Get on the fucking sidewalk,” I heard as I made a wide right turn past a house party near Willard Park.
Though I failed to follow the bro’s solid advice, he cheered me on as he yelled, “Fixies for life!” twice as if I didn’t hear him the first time.
I kept the silence of the night’s breeze since the chain on my bike already made enough noise. While my bike’s skinny frame deceived the bro, I was too sober to come up with an equally belligerent reply.
In my head I yelled back to him in my deep-man voice with an encouraging “Yeeeeah” accompanied by a fist-pump. But when I started to inflate my diaphragm to drag out my deep reply, it was too late, as I made another wide turn before I even exhaled.
Alone under the evening’s pink overcast sky, I reached my destination without the delays of human interaction. After spending the day catching up with an old friend in San Francisco and touching base with the homies, I was through reciprocating thoughts.
The past week’s routine of calculated chatter incorporated with the standard web of information overload had come to an end, and now I could just be. But instead of being alone with my thoughts, all I did was turn on autopilot. My iPod and bass-boosting headphones isolated my dopamine receptors from making any conscious effort to stave off the loneliness of being alone. Isolation complements independence, though we revel in the glory of the latter as “hermits” and “loners” are ostracized and pitied. Independence is rewarded to 18-year-olds who can financially or mentally afford it, and it is a default way of life to those who have come to know no better.
While the bro spat out thoughtless mockery to fill the void of silence between him and me, I filled my own void with the distraction of digitalized music. However drunkenly unconscious the bro may have been of his debasing speech, he was making an effort to engage me in some kind of dialogue.
Sitting in a cafe, with the company of my laptop and a pot of tea, caffeinated individuals like me rarely engage in dialogue with strangers, as we are already too engaged to consume what’s in front of us. The self-motivated loneliness of the long-distance runner is unlike the distracted loneliness of the modern consumer.
Telegraph Avenue is a mecca of culture and consumerism. Adorned by shops Berkeley can call its own, street vendors, nomads, punks, tourists and students parade along Telegraph with a collective consciousness that promotes the vivacity of this legendary street. Opening it up to 24-hour businesses would tarnish that very essence.
At the risk of sounding like a puritanical traditionalist, the recent proposal to turn Telegraph into a 24-hour commercial zone will only encourage the isolation that consumerism fosters. Cafe Mediterraneum is already open until (as they like to say) the “witch’s hour,” but — with its new permit — might stay open until 3 a.m. if enough consumers demand it.
Businesses selling alcohol will still be unable to extend their hours past 2 a.m., so barflies can pull all-nighters, or at least have options to crash into, if Telegraph businesses resort to the status of 24-hour convenience stores and supermarkets. These stores are mere alternatives for individuals with ungodly working hours who have no other time to shop.
The likes of Wal-Mart and FoodMaxx in suburban wonderlands deprived of thriving small independent businesses and efficient public spaces dominate the social scene of isolated consumers who can’t think of anything else to do.
Though making Telegraph into a 24-hour commercial zone could help the local economy grow as well as provide social spaces, we should leave the sin of mindless consumption to the consciousness of the day, the constant intoxication of red-light districts and the bold irreverence of the city.
24-hour fitness centers benefit the busybodies who need that release to cleanse their minds (and their bowels). But running alone on a treadmill under artificial lights at 3 a.m. pales in comparison to running down Telegraph watching the sun rise.
Instead of developing proposals to encourage 24-hour commercial zones that could benefit the economy and consumers, we should focus on developing public space. While the likes of parks and churches bring the community together without the need for purchasing power, we lack the motivation and fiscal support to make these spaces as ordinary as shopping malls.
There were a few solitary souls at the park that night, but I didn’t bother to reach out to them. Maybe if there were more people around, I would have.