Here’s a situation that happens to me not irregularly.
(conversation turns to housing)
“Where do you live?”
“Cedar and Milvia,” I say.
“You know where Cheese Board is?”
“What? How do you live that far away?”
And so on. I’m well aware there are people who live even farther than Cedar and Milvia, which Google Maps calls a 28-minute walk to Barrows Hall. I’ve heard of people living as far west as Sacramento, and there are those who commute from Emeryville and Walnut Creek. Compared to those I know, however, I live just about as far away from the hullabaloo of Berkeley life as any of them.
When I first moved out here, I was a little wary of my house’s distance from, well, everything. But there have been some unexpected benefits. I get to eat Cheese Board all the time. It’s always quiet. My housemates and I are pretty much the only students on our street, save a couple of kids renting out singles in the house to our left.
It’s very different from my freshman-year experience in Unit 1. Instead of wading through hundreds of different people every morning buzzing like a colony of bees, I may not see a single person until I hit campus. Relative to most of those living in co-ops or grimy Southside apartments, I might as well be living on Walden Pond.
As I prepare to leave the Cedar and Milvia house and move with a few friends to one of those grimy Southside places, it’s got me thinking about the value of the experience. The solitude has certainly helped my day-to-day productivity. Hanging out with friends is never just a short walk away, so on weekend nights, I usually just decide to stay in and get work done.
It’s also strengthened the bond between my housemates and me. Nine of us from the sixth floor of Cheney Hall (and one from the third floor) moved here in August 2012. We were all good friends in our freshman year, but I think the experience of living in a house so far removed from everything has turned us into family. A dysfunctional one, yes, but I’m not too proud to admit how important it is to me that I have a group of people here I can say that about.
But sometimes I think it’s just too grown-up and mature. Productivity, family — these are things that ought to be valued, sure, but more highly than chaos?
Sometimes I feel like I missed out on chaos, the engine of that classic “college experience.” Southside is certainly chaos. People roam the streets till late at night, drunkenly yelling past your window, even on a Wednesday. Restaurants stay open late. Pappy’s exists. It’s grimy and it’s coarse, but it’s undeniably college.
I wish I could come to some grand conclusion here, something that speaks to the truth of the college experience, but the real truth is that I’m clueless. I don’t know whether I’ve missed out. Maybe the “college experience” is a mythical creature, and nobody’s actual college experience (except for maybe those in the Greek system) lives up to what the movies tell us.
Maybe all of those charmingly gritty aspects of Southside are really just obnoxious, and everyone living over there wishes he or she lived in a little suburb like me.
Michael Rosen is an associate editor of The Weekender. Contact him at [email protected]