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Having a car in Berkeley: social currency or burden?

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MARCH 05, 2013

During CalSO, we were told that we wouldn’t need a car in Berkeley. What the counselors didn’t mention was the convenience and freedom that we were potentially sacrificing, like how it easily takes double the time to get some place via bus, how you’re limited in how many groceries you can buy at one time because you don’t have a car to load them into and how the BART station frequently smells of urine. And so while most of us heeded their advice, every once in a while we come across an oddity … someone who actually brought a car with him or her to Cal.

It is these car-owning rebels whom we address today. Have you ever been at a party, casually chatting and making small talk with a new acquaintance when you casually mention “so I was driving to Fourth Street the other day when …” and all of a sudden your listeners’ eyes grow wide? They stop you in disbelief: “Wait, drive?” Now you’ve let it slip. You have a car. You try to play it off casually: “Oh, what? Umm, yeah, I have a car … so anyway, how ‘bout them Golden Bears?” But it’s too late. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to go somewhere for something, do you think you could give me a ride?”

The biggest risk of having a car in Berkeley (besides it being broken into, getting tickets for street sweeping, finding a parking place or hitting unwary pedestrians) is potentially getting used by others because of your vehicle. This may lead to questioning your self-worth and the authenticity of others. Do they love me or just my fast and shiny (well, functioning, anyway) heap of gas-guzzling, chick-magnetizing metal convenience? And if you frequently encounter situations such as the ones outlined below, it is very likely that your doubts are accurate:

Errands. Your friends start asking you to hang out all of the time … to go grocery shopping or to the laundromat or on a Costco run or to pick up a new piece of furniture … Yeah.

Designated driver. Everyone in Berkeley talks about how close we are to San Francisco. When we first move to Berkeley, we delude ourselves with how often we are going to go to the city.  After realizing what a hassle it can be to get to SF from Berkeley, we rarely go. However, after finding out that you have, a car people start asking you to party with them in SF on the weekends — and oh yeah, did we mention that we need a D.D.?

Road trips/carpooling. You only hear from your friends back home who also go to Berkeley when it starts getting close to break. After about a week or so of reintroduced contact, they ask you if you want to carpool back to your neck of the woods — you know, because you have a car and all and they’re headed in the same direction anyway. You agree because it’s a long drive, and you could use the company, besides the  fact that gas is pretty expensive. They pony up gas money only when asked and fall asleep 45 minutes in, leaving you to brave the remaining seven hours alone.

Moving. You have not heard from this person in months. You’re kind of surprised he or she still has your number. This person doesn’t even have the decency to pretend to make small talk for five minutes. He or she is moving and was just wondering if you could help to move a few boxes to … you hang up because this person is not your friend.

Those of you with cars may be slightly despairing at this point, but don’t fret! Having a car in Berkeley isn’t just setting yourself up for being used. In Berkeley, you have a social currency more valuable than good looks or humor. In a way, you are legendary; in your friend circle, you are known as “the dude with a car.”  You can use this social advantage to extract favors from the users and to find out who your true friends are. So when it comes to having a car in Berkeley, our advice is to enjoy the perks and conveniences but remain wary and skeptical of the disingenuous.

Image Source: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection under Creative Commons

Contact Meagan Kane at 


MARCH 05, 2013