BERKELEY IN 2000

 

What’s Berkeley up to now? When I moved here from Manhattan in 1967, Berkeley was a center of the "Movement," young radicals fomenting social revolution. That Movement evaporated, but it decisively influenced the development of a distinctive Berkeley culture. At the core of that culture is:  Live Your Dreams—you’ve got permission.

That’s dreams, plural. While many Berkeleyans would love to be able to focus most of their energies on a single, central passion—perhaps becoming a great and financially prosperous artist—few are graced with clear vision of one calling. So most pursue several dreams simultaneously. Rarely do those dreams include making megabucks or stardom. If you want that why live here, when there's Manhattan or L. A.? Not that Berkeleyans lack ambition. Escape requires ambition.

Of course there are many Berkeleys, and to define “its” culture simplifies. The majority population is white, but there’s considerable ethnic/racial diversity. A welfare family’s Berkeley is unlikely to overlap much with the Berkeley of a family living in a elegant hills home. Still, Berkeley does have a dominant culture, one that shapes the city, culturally, economically and politically.

One widely-shared dream is living your creativity. "There are lots of people here who make their living in the arts of all kinds—writings, music, fine arts, dance—Berkeley's just crammed with them," says David Lance Goines, well-known poster artist and 1964 Free Speech activist. Local culture does not enforce a rigid division between a few “real” artists (paid professionals) and the rest (at best, appreciators). Many Berkeley artists, though not well paid, or paid at all, are passionate and serious, not amateurs, with the disdain that word implies. Their works vary widely, from the concrete—pottery, poetry, weavings, paintings, stained glass—to performance—dance, theater, tai-chi, music—to horticulture or cooking. All this creativity can produce surprising and interesting conversation: the white guy at the Y talking with passionate knowledge about Nigerian music; the older paralegal who’s an expert Flamenco dancer; the lawyer telling his office-mates about sculpture techniques.

Living creatively, on top of just living, surely keeps most Berkeleyans busy. A woman bustling from her pottery studio to pick up her child at a day-care center before her anti-nuclear affinity group meeting described herself as "in my midlife hyper-active phase." How to find balance, let alone peace? One musician/therapist/family man counsels, "The secret of a successful middle age is: Don't Overbook."

Whatever your other creative impulses, self-development is a given. "You can be anything you want to be in Berkeley," a local writer observed, "as long as you're Always Growing." Some grow as true scholars, pursing knowledge solely from passion. The near-infinity of the subjects from a sample of my friends include the history of Paris, the making of olive oil, American poetry, hawks’ flights, modern physics, and languages, from Spanish to Russian. Then there’s spiritual development: numerous forms of religion, including various types of Buddhism and several different Jewish Renewal groups and synagogues, as well as a wide variety of meditation schools and methods. Then there’s group-identity development, including drawing from feminism, or LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) or ethnic/cultural roots. And of course there’s therapy-aided development. As with any aspect of self-discovery, therapy can sink into self-absorption, or even absurdity. I once overheard a man ask a friend, "Do you think I should ask my therapist if Jane can see my psychic?" But for many Berkeleyans, therapy broadens and opens, aiding them to live more from their cores, less tormented by their demons.

The most Californian component of Berkeley culture is health. Most Berkeleyans are fit. Many have developed their own unique health regimes, drawing from many sources: from aerobic and weight workouts to yoga, tai-chi, or martial arts to sports; from acupuncture to massage to nutrition; from readings to using healers, ranging from (very) alternative to western doctors.

Many traditional forms of self-destruction, from sloth to alcoholism, are out. No one smokes—well, except some under thirty. Drug consumption seems down compared to the experimental 60s, but that may be me revealing my age. Psychedelics—grass, magic mushrooms, LSD, Ecstasy (descendant of MDA) retain appeal to younger seekers and stoners. Currently, the preferred drugs of my generation are wine and caffeine, perhaps supplemented by an occasional joint. Certainly there's no anti-drug hysteria; the City Council voted to bar drug testing of city employees.

What about sexual freedom? Not much now for the ‘60s generation, whatever the young folks are doing. With the horror of AIDS added to earlier, often disastrous attempts at open marriage or abolishing jealousy, older Berkeleyans have pulled back. When a gay friend was asked how he was dealing with sex, he laughingly replied, "Just like straight people—monogamy and fantasy."

