Around Town

Chalk It Up to Kids

    In 2003, Alameda artist, educator, musician and dad Mark Wagner was asked two interlinked questions during a men’s group meeting: “What would you do if you had the support of 40 men? Got a dream?” The questions hit him with curve-ball surprise. “This wasn’t something I’d thought about,” he muses, seated amidst the creative clutter of his home office. It took Wagner two weeks to come up with an answer. “I realized my dream was to create something with kids that would inspire everyone.” It took a couple of years for the dream to develop into a vision, then a plan.
    On June 7—having kindled the creative fire and sparked the enthusiasm of several thousand Island kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school students—Wagner’s giant multicolored dream-without-boundaries will become reality. Called the Kids’ Chalk Art Project, it will take the form of a 120,000-square-foot multicolored lizard drawn, in chalk, on the asphalt at Alameda Point. The goal is to raise funds to put art back into Island elementary schools that have lost it, and to introduce art into schools that never had it.
    That there are no art teachers in elementary schools appalls Wagner, who spent the first few months of this year visiting schools and using a combination of technology, art and storytelling to enthuse students. Exposing kids to creativity, he says, correlates to success in life. “You teach a child to think creatively, you’re teaching him or her to be successful at everything from marriage to solving the world’s problems.”
    Wagner, on his school visits, was seeking middle and high school project leaders—and igniting the imagination of younger children who will make group field trips, in shifts, to create the chalk lizard during the two weeks leading to the big June 7 event. Meanwhile, working collaboratively with the city of Alameda, the Alameda Education Foundation, the Alameda Unified School District and a project team he assembled, Wagner was approaching sponsors and establishing a nonprofit, Re-enchanting the World Through Art, to support a sustainable creative arts program in Island elementary schools into the future.
    If things go as planned, what is completed on June 7 will make its way into Guinness World Records as the world’s largest chalk drawing. It’s possible that a satellite photo of the event may be linked to Google Earth. There is also talk of a book and of replicating the Alameda vision in other parts of the United States.
    Wagner lives with his daughters Ruby, 12, and Zoe, 10, and writer wife, Laurie, in a house overflowing with projects. The possibilities devloping out of the giant chalk-art lizard have taught him to never underestimate the power of a good question. Meet him these days and he’s likely to ask: “Got a dream?” It inspired him. So, what about you?
    For more information on the Kids’ Chalk Art Project, see For more on Mark Wagner and his art, see
—By Wanda Hennig
—Photography by Mark Wagner

Read All About It

Alameda's Newsstand Still Newsworthy

    The sky may still be dark at 6 a.m., but the sidewalks on Park Street are already bustling with dog walkers, commuters waiting for buses, and hungry patrons on their way to Ole’s Waffle Shop for breakfast. As they walk along, many stop by the little newsstand on the corner of Santa Clara Avenue for a copy of their favorite local paper. Laptop computers may sit comfortably alongside cappuccinos, but doesn’t newsprint seem more appropriate next to a big plate of eggs and bacon? And isn’t it handier for reading on the bus or taking to the dog park?
    At barely 6 feet square, Paul’s Newsstand is the smallest of Alameda’s historic businesses, a remainder of a distant time when the information printed in newspapers the night before was considered “new.” It was named for Paul Manning, a newspaper vendor who once sold papers on the corner from his wheelchair until a local businessman stepped up to help build the original hut. While newspapers around the country struggle to stay in business, Alameda’s best known newsstand, 70 years old, is newly refurbished and ready to serve a new generation of newshounds, sports fans and crossword puzzle aficionados. Recent renovations, which brought it up to the new Park Street standards, were the result of a collaboration between local businesses, city of Alameda officials and local history buffs. The stand is now operated by Larry Trippy, who sells the San Francisco Chronicle, the Alameda Times-Star, the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News from 5 a.m. on weekdays (6 a.m. on weekends) until 1 p.m.
    For more than two decades, Alamedan Hank Zuberer has been picking up a paper from Paul’s and reading it over breakfast at Ole’s. As regulars sip their coffee, they digest the news and make comments to each other. “It’s a little slice of life that a lot of us enjoy,” says Zuberer. “You connect with people as you sit and read the paper. It’s from a bygone era.” With the structural restorations—and the show of support from the local community—Alameda’s newsstand looks set to last as long as the newspapers it sells are still in print.
—By Elisa Williams
—Photography by Lewis Smith

Media Shelf

New Books and CD Releases

Yoga for Computer Users: Healthy Necks, Shoulders, Wrists and Hands in the Postmodern Age
by Sandy Blaine (Rodmell Press, 2008, 128 pp., $14.95)
    Sandy Blaine of Alameda Yoga Station fame and author of Yoga for Healthy Knees has a second book out, Yoga for Computer Users, inspired by her work as the in-house yoga instructor for Pixar. Blaine shows the “desk- and computer-bound” how to prevent and reduce the detrimental effects of the tools of their trade with 20-plus, easy-to-follow illustrated yoga poses, stretches and exercises. Her yoga-based, self-care program strives to increase range of motion and improve circulation while keeping RSI to neck, shoulders, wrists and hands at bay.

