Name: Dorothy Coakley. "I do use a number of pen names occasionally. 'Anonymous' is a favorite; 'Ollie Marie Grandioso' is another."
Age: Old enough to know better
Occupation: Professional librarian, researcher, writer, reviewer
Editor's note: Coakley provided answers by email.
What is your history in El Cerrito? I am older than the hills. Or at least, I’m older than most of the houses in the El Cerrito hills.
I probably played in your El Cerrito house with my friends when it was being built. I know what kind of construction materials were used for your home and what creeks were culverted to make your “flat” yard. I know what the original occupants did for a living. If your house was used as a speak-easy, I’m probably going to know. If your house was built for the contractor’s little old mother, but subsequently sold to a family who raised chinchillas, I’m your woman. If your house is no longer standing, I can tell you what it used to look like in 1950. Or in 1952.
We are a precious resource, my childhood friends and I.
We know where the bones are buried in this town. Treat us well and we will divulge pertinent information. The alternative is to check through old building permits or old Spanish land grant maps which may or may not exist. If you don’t ask, we’re not going to tell you but you might want to know. You’ll want to know before the next earthquake, the next flood or the next mudslide.
Ask us now. Mother Nature waits for no one. Trust me on this!
Tell me a story about how El Cerrito used to be, or growing up here. Tell you a story? I don’t know any stories.
Except, of course, for the story about how I brought Tillie Olsen a copy of the New York Review of Books when she wanted to check out a review of her recent work. And how the Union Catalog did not indicate that any New York Review of Books copies of this particular issue were available at a single library in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa or San Mateo Counties.
But as luck would have it, my sainted spouse had stored a copy of the article in the family room of our El Cerrito house. Tillie was grateful when we drove the material to San Francisco for pickup at her neighborhood Western Addition branch.
That’s how it used to be, growing up in El Cerrito before the advent of the Internet. We motored to the city with paper copies of books and magazines. We went across the bridge, dodging traffic and hoping to get to the other side within the hour. And then we repeated the process in the reverse direction.
This was before Tweeting, twittering, Patching or Yelping. Faxes were almost never used and snail mail took three days to arrive. At Western Addition [library branch], I sent a fax to a colleague in Japan. Upper management at the Main library was alarmed by the expense and I never considered sending a fax again.
El Cerrito was far, far away from other places. Even a book from Berkeley took several days to arrive through interlibrary loan. The book could not be renewed.
It took hours to deliver pertinent information to individuals after they specifically asked for it. Paper boys delivered the daily news on bicycles. At the library, workers carefully attached each page to a stick with a bit of scotch tape and a rubber band. The paper was then placed in a wooden stand near the reference desk so that it wouldn’t be defaced or stolen. One could not check out the current news issue until the following day, though it was available for reading for one patron at a time.
We were truly primitive in those days.
What is your dream for El Cerrito's future? A new library building.
Our current library was built before I was in the 6th grade. Myron Way was our sixth grade teacher at Harding School. Mr. Way recommended against using the materials in El Cerrito and suggested that we have our parents take us to the Richmond Civic Center. Richmond’s library was a real library, he said. Later, he apologized to the El Cerrito librarian who was appropriately incensed at his disparagement of her branch.
How do you think El Cerrito has changed for the better and what do you think could be improved? Let’s see.
We have BART. We have Amazon.com when we don’t feel like going to Barnes and Noble (or if we get to the Wonderland Bookstore after closing time.)
We have a newly constructed City Hall, a new Recycling Center, a new Plaza.
Fatapple’s on Fairmont now has a new enchilada which is available exclusively on Saturdays.
We have cleaner air, fewer polluting vehicles, and of course, the new Bruce King Dog Park.
What don’t we have? Oh, I remember...
We need a new library building. It’s about time.
What are your hobbies? I had thought to take up a new hobby this decade.
Aviation was my first choice; I love to fly in small planes and considered becoming a pilot. My sainted spouse thought my aviation career a bit impractical. Who would be willing to fly in a Piper Cub with a senior citizen?
He suggested that the study of theology might be more suitable. He supposed that my veracity would be less questioned as I was older and that my sermons would be laced with the wisdom of age. I might attract a lucrative following. However, I’d already exhausted my personal study of comparative religion during endless discussions with my fellow students at El Cerrito High School in 1962. I just wasn’t up to the task of redefining my world view or taking that blasted entrance exam.
So, by default my most recent hobby is that of a “stand-up comic.” I’m working on new material for an upcoming production when a suitable venue can be found. “I’m Not Your Tiger’s Mama” will premiere in the future at a theater near you. I’ll let you in for free if you raise the curtain and dim the lights. Otherwise, you will have to sneak in under the tent flaps.
Tell me something interesting about yourself I wouldn't know to ask. I don’t babysit. I don’t make coffee and I definitely don’t run the ditto machine.