One core dream is living authentically—well, trying to. The alienation buck stops here. No more bullshit. When you reduce living authentically to words, you get homilies: “ “Be honest,” “Know thyself,” “Get in touch with your feelings.” What trick-bags they turn out to be in life.

Take raising kids: a friend, surveying a local street fair attended by many gray-haired parents dressed almost as funkily as they had been thirty years earlier, observed, "The difference between the ‘90s and the ‘60s is that kids have replaced dogs." How are parents to be authentic with their kids? What to tell them about drugs? How to respond when they say "You took WHAT?" Authenticity with children becomes another juggling act, including coping with the unanticipated. An ex-Catholic father suggested to his teenage son that they should have a talk about sex. "Sure Dad," the boy replied. "What do you want to know?"

And from this you make a living?

Ah, money—always a problem. Back in 1969, a radical lawyer asked, "Why is it that no matter what we start out talking about, by midnight the subject is—'If Only We Were Independently Wealthy?’" The fantasy may be a trust fund, but the dream is some economic freedom.

So where does the money come from? 

Not from corporate-straight jobs, which hold little more appeal than they did in the ‘60s. Few Berkeley women were enticed by that branch of feminism which proclaimed the traditional male work world as a place for fulfillment. Instead of conventional careers, Berkeleyans carve out economic niches, developing jobs that, hopefully, draw on some of their passion, definitely pay their bills, and allow them to pursue other dreams. It's all sorta small-time: no corporate takeovers here; no stretch limos either.

Well, not relentlessly small time. At one end of the niche spectrum are those who've prospered grandly from doing what they love—well- known writers, a famous sports agent, successful publishers and restauranteurs, even a movie mogul. And, of course, there are the cunning, like the now-wealthy personal injury lawyer who was meeting ambulance drivers during his ‘60s Legal Services days while his colleagues were attending Black Panther breakfasts. But the cunning are not dominant. More Berkeleyans suffer from what one friend defined as his "money dyslexia."

What’s surprising, for a population with a deserved reputation as left-wingers, is how many entrepreneurial niches Berkeleyans have created. A few well-loved collectives—a cheese store, a bakery—survive from the 60s, but communal ownership hasn’t proved to be the wave of the future. Instead it’s individual entrepeneurship. Here’s a quick list from some of my friends: skylight maker, fabric designer, prison consultant, private French teacher, real estate agent, masseuse, graphic designer, free-lance editor, psychologist, house inspector, sex worker, book marketing consultant, and various artists—painters, potters, film makers, dancers, musicians, authors. Many who work for institutions have also created their own niches: midwife at a hospital, community college movement teacher for older adults, director of a program to aid the homeless. One entrepenurial sub-category is composed of former ex-academics, collectively sometimes referred to as "Ph.D. carpenters.” When I bought a home several years ago, my house inspector and my real estate agent, both long-time friends, each had a Cal. Ph.D. in English. Our house painter, a man of Buddhist serenity, had a Cal. Ph.D. in Rhetoric.

Some Berkeleyans occupy traditional small business niches: local merchant, general practice doctor, home-town lawyer. One Berkeley attorney remarked, "They can carve on my tombstone, ‘At Least He Beat the Commute.’"

Most dramatically, entrepreneurs have created many thriving local industries. Take publishing: three decades ago Berkeley had very few publishers; now it's home to a lively community of many, covering a gamut from cookbooks to self-help law to novels and poetry. Most started out as cottage businesses, literally run out of someone's living room or attic. Bakeries offer a similar story. A generation ago, a couple of culinary pioneers started baking and selling bread. Now the city is a bread-making Mecca with ten or fifteen superb bakeries, and Berkeleyans debate who makes the best Challah, baguettes, or bagels.

Some militants are disappointed with Berkeley's niche economics.  How can it be applied to an assembly line, or the third world?  Not easily, though it does offer some pointers. A few   Berkeley businesses have open books—any employee can learn what any other worker, including the C.E.O., earns. Most local businesses offer relaxed working conditions, not corporate authoritarianism. Still the economic dream has not turned out to be collective sharing, but individual escape. Sauve qui peut.

More pressing is the question of whether niche economics can continue to sustain Berkeley.  Niches aren’t infinite. The ‘60s generation struggled to create many. Members of younger generations face even more difficult struggles to create new ones. Equally discouraging is the steep cost of housing in Berkeley. Only the affluent can even dream of buying a house. Available rentals are as scarce, and almost as expensive, as in Manhattan. While alternative forms of housing, like communal living or co-housing, exist, they are far from plentiful.