My Journey with Cala, A Spiritual Awakening
by Carol A. Hanson (Hummingbird Spirit Publishing, 2007, 211 pp., $14.95)
Alameda minister Carol A. Hanson, a practitioner of Mystic Christian Meditation who was ordained at the Home of Truth and chairs the board of trustees of the Alameda Spiritual Living Center, tells the story of Jean, also a minister, who embraces her soul guide, Cala, to embark on a spiritual journey through her childhood, adolescence and adulthood. On her odyssey toward inner fulfillment and peace, Jean overcomes loneliness, troubled marriage, alcoholism and more. Cala offers wisdom and guidance throughout, keeping Jean on her path toward discovering and accepting her true nature.

Paul Manousos, Common Thread (Shock and Fall Recordings,
    On his second album under his own name (after recording with Power 13), this Alameda singer-songwriter (whom many Islanders will recognize behind the counter part time at Farmstead Cheeses & Wines) puts a powerful new voice to the edgy new wave legacy of Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. The East Bay Wrecking Crew (drummer Andrew Griffin, bassist/guitairst Peter Canton and electric guitarist Darrin Fox) gives the big-throated guitar-piano-vibes-playing Manousos surging, snapping accompaniment that recalls Parker and Costello’s bands, the Rumour and the Attractions—good rockin’ with biting, socially relevant lyrics.

Jeff Oster, True (Retso Records,
After striking out in the L.A. music scene (and driving a limo to make ends meet), Alamedan Oster secured his family’s well being as a stockbroker and financial advisor and then returned to his musical pursuits, finding an original voice for his big brass horn in the process. His second album, again produced by Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, is the kind of New Age electronica that soothes in the dark or nicely accompanies wine and conversation. Oster calls himself an “ambient chilled jazz flugelhorn player,” distinguished from “cool jazz” by richer atmospherics and global rhythms and accents (like Tibetan throat singing). With impeccable engineering that emphasizes clarity and depth, True will appeal to fans of Kitaro, the Cocteau Twins and Mark Isham film scores.
—By Judith M. Gallman and Derk Richardson


Rideable Bicycle Replicas: Out of the Ordinary

    They may seem out of the ordinary, but the bicycles at Alameda-based Rideable Bicycle Replicas—the high-wheeled, brakeless novelties of the 1870s—are actually called ordinaries. Greg Barron, the head honcho of RBR, which designs and manufactures these “passable replicas” of penny-farthings, says the prototypes of today’s bicycles were introduced as safeties—so called because their wheels were the same sizes, making them safer because there was far less chance of a rider taking a header.
    Barron, who hopped on his first high-wheeler at 12, has suffered only two ordinary accidents—a pretty good record, considering he’s been horsing around with them since his dad, Mel, now deceased, bought the Oakland bike company in 1973 and moved it to Alameda in 1984. The company operates out of what was the family home plus an attached series of unassuming workshop and storage areas.
    “It may not be fancy, but everything I need is here,” says Barron of Petaluma, who boasts skills as a mechanic, carpenter and machinist.
    In its heyday, RBR employed 12 and churned out 300 penny-farthings a year, amping up production in the 1970s to manufacture cruisers and low riders. Today RBR and its three employees turn out about 100 to150 penny-farthings annually, retailing for $900 to $3,500 a piece.
    “They are a kick in the pants. They’re so much fun,” Barron says.
    The RBR line also includes pedicabs, hand-cranked trikes, tricycles, recumbent bikes, surreys and tandems. Custom work—bikes, carriages, a stagecoach—for Broadway shows, television programs and movies is also in demand, with RRB-made products winding up in Wicked, Deadwood, Lonesome Dove, Far and Away, The Age of Innocence and What Dreams May Come.
    Far from being a bike fiend, Barron is a developer who also dabbles in a great white shark diving business. He laments that mass manufacturing has turned bicycles, once a durable good, into a disposable one, and he firmly encourages repurposing and reusing goods rather than buying anew.
    “Bicycles are all the same—these days more than ever,” he says, conceding that his personal philosophy may run counter to selling more bikes. “They all pedal, balance and steer.”
—By Judith M. Gallman


