Finding my place in Berkeley

For some, La Val's is just a place to have lunch. For others, it's a home away from home.
Michael Tao/Senior Staff
For some, La Val's is just a place to have lunch. For others, it's a home away from home.

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The night before I visited UC Berkeley for the first time, my parents and I had dinner with Thom, a family friend who happened to be an alumnus. We talked all throughout dinner, and late into the night, he told me about his time on campus during the Free Speech Movement and the protests. I was excited to hear all about the campus I would soon be calling home. Having already read the Wikipedia page about 10 time, a firsthand account was exhilarating.

When the check came Thom handed me a handwritten list. “This is everywhere you need to eat,” he said. “There are a lot of choices out there, but these are the ones that I remember after 30 years.”

The next day, my parents and I flew up from Southern California with the list in my pocket. My tour was like any other I had seen — an overly enthusiastic tour guide showed me all the buildings on campus and imparted a bit of lore on our group. I was underwhelmed. It looked like any other campus I had seen in the movies. I was convinced that I had made the wrong choice, that I didn’t belong and that it wasn’t my campus.

The tour was over, and we were starving. We hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast back home. We decided to consult the list and picked the first entry — La Val’s Pizza. We walked in through the courtyard shared with La Burrita, ordered and sat down. With the smell of pepperoni and a hint of parmesan on the air, my mother and I played pool as we waited for our pizza. We began to talk, and I shared my anxiety about starting at Berkeley with her.

“I guess I would feel this way regardless of where we were,” I said. She nodded, sunk the eight-ball and then it was time for pizza.

As I bit into the slice of pepperoni pizza, I felt all the fear and anxiety wash away. We ate in silence, which is a rarity for my family, bussed our table and played a final round of pool.

Flash-forward a year, same spot. My freshman roommates and I are playing a doubles game of pool and taking turns attacking the four mini pizzas that we have ordered. Once again, I’m anxious, this time for a different reason: Finals were coming. We talk about finishing off the semester and where we’ll be living next year and what classes we’re on the wait list for. After the round of pool finishes, we get refills on our sodas and walk back to Bowles Hall, refreshed and ready to get back to procrastinating.

It’s summer time, and I’m sitting in a booth attempting to finish my problem set. Sophomore year has come and gone, and I am living in the co-ops now, but my house doesn’t offer food in the summer, so I have taken to eating out for most of my meals. I sit, staring at the restaurant’s LED display, waiting for my number to pop up on the screen. 149. A few moments later, I finish my problem set and with it the remains of my pizza.

Now, once again, I find myself at La Val’s a little anxious as I finish editing my first post for Eating Berkeley. I have eaten two slices of pizza, and it’s coming up on closing time. I think back to that list I was handed so many nights ago, and I know this will be one of the places I tell people about 30 years from now.

Contact Andrew Steinsapir at [email protected].

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