Realistically, house prices alone dictate that Berkeley will eventually become a place for prosperous strivers, albeit a city with an artsy ambience, sort of a Greenwich Village West. Still, for now, attend any street fair or political rally, see all those energized bohemians, funky family folks, tie-died Deadheads, wierdos, hip-hop teenagers, dancing octogenarians, and you feel traces of hope: somehow Berkeley culture will evolve, not dwindle.

Certainly it’s hard to imagine Berkeley as a Republican city. Whatever their political differences, most Berkeleyans fit within the label "progressive." Only a tiny minority are revolutionaries, but the majority takes pride in the culture's heritage of anti-establishment political idealism.  Most agree with the region’s popular former congressman

Ron Dellums, that Berkeley [and the Bay area] "is an island of political sanity.... We are right and we have always been right."

Berkeleyans decry the growing U.S. gap between rich and poor, although few are confident they know the blueprint to achieve economic justice.  Many wouldn't mind soaking the very rich, especially rich corporations—but, hey, no threats to home ownership. While a smattering of true believers adhere to dogmas, far more Berkeleyans are activists for a cause, not an ideology. They organize, petition, demonstrate, raise money, lobby. No need to list pages of causes; they run the progressive spectrum, including anti-nuclear efforts, peace work, including peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the environment, and cultural activities. Other activists work in more individual ways: tutoring low-income students; helping a Central American refugee get a job; assisting homeless people to find housing. Though the majority of Cal students are generally not activist, they are not invariably politically passive either. Student mass protests successfully halted abolition of the Ethnic Studies Department and students pushed for U. C. divestment from Apartheid South Africa. At the end of the activism scale is giving money. "If I won't do anything else," one donor noted, "I can at least be a liberal."

Activists contribute to the stimulatingly unpredictability of Berkeley life. The muscled weight lifter getting dressed next to me at the gym reveals he's going to work in a construction brigade in Nicaragua for three months.  An elderly, respectable-looking woman on a movie line recounts her decades of civil disobedience arrests. I'm reminded that some Berkeleyans continue to “live their politics,” and I remember, at least briefly, that I'm privileged to live so well; karma indicates I should give back.

City politics is progressive, sometimes controversially so. The City Council adopted a resolution calling for the cessation of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan “as soon as possible.” Some years ago, there was a bitterly contested referendum over what position the U.S. should take regarding U. S. aid for Israeli West-Bank settlements. Further back, the City Council once voted to conclude a separate peace treaty with Vietnam.

Whatever the value of Berkeley’s occasional attempts at foreign policy, domestically the city has a proud tradition of risk-taking innovation. It was the first northern school district to fully integrate its schools, establishing a busing program that has worked, although the results have not been utopian. The first police civilian review board was set up here. More city firsts: banning styrofoam fast food packaging; putting two-ways radios in police cars (a while ago); sponsoring a city booth at the elite S.F. Fancy Food & Confection Show. City voters approved a special tax assessment to put BART, the subway system, underground, rather than noisily above ground, as it is in other East Bay cities.

Another Berkeley first was making all sidewalks wheelchair accessible. The city has become a center for disabled people, who've provided me with unanticipated blessings. One rainy afternoon, wandering through existence with my inner light dim, I noticed a man stoically moving his wheelchair forward by keeping the metal rod attached to his head in contact with the electric button on the wheelchair arm. He exuded inspiration. If he can struggle on, I awakened, surely I can.

Of course, Berkeley remains a city with many conflicts and problems. Sometimes, after fierce ideological struggles, a consensus emerges that proves viable. Many Berkeleyans, including many merchants, became disturbed by street panhandlers, particularly the numerous assertive mendicants on Telegraph Ave, the bustling main street by the U.C. campus. How to balance free speech with freedom from being hassled? Solution: outlaw “aggressive panhandling”—and some were aggressive to beyond threatening—and allow civilized soliciting. But other times, despite years of well-intentioned efforts, difficulties remain. The Berkeley Police Department, integrated in every way, is well-trained, and respected, at least in middle-class neighborhoods. But black teenager drivers report that they still get pulled over here, as elsewhere, for “DWB—driving while black.”

