So, I’ve been in Berkeley for two weeks and I love it here.
My little area in the flats has a much more active sense of community than my Palo Alto area did, and the mixed use, somewhat raffish range of stores on San Pablo around University has an ethnic diversity and charm that speaks to me (and reminds me of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn). There are also a wide range of cafes, like the wonderful Cafe Leilia ( keep going there instead of exploring further), panderias, and so on. The streets have the individualist architecture, mostly 20s-40s, that I enjoyed so much when I lived in Naglee Park in San Jose, and walking the dogs is a blast because there’s endless detail to look at.
Of course, though, what makes Berkeley most distinctive are the people.
First of all, I have never been around such a broad assortment of old (60+) radicals in my life, There are lots of people here who clearly worked hard to put the Free in Free Speech and just left left (or let up.) I was totally reminded of that at the George Lakoff talk last week, when a fairly imposing woman got up to make a statement and prefaced her exortion to political action with the reminder she had lots of graduate degrees and had gotten good grades in all her classes. I was reminded again when the mostly middle-aged audience at the talk started heckling the local librarian to turn the video off and get on with the program already. For someone who lived a chunk of her life in Brooklyn, this urban over-educated smartass behavior is just delightful.
Secondly, there’s a diversity of age and race that wasn’t as accessible to me on the Peninsula. The broader community I have access to in the East Bay is far more diverse–and far more integrated–than the tech crowd in the Valley, so I feel privileged to have roots in one and be building new ties in another. The folks in Berkeley and Oakland who are into co-housing, sustainabilty and environmental justice are also interesting to me, and I’m very much enjoying the chance to deepen my sense of purpose around social change, very much right now through learning what others are doing.
And finally, there’s a richness of art and music that is greater here than other places I have lived recently. All the small clubs and venues mean there are outlets and rehearsal spaces for musicians, and the warehouses and studios mean that welders, fabricators, theatre people and lots of other types have room to create as well, I am still learning my way around, but it’s something new to savor, (And did I mention all the great events at the Hillside Club?)
Yeah, Berkeley seems special. And while I am here, I am going to savor it.