Ode to Southside

Graham Haught/Staff

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Reasons I love Southside collide with reasons my parents hate Berkeley, and that’s pretty dope, man.

See, Southside is the place I can live my bleary-­eyed Woodstock pilgrimage of hippie lore in peace and harmony and total disquiet.

It is the place where a 300­‐pound man with flowing black hair and a medium T‐shirt waits for sorority girls to pass so that he can growl loudly and then laugh.

And I get to sit against a wall covered in graffiti with red eyes (damn the allergies) and giggle to my heart’s content … and I like that.

I like Southside because there is a certain culture and promise to the place.

It’s a place flooded with seeds of the ’60s, which somehow sprouted and grew into the dystopian scene that Northsiders believe it to be.

But they are wrong. They are wrong with their scarves and Moleskines and clean white cups filled piping-hot with thick espresso crack.

They are wrong because munching on Blondie’s at 1 a.m. with your best friend after being attacked by a high girl who is friends with lots of drunk heroes is somehow infinitely more exciting than green tea strolls along moonlit rose garden paths.

Some say Southside is dirty.

I say that its smells and textures and shadows become something like home, no matter how bad they may sting your nose — something like your mom’s famous sauerkraut anchovies chilled onion soup, or your dad’s armpit in your face while you wrestle on the lawn.

Clean isn’t always better, and Northside doesn’t get that.

There is a place for trees filtering soft light through quaint cafe windows, but there also is a place for a man named Fidel who’s only got three teeth and who’s charmed because at least one person now knows his name.

And I know “It’s not safe”; my girlfriend has briefed me well.

But for the idealist with a hippie streak and an appreciation for the wisdom that springs from plight, Southside has its offerings, too.

Telegraph is hung across from campus like a dare, as if to shout, “Fix this and you shall learn the key to fixing the rest.”

On any given stroll, I can live a different me, sensitive more to this sight than that, aware of my place in a different sort of picture.

My education as a humanities man is packed tightly with tales of woe; I am nicely attuned to it. I am forced to read the likes of Hemingway and Eliot and Fitzgerald and Poe. I am also forced to read books about prison rape and incest and murder and hate.

But Southside is part of what makes the experience of Berkeley — well, the experience of Berkeley for engineers and math kids like my first roommate, Jin.

Southside is a reminder that there are inequities and realities that will continue to exist alongside that first paycheck earned after four hard book-learning years.

It’s a reminder that pain doesn’t only exist in that village in the Congo you saw in that video in that international justice seminar that one semester before you got that totally awesome Fair Trade Organic-grown. Like, to help the farmers, man.

It’s a reminder even to all of the academics in the pristine Northside cafes that their lofty theories need somewhere be applied.

But it’s also a place of hope and light, and it somehow promises peace.
Not because people go prancing down the street or hold each other’s hands while they sing.

I mean, that does happen quite a lot.

But it is also a place of hope because there are small evidences everywhere of a breathing, living optimism.

I know it’s hard to believe in it anymore.

Charities don’t actually use their money to help anyone, politicians care about policy more than their people and pundits care more about the color of skin than unity and recovery.

But students do leave their leftovers on top of trashcans, and we do leave our slightly longer cigarette butts sitting politely on window ledges and walls.

And every now and then, I do see the kind girl from the Christian club kneeling solemnly next to a homeless man who I know is a scammer, and yes, that does hurt.

But Berkeley is a light, right? I know that’s why I came here.

So I’m proud to say that I am of Southside claim and that when I look back on Berkeley, I won’t remember comfort or warmth or safety.

I’ll remember that Southside taught me to love uncertainty, because hell, ideas are more dangerous than any man named Fidel.

Contact D.J. Sellarole at [email protected].