The dream of racial integration has been realized in the Berkeley’s public life, but class/economics keeps most Berkeley whites and blacks apart. Neighborhoods tend to be black or white or in gentrified transition. Adults of different races do mix at times, usually quite amicably, at a job, in athletics, at a dance concert, or other ways. But in my generation, blacks and whites who are good friends usually formed those friendships decades ago, when life was more fluid. Now, somehow, deep friendships across racial lines are made less often. Nothing intentional, of course—that’s just how it’s worked out. Perhaps the racial divide will be bridged more by the younger generation, at least those who went to Berkeley public schools. Friendships there do cross racial lines. But how

long-lasting will those friendships be? Can blacks and white become closer without basic economic change?

         The dream of integration survives in Berkeley’s public schools, which have many minority students, including a significant percentage from poor families. While some affluent parents opt to send their kids to private schools, enough middle class kids attend the public schools so that they remain integrated. Berkeley High—chaotic, dynamic—is considered by kids of all races and classes to be a hip place, though not easy. With four thousand students, kids can be overwhelmed. But many students find the range and intensity of classes fascinating, and Berkeley High continues to send numerous students to elite colleges, a crucial real-world test. However, minority students receive significantly lower grades and test scores than whites. Many minority students don’t graduate from high school. The school system has made numerous attempts to remedy these problems, with frustrating results.

Some problems have proved to be near-impervious to city efforts, and require national solutions. With its tolerant culture and its comfortable climate (it never snows, and rarely gets over eighty-five degrees), Berkeley has many homeless people. Both the city and private groups provide some shelters and assistance, but not enough. Only national efforts could enable all to have adequate housing. Although even if money for new housing for the homeless was available, where to put it? Few are pushing for any in their neighborhood.

Berkeley’s alleged political flaws, such as “political correctness,” defined as a humorless over-sensitivity to supposed slights or intolerance of non-progressive views, do not infest the City deeply. Occasionally political correctness pops up, as when the Berkeley Rep announced it would produce “The Good Person of Setzun.”  And while Berkeley certainly has some rowdy radicals who yearn to shout down those they oppose, most Berkeleyans, who delight in discussion and debate, would relish an intelligent argument with a conservative.

Berkeley’s real political flaws lie elsewhere. Super-moralists twitch to lecture others on the “correct” position about anything. Akin to these spiritual policemen is the "ain't-it-awful" brigade, glum spirits bemoaning the imminent collapse of the world because of capitalism/poisons/nuclear war/global warming /imperialism/destruction of the ozone layer/racism/whatever. Imminent exhaustion of gasoline supplies has been quietly dropped from the list. In a diluted version, I’ve participated in a number of dinners where we decried injustice and oppression, while enjoying another meal of gourmet food and exquisite wine.

More commonly, though, Berkeleyans’ political grumbling expresses frustrated dreaming, not whining. They don’t listen to us. Economic inequality in the U.S. grows worse yearly. The homeless are mentioned by neither Democrats nor Republicans. The federal government relentlessly pursues the wasteful and destructive war on drugs. The U.S. remains far, far more conservative and uptight than Berkeleyans’ visions of a just society.

  Political Berkeley is a potent symbol for irate conservatives. A Wall Street Journal article mocked that, "In the funky streets of Berkeley, it's forever the 60's...." David Horowitz attacked the city as a "'pseudo-environment'—a place governed by a fictional version of reality." A Forbes magazine article decried Berkeley's "bizarre social experiments—a kind of inadvertent yuppie populism…This is hardly a dictatorship of the proletariat. Call it rather a dictatorship of a narrow middle-class point of view."  A column from the Wall Street Journal  spoke of "municipal Marxism" in Berkeley, which has a "dingy Third Worldish aura that coincides with its politics."  Here's the scoop from Ken Auletta: "In Berkeley, a Marxist government is alive and well." David Kirp scorned student anti-apartheid demonstrations as "morally compelling as a panty raid." 

What's the appeal of Berkeley bashing? Hardly the truth.  Marxist? Try buying a house here. “Dingy Third Worldish”—the home of Alice Waters’ world-renowned restaurant, Chez Panisse?  The reality is that some conservatives need a revolutionary demon in the U.S., and Berkeley is the best they can come up with. Occasionally, the same delusional image is presented positively. Kate Braverman wrote, "I am a brick-throwing survivor of the 60s, and there is some part of me that will be forever Berkeley."

Well, it is true that throughout the Reagan-Bush era, and now Bush again, Berkeleyans refuse to accept that greed-is-good. A ‘90s S.F. Chronicle editorial solemnly chastised that Berkeley was still "clinging steadfastly to many causes which have long been out of fashion." Bad enough when it was kids protesting, but when grown-ups keep it up—that's infuriating.

