July 29, 2005

Berkeley Notes

Well, well, well. I guess that the past two weeks turned out to be my summer blogging hiatus. I rejoin the blogging world with some notes on our trip to Berkeley a couple of weekends ago (Jul 15th-19th):

Berkeley is, of course, the site of my alma mater, America's finest university. So I got to wallow around in golden memories of bygone student days and stuff like that.

But my nostalgia wasn't our primary reason for being there; we were attending the wedding of our friends Anita and Derek. Anita is a college friend of mine; she was an attendant (groomswoman?) on my side at our wedding. Anita and Derek's story is handmade for the hardcore romantic; after sharing a class together during their first year at Berkeley, they parted ways, occupied by other things and other people for ten years until a chance meeting in the street. Whirlwind romance and a quick engagement followed soon after, and a year and a half after that, they're married! When we first heard about Derek, I have to admit that we were a little skeptical, but now we heartily approve. Besides being a sweet guy who shares Anita's values, he's fearsomely smart; now that he's earned his Ph.D. in Physics from Cal, his next stop will be a tenure-track professorship at Cal State Hayward. The wedding itself was wonderful; the bride was radiant, the groom was handsome, and the reception was held in the swank, nationally-landmarked Berkeley City Club, with music provided by Dangerous Martini, a live jazz band.

The wedding invitation said "Black Tie Preferred" (or perhaps "Requested" either way, bride-speak for "I really, really, really want a black-tie wedding, but I don't want to turn people away by making it black tie mandatory"; I know this because we went through the same thing with our own invitations); naturally, I was the only man outside of the wedding party who showed up in a tux.

Berkeley is an American nexus for X-Treme liberalism; even though nobody's ever admitted it to me, I'm convinced that when you move to Berkeley and first register your Volvo or Subaru for a resident's parking permit, you get an envelope full of bumper stickers and an instruction sheet that tells you that you must apply at least five of the following:

  • Free Tibet
  • Free Leonard Peltier
  • War Is Harmful To Children And Other Living Things
  • It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get All the Money They Need and the Air Force Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber
  • I'm Straight, But Not Narrow
  • The Earth Does Not Belong to Us, We Belong to the Earth - Chief Seattle
  • KPFA 94.1 (KPFA is the local Pacifica Radio affiliate)
  • U.S. Out Of My Uterus
  • You Can't Hug A Child With Nuclear Arms
  • George Bush-related: "Chimpeach", "A Village In Texas Is Missing Its Idiot", or the more direct "Fuck Bush!"

(If anyone thinks that I'm making any of these up, feel free to visit this page, which has most of these slogans for sale, along with many, many, many others.)

In light of that, we had some curious reactions when we told people about our new hometown. Since Orange County is Berkeley's polar opposite, politics-wise, some people reacted to the news like vampires suddenly confronted with a cross or bright sunlight: "How can you stand living there?" I imagine that they imagine that we must have to shovel our way through a waist-high stack of freshly-placed anti-gay pamphlets just to get out of our front door in the mornings, or that we need to cower inside the house every night thanks to gunplay between rival second amendment-supporting conservative Christian groups.

At home in SoCal, when we've admitted that we live a few miles away from Disneyland, and that, yes, we do both have annual passes, we often get a chilly reception a lecture on the evils of globalization and Disney's culturally-homogenizing ways, or the woman who just hissed, in the most disdainful voice possible, "Oh, I just hate Disney." (Gee, thanks for stopping the conversation cold! Care to tell us about some of your hobbies, so that we can mock them?) Given Berkeleyans' reaction to Orange County, I figured that bringing Disneyland into the conversation would only open us up for more of the same (or worse), but at the D-word, these peoples' attitudes completely changed. "Wow, that must be so much fun!" "Do you go there every day? Because if I had a pass, I don't think I could stop myself from going every day!" And then we talked about each others' favorite rides, or about the new fireworks show.

That guy you see on the freeway driving the car with the "I'd Rather Be Smashing Capitalism" bumper sticker may be harboring some dark, shameful secrets that he doesn't want his neighbors to know about ...

It's a little shameful to me how, eight years after leaving Berkeley, I can still make any number of restaurant suggestions perfectly suited to budget and occasion, but after almost a year in Anaheim, we have yet to branch out beyond the handful of places that we've discovered and liked.

Berkeley is just a better place to shop for stuff than Orange County. Instead of going to your Borders Books or Barnes and Noble, where the tables by the front door are piled with the latest from Dr. Phil and that woman who wrote the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, you can go to Cody's or Moes, where the front tables are well stocked with critically acclaimed, intellectually focused fiction and nonfiction. Instead of the Wherehouse or the Virgin Megastore or wherever kids these days get music when they're not stealing it from the Internet, there are the vast used bins of Amoeba and Rasputin's. You can get reproduction-new stuff for your house at Omega Too, or salvage-old stuff down the street at Omega Salvage.

Of course, if you want to go to Target, or want to shop at a supermarket that sells products in anything other than the smallest, most expensive size, you'd better go to the next town over, because those establishments are too bourgeois to exist in Berkeley. Sorry!

But it doesn't really matter, since my plan to convince Shelby to sell the house in Anaheim and move to Berkeley took a turn for the worse on our last night there. After a pretty good day, we were driving back to our hotel room from a restaurant. First, we passed a candlelight vigil/memorial for a 19-year-old girl who'd been shot dead in the street the night before. Then, on a whim, I proposed we stop at the Ben & Jerry's on the edge of campus for ice cream and as we sat eating our ice cream, the jittery looking man who'd been in line ahead of us but abruptly left the store came back inside to rob the cash register. Fortunately for us, he seemed both very inexperienced and very nervous; no guns were shown, and he ran out of the store after he emptied the till, rather than coming over to make any demands from us.

A bad end to a good trip . . .


Us with the happy couple.Shelby and part of the crowd waiting at the Fourth Street Cody's Books for the midnight release of the latest Harry Potter. It's not what we'd planned on doing, but we found ourselves at loose ends we were going to watch a movie, but then the power went out so why not?

Posted by Kevin at July 29, 2005 03:27 PM