I grew up behind the orange curtain in a city of wide streets and Del Taco. One of those suburban cookie-cutter places in Orange County, the kind of scene subject to satire after satire, was home to me for 18 years. Then I made the great pilgrimage to Berkeley — perhaps not so cookie-cutter, but bubbly nonetheless.
One of the great laughs of my life happened as a sophomore, when at a particular meeting of freethinking cool guys, I was apologized to after someone found out where I was from. Despite me pointing out that Orange County is not actually Los Angeles, he continued on without much care: “It’s just, I could never do L.A. You see what I mean, right? They’re just so, well, you know.”
No, I don’t.
I’m not going to open up an entire Northern California versus Southern California debate — those things are kind of, well, you know … beneath us. Both come with the good and the bad, so its unfair and downright stupid to make generalizations of Los Angeles (which has become a synecdoche for greater southern California amongst the critics), as well as the Bay Area (see previous parentheses, but apply to the north).
Take, for example, Mr. Eye Roll. He argued that L.A. was a shallow cesspool of superficiality, bros and backwards politics (again grouping L.A. and Orange County together). Well sure, those areas have their idiots, and when they’re found we should point a collective finger of shame at them. But for the time being, let me redirect you to a scene from everyone’s favorite place: Kip’s.
For better or worse, most of us will eventually find ourselves there from time to time. When the place gets crowded, it makes for a long line to the bathroom. Cue Berkeley freethinking. On a particularly crowded night, I noticed everyone around me turning toward the food counter. Crouched on the other side was a girl who had gone back and decided it was a good enough substitute for the bathroom.
Now I’m not saying she is Berkeley’s average student, and I am willing to bet she wouldn’t do that sober, but can’t you picture this being someone’s horror story about a night out in L.A.? They come back to the civilized North, eyes wide and mouth agape, waiting to tell you all about little Ms. Bladder and the L.A. troglodytes. Then Mr. Eye Roll promptly responds: “Oh yes, I don’t doubt it. Not for a minute,” leaning in close as if to whisper, “You know, they don’t even know what a train is down there.”
And he’s got me there: One of the great things about Northern California is, in fact, its public transportation. I love it; I can get pretty much everywhere I need or want to go without having to worry about a car.
Almost as good is Berkeley’s commitment to the independent store; that one-in-the-world feel that pervades so many of the places we love. As much as I like to make fun, Berkeley does have a level of independence unmatched in my humble travels.
But we also have that Starbucks on Shattuck, across the street from a Peet’s, which is around a few corners from another Starbucks. We also have a Subway right across the street from another Subway. At least in L.A., if the students wanted a second Subway instead of a campus Panda Express, they might not have felt compelled to hide it beneath protests of cultural imperialism. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Subway is the largest fast-food chain in the world. Of course, I’m sure the whole Subway-instead-of-Panda-Express thing is more the product of a really bad business plan and less the product of my imagination.
Kind of like when I imagined that most students who went to Sproul the night Robert Reich spoke were there out of protest for the wave of fee-hikes coming our way and not only because it was Robert Reich.
So in my mind, Berkeley exists in this constant duality: On one hand the city and the students really do carry the torch of independence, but the other hand is sometimes armed with a pretension so heavy you forget about the really good.
And that’s not to say there isn’t trash coming from the mouths of southlanders, either. I’ve seen my share of stereotypes played out in L.A. I know that little Ms. Bladder and Mr. Eye Roll have relatives down there; ones who really do believe Berkeley is a land of liberals where men marry trees and the Weather Underground are not only on staff, but deans of that same city’s university. Which, they will concede, is paradoxically one of the better public schools in the world.
To both sides: Let’s rein in the vitriol, give our rolling eyes the day off and for God’s sake, pee before we leave the house.
But if we can’t do that, here’s to hoping Mr. Eye Roll and little Ms. Bladder procreate. I’d love to see how that kid turns out.