Protesting can be one temporary manifestation of the faded Berkeley dream of community. That community is sought here, locally, not in sophisticated San Francisco. Of course, most Berkeleyans love that big City—who doesn’t? But Berkeley’s forms of community seldom race into the fast lane. As one local artist put it, "We're either out working, in our studios working, or doing our laundry.  We don't fit those stereotypes people have about artists. In the city they're younger, more with it, on edge." Similarly, few Berkeleyans dress-for-success or sport hip clothes. Style, or anti-style, emphasizes comfort: T-shirts, loose blouses, sneakers, funky pants, Levi’s.  Women may wear makeup, but almost never high heels. The nervous, excited energies and stresses of a big city aren’t exuded here. There's no urban downtown; the most Berkeley manages is a couple of ten-story buildings. Yet while it's no place for adrenaline junkies, Berkeley is not a small town. You can be anonymous here if you chose.

         Most Berkeleyans hunger more for connection than anonymity. Beyond personal intimacy, they seek connections in numerous ways, from new age spiritual groups (The Jewish "Aquarian Minyan," The Zen Center,) to ongoing private classes (free universities, private teachers,) to reading groups, dance groups, poker gangs, new mothers’ groups, adopting new mothers’ groups, Jewish adopting new mothers’ groups.

One connection is in-group humor. A prominent sign in one coffee house states, "No talking to imaginary people." Bumper stickers proclaim "Powerlessness Corrupts Too," or "Intimidate Authority," or "It's Still Not Weird Enough For Me." A battered VW bus sports "fin de siécle" meticulously painted in large white script on its sides.

Another connection is love of books. "In the life of the mind,” declared Andy Ross, of Cody’s bookstore, “Berkeley is preeminent." Independent bookstores struggle, but most have survived. The City has the highest take-out rate of library books per capita of any city in California. When local branch libraries were threatened with severely restricted hours after the passage of anti-tax Prop 13, Berekleyans overwhelming approved new property taxes to keep their libraries open.

Bookstore literary talks are frequent. Readings by local authors are usually well attended. An appearance by someone of wider renown, say Alan Ginsberg or Toni Morrison, is as glamorous as life here gets. (If you can't park at Walnut Square, somebody big is reading at Black Oak Books.) Readings by literary lions offer a triple delight: the stimulation of hearing and seeing the writer, the pleasures of encountering friends, and the satisfaction of living in a town where, say, Carlos Fuentes or Edna O’Brien reads on a weekday evening. But even readings have their perils. Beyond possible trouble finding a seat, you may encounter a

Berkeley intellectual obsessive, haranguing his interminable, pseudo-brilliant theory the moment the speaker asks for questions.

Love of good food is another bond. Soon after the 60s radical fervor crested, Berkeley became a food lover's delight—fine restaurants, superb groceries. This inspired wisecracks about the "gourmet ghetto" or the next era in Berkeley being "post-croissant."  Some nouveaux-puritans apparently believed that decline of character inevitably accompanies being a gourmet. But this sternness held little appeal to most Berkeleyans. After all, who berates the Italians for loving pasta or the French for patronizing their neighborhood boulangerie/patisserie?

When buying food, Berkeleayans favor fresh, often organic. Many Berkeley neighborhoods have their own little shopping districts, a bit like France. No malls here, and very few chain stores. Instead, separate stores for vegetables, bread, cheese, fish, meat, wine, health food, as well as bakeries featuring imaginative and caloric desserts.

Decades ago, an appointee of then-Governor Jerry Brown (his first time around) asked me what changes I believed should be made in  California. "More sidewalk cafés," I answered. Berkeley's long had some fine ones, and many more have blossomed recently. Most are often jammed, by older Berkeleyans as well as by U.C. students.

The University itself contributes little to Berkeley community. The campus does provide entertainments, from cultural events to sports, including a football team loses with regularity.  ("It's good to raise your kids as Cal fans," my old Legal Services boss declared. "Gets 'em ready for life.  Can you imagine being raised a USC fan?") Most importantly, the school continues to draw bright, seeking students to Berkeley.  But faculty members, by and large, stick closely to their own world. The administration's major role, when it contributes anything, is as villain.  From the Free Speech Movement to refusing to advocate divestment during the apartheid struggle to maintaining Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's research on nuclear weapons and Star Wars, the administration serves as the local proxy for the military-industrial establishment (or what Lawrence Ferlinghetti labeled the “military-entertainment complex”).

