No more people watching outside my window, listening to DJ Patches rock out to the Temptations or SOAD on Berkeley’s rarefied urban avenue. After two years of pretending to be an RA in the same brick building that I had my first brush with White Russians and free condoms as a freshman, it’s off to the hills for me.
Away from the vibrations of autos and hordes of freshmen and junior transfers, this summer will be my first living in a house among other garden ivy houses, instead of greasily tasty restaurants and cultural head shops. Telegraph has become more like my backyard than anything else, but I’ve missed lying on grass where I don’t have to worry about footballs and puppies flying over me.
We’ve had a good run, Telegraph and I. Here I’ve been, just walking down the street, singing doo-ah-dee-dee-dee-dee-dum-dee-dee-do, hypnotized by the strings of beads, beards and dreads, window displays and colorful heads. Naively hip and tragically filthy, my backyard has been a street traversed by tourists and locals, backpacking transients and students, passing each other in blinks of tunnel vision and fits scrambling for change.
Berkeley’s cultural diversity — considering the variable colors of skin or jingling pockets of change — peaks on Telegraph, between Dwight and Bancroft. Smelly hippies stagger next to pierced punks, trotting alongside the rest of the University’s resident hipsters, geeks and go-getters. Separated from Downtown Berkeley’s auto-centricity and the supra-urban neighborhoods surrounding Telegraph, diversity takes a break right by People’s Park.
Probably one of the University’s most historically controversial spaces (the Gill Tract looks like the next runner-up), People’s Park welcomes the sub-normal as much as it might frighten the supra-normal. Normal being the vegetable medley of Telegraph Ave., inviting commerce and community from visiting passers-by and apartment dwellers. But when commerce stops at night? People’s Park has the repellent film of a leper’s colony.
Right across from the park is a neighborhood friendly enough to be a bicycle lane, claiming one of the most well-known and unofficial ethnic communities for students. Brown Box residents and their neighbors briskly walk home, cautious with anecdotes of imminent danger and heckles for cigarettes, eager to reach home in one, unmugged piece.
Trudging up the hill to Piedmont’s frat row, the cigarette heckles become drunken giggles, tripping on cracks in the sidewalk instead of clouds of smoke. Limited to the commerce of alcohol and cigarettes, the sidewalks are too small to seat traveling musicians and artists but big enough to whistle while walking home.
Alas, I will whistle home this summer, up the hill into my doom of privilege. Eleven bedrooms, a walk-in freezer and two roof-deck views to salivate from, I am leaving Telegraph’s diversity for the sanctuary of a Berkeley Student Cooperative. An investment for the sanctity of college memories that don’t involve flashbacks to freshman delirium, this summer is a retreat to the paradox of cooperative living.
Predominantly white and organic, the co-ops (as an actual living, and not “party,” space) never really appealed to me until last summer. Compared to my day life as an RA, showing vacant rooms on a variable cereal and burrito diet, Andres Castro Arms became a home away from the nightly echoes of my dorm. Castronauts trampled throughout the Julia Morgan mc-mansion, braless and bottomless to warm up to cool summer nights.
Open and hardly locked, Castro that summer was a space for one to roam in the nude, free of rude glares albeit with sparks of hungry gaze. Away from the spectacle of Telegraph, the streets up the hill keep the show to themselves. Unjudging, unafraid, lexically empowered and organically deranged, it’s no wonder the BSC has had to make an active effort to recruit ethnic minorities — particularly African Americans — into such a homogenous space.
Though anyone can live in one of the BSC houses, the co-ops seem just as “exclusive” as ethnic communities, fraternities, sororities, and basically any social group legitimized with a name. While different social groups coexist in the sidewalks of Telegraph, each walk becomes its own ladder as we whistle up the hill into the safety of our own homes.
Seeing without acknowledging. Nodding at the punks in front of the Med would mean I have a cigarette or two to spare, while walking past would mean I have nothing at all. And this summer I will have nothing at all, except for the luxury of a house where I don’t have to see anyone I don’t want to see. Spending all my money on rent, food and the necessities of your average urban dwelling nerd, this summer won’t have to pretend.
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