There are certain places that make us feel more at home. Certain cues give us hints that people in a location will fit into our world perspective nicely. Likewise, the opposite is true. We went to Berkeley the other day, and I love the part of Berkeley next to the UC between Telegraph and College. It feels like a place I could spend a great deal of time. There is something about the mixture of quirky shops, professors, staff, students and working people that feels right to me. Though no one said hello or smiled at me, I still felt welcome.
I was in love with the buildings both on and off campus. So many red wood cabins and pseudo painted ladies. Arbors coated in wisteria and jasmine while yards burst with yellow, red, orange and pink. The gorgeous facades of the oldest of UC buildings made me jealous (think UCSB's sterile block like structures). I wanted to touch them, and stare at them for hours taking in every last detail. I couldn't of course, but I had such a strong desire to do so it was overwhelming. All this felt incredibly right to me - like I belonged there. Except I didn't. This became profoundly clear to me when we attempted to find the Zareason store front (even though we hadn't called ahead).
Around Zareason are several store fronts. Down the block and across the street were some locally owned places, all selling highfalutin goods. People stared at me, through shop windows, full on stared at me. It was clear to me that I wasn't expected in this part of Berkeley. When we got our lunch in a cafe, I looked around at the people. All the men had shaggy hair and full (though well kept) beards. The women had limited amounts of product in their hair and nearly no makeup. Clothes came in several colors - black, gray, brown, dark blue, and dark green. Glasses came in square and cat eye. Everyone seemed to have a book or a laptop, even people who had come in with other people. Most of them had gray strands in their hair. I had never seen so many riding hats and so much corduroy in one place! It was as though all these people were trying to cling to some image long gone of counter culture. I felt like it would have done very well in upstate New York or Massachusetts, but here it felt contrived and a bit pompous. I felt put out.
Everywhere you go there are people who pretend. Everywhere you go there will be people who can't handle difference. One of the things I liked so much about the Dirty Bird Lounge was the breadth of people. It was okay to be different and be there. Yes, there was a common thread among the patrons, but of course, that would be expected. Between Telegraph and College there was a breadth of people, even if the common thread was academia and to some extent, privilege. Here in this tiny section of Berkeley, I felt like everything had been bleached out with some special kind of social bleaching that left a small group of people trying to recreate Northampton Massachusetts and failing because they missed a crucial part about the mixture of grit, drugs, new age, and snow. Maybe I just needed to get over my expectation of what these types of havens should be like, or maybe I just realized what a haven is to me.
I kept thinking that I would find a place that I liked because it would have a predominance of one thing, but that isn't what I like. In fact I hate that. It's boring. The best places are ones that are messy and have a billion different things going on with as many different types of people. That part of a city is my favorite. I guess greater Berkeley is for people who can't handle San Francisco? That's my working theory. Don't get me wrong, there are parts of it I love, but I think I would prefer the dirty post-industrial building with converted lofts any time.