People’s Park is a classic of the administration as villain. It’s hometown chauvinism to assume that all literate Americans know the history of the Park, so here’s a brief summary. In the mid-60s, the University bought and tore down several adjacent houses, four blocks from campus, and then, unresolved what to build, left the land vacant. In the spring of 1969, a few radicals spontaneously began turning the still-empty lot into a park. Within days, hundreds, then thousands, were involved:  hippies and housewives, long-hairs and straights, revolutionaries and students. Digging, sodding, hauling, planning; planting flowers, seedlings, trees, grass seed, bushes, vegetables. A couple of weeks of magically shared vision, as anyone who participated will confirm today.

Under right-wing political pressure, the University sent in cops at night to seize control of the land. The next day, after a campus rally, a crowd moved to retake the park. The struggle escalated rapidly until Governor Reagan, ordering in the National Guard, declared, in words never forgiven in Berkeley, "If it takes a blood bath, let's get it over with."  Thousands of troops occupied the city. Barbed wire and machine guns surrounded the Park. Battle-dressed police guffawed as others ripped up flowers and trees.

The result was a stalemate. For years the land remained unused, behind fences. Then the administration’s political support withered. The Berkeley City Council and the Democratic governor urged that the land be used as a park. The county sheriff indicated that if the administration sought to build on the land, and required deputy sheriffs to keep order, the administration would pay their cost. And one night some folks ripped down the fence, and People's Park was reborn.

The macadam western end of the park became used as an ersatz parking lot. In 1979 the administration suddenly erected a massive fence around the parking lot.  Astonishingly, within hours several thousand people surged to the park and tore the fence down. Then they proceeded to tear up the macadam as well, pick-axes flailing, eventually extending the park to the full length of the lot.

  For another decade the land remained a park with legal ownership in limbo. It became a place occupied mostly by homeless, hoboes, drifters and low-level drug dealers. Though the place could feel seedy, or even threatening, flowers were watered and nurtured, free meals distributed, and the Park survived, without any official assistance.

Finally, twenty years after the Park was born, the U.C. Chancellor  reluctantly signed an agreement with Berkeley's Mayor which preserved the land as a park. The land is now well-maintained, still mostly by volunteers and homeless people, students, basketball players and other Berkelyans co-exist there. But the administration has not given up. A few years ago, a newly-appointed U.C. Chancellor spoke of the pressing need to build student dorms in the Park. He rapidly learned that the Park is an essential component of Berkeley culture.

Though I’m a Berkeley booster, it’s no paradise, and certainly no bohemian  paradise. The few dance halls are generally so mobbed you feel like you're dancing on a rush hour subway. Quite a few neighborhood activists still see bars—there aren’t many—as a prohibitionist’s vision of noise and trouble. And the town closes up early. Only a few restaurants serve past ten. A local actress observed, "The perfect life would be to spend your days in Berkeley and your nights in Manhattan."

"Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community," D. H. Lawrence proclaimed. Berkeley remains far from Lawrence's dream. Few residents have roots here—parents, siblings, childhood friends, generally all live far away. The friendships that are the bedrock of Berkeley don’t mesh into an organic, coherent society, but are as diffuse and fluid as clouds. A would-be social climber couldn’t find a ladder.

There's certainly little of that fantasy society I dreamt of in my youth, a melange of early Greenwich Village, the Deux Maggots in Paris, and Impressionists in cafés. As writer Leonard Michaels noted, "There are people in Berkeley who are very much concerned with literature...[and]...I think there is always the hope of a literary community here...[but]...I don't have any sense, however that there is what I would take to be a true literary community." Indeed, this is not a city with "scenes"—no art scene, no dance scene, not even much of a political/protest scene any more.

Occasionally, though, public events remind Berkeleyans that they do share in a loose community. A concert by Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Holly Near and Arlo Guthrie drew ten thousand, old to middle aged to young, sharing the joy of musicians who've fought the good fight. As the music ended, one elderly activist called out to me, "We've still got better music than the bad guys."

With all its limits, Berkeley culture remains vital and Berkeleyans continue to pursue turning dreams into realities. The demon of alienation has been caged, if not slain. As one East-coast refugee put it, "It's a comfort to be surrounded by people who reveal they're as strange as I know I am."  Or, as a romantic friend observed, "Berkeleyans can become extraordinary ordinary people."

[2001]