Paul Manousos Common Threads

    Paul Manousos had just walked out of Peet’s on Park Street, cup of coffee in hand, when the gist of a headline in a newspaper rack stopped him in his tracks: “I was like, ‘Damn, 53 more people dead in Iraq,’ ” the Fernside resident said over lunch recently at the Little House Cafe. “That started me writing the song ‘Crazy’ that same day, and that’s when the record started taking shape for me.”
    The record is Common Thread, the brand-new second CD under his own name for Manousos, a Pleasanton-raised Oakland native who has lived in Alameda for the past 12 years with his wife, Michele. A solid soul-influenced rock ’n’ roll album, Common Thread has enough punch to boost the 40-year-old singer-songwriter to notoriety well beyond Alameda’s shores.
    Manousos is a familiar face to those who have purchased some creamy aged brescianella or a bottle of Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon from him at Farmstead Cheeses & Wines, where he works three days a week. But those who have watched him busking on the pavement during one of Alameda’s street fairs have gotten a clearer glimpse of his true calling.
    The youngest of 11 kids, Manousos launched his recording career in 1999 with the blues-rock group Power 13. After recording a second Power 13 album in 2002, the producer, Steve Fisk, invited Manousos up to his Seattle studio to record the tracks that evolved into the well received solo debut For Better or Worse. On that and Common Thread, the sonics owe much to Fisk, who has engineered for such big-name bands as Soundgarden and Nirvana. He beefed up the sound of the band (the East Bay Wrecking Crew) and highlighted Manousos’ powerful voice, a hearty growl influenced by ’60s soul and blues giants like Otis Redding and reminiscent of the edgy New Wave–era singing of Graham Parker and Elvis Costello.
    But the vision, manifested in such songs as “Crazy,” “Real World” and a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” is all Manousos. “Yes, ‘Silver Wings’ is a love song,” Manousos allows, “but it could evoke thoughts of a soldier going off to war, which is part of ‘Who Kissed the Girl,’ too.” Indeed, the “common thread” running through this new collection of songs, Manousos explains, is unease about the state of the world. “Why don’t words mean anything in public life anymore?” he asks. “Why does this craziness have to keep going through everything? Why can’t we break the string and stop this craziness?” [Track: "Who'll Kiss the Girl"]
—By Derk Richardson


With Melody Marr

Good Vibrations

1     THE VIBE
    I love going out to Crab Cove and Crown Beach. It’s a beautiful place, especially when you’re walking out along the shoreline. It’s so unique, like Alameda. There’s so much hustle and bustle everywhere, but Alameda is peaceful, welcoming and cozy. People who don’t leave the Island can’t experience that feeling you get when you return, like when you’re coming home from a trip and you’re out by the Oakland Airport. Here they get that feeling. In other places people are always in such a rush; they look away; they drive over you. In Alameda, people say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “hello.”You can go to a corner and the cars stop so you can cross.

    Alameda may be a small community, but there is so much in the culture and arts we can take advantage of—ACLO, the Alameda Education Foundation, Rhythmix Cultural Works, Stage Masters. You want it, and it seems to be here. I’m very
excited about the opening of the Alameda Theater. What a beautiful restoration job. What fun to be able to be here to see the opening of this building we’ve watched being restored. I enjoy going to Kofman, a great venue. But one thing we lack is a conference center where 500 people can have a meal in one room with a stage.

    The power of those scissors! Those scissors are antique, from 1929.They have seen a lot of ribbon cuttings. If they could talk, the stories they could tell about the businesses they’ve opened. We average four ribbon cuttings a month, but at times we have so many, maybe four per day, that the poor mayor must have felt like she’s on staff at the chamber.

    This chamber and Melody Marr could not do any of what we do without the support of this group. The chamber ambassadors are 30 people, all volunteers, who are the marketing and PR arm of the chamber. They’re greeters and hosts at the mixers. They’re there to help you—when you feel lost or don’t know anybody, they introduce you around. They are the friendliest group of people. They’re wonderful people, and they are appreciated more than they can ever imagine.

    When I go to City Hall West, I am so surprised by the beauty of that area, the peacefulness out there. Out by the ferry landing, you can watch the cranes, and on a clear day, you can see the San Francisco skyline. But the promise of the development out there, knowing what may be developing, is so exciting. It’s nice to stop and think about that.
—By Judith M. Gallman
—Photography by Craig Merrill

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