. It’s like this further disconnect. And here I am in my SUV
driving into the city. (gentle music) – [Narrator] From a
bird’s-eye perspective, the freeway interchange
known as the MacArthur Maze separates four different landscapes: a port, a mall, a
neighborhood and a state park. It stands as a testimony of the history of the eastern shore of
the San Francisco Bay. As the gateway to one
of the busiest bridges in the United States, the maze is a kaleidoscopic monument
of the everyday mundane. And each frame, each layer represent what has been before, and
what and who, had to move in order for others to move around.


  • Reply K Plante May 4, 2019 at 3:32 am

    Thanks for sharing…!

  • Reply mike kinney May 9, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Excellent video! Thank you for acknowledging the Ohlones!!!

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