16 November 2005

Berkeley In A Better Light

Aaron Cometbus, a fellow Berkeley expatriate, is also in town this week, and the other day he showed up at my door just as the sun was sinking into the Bay, leaving the golden-tinged shadows to gather quickly into pools of night.

I knew it was him before he'd even knocked; I could tell from his familiar shuffle-and-clump coming up the stairs, and from the fact that almost nobody else knew I was here. And because Aaron, one of the few remaining people who doesn't use email or mobile phones, is also one of the few remaining people who just shows up at your door and says, "Let's go for a walk," the way people used to do last century and most of the centuries before that.

We crossed the campus and headed into the hills, the hills that would be mountains by English or East Coast standards, but are little more than an innocuous irruption in the tumultuous California landscape. It was a journey we'd made many times, occasionally together but most often separately. The first time I wandered up the Bancroft Steps and into the woods was sometime in 1968, a few years before Aaron was ready to start his own perambulations.

About halfway up the little road that dead-ends above Strawberry Canyon, there was always a steep, narrow set of stairs that led up to another street and, with its spectacular views of the city and the Bay, another dimension from the damp, musty, perennially shaded street we were on. But something was wrong: either we'd lost our minds, or the staircase was gone, replaced by a couple new condos. It couldn't be, could it? Nothing like that ever changes in Berkeley, especially not in the hills, which are a thing completely apart from the gritty, urban reality of the flatlands.

But yes, it had changed, yes, our stairway was gone, and so was our plan to get up above the trees before the last of the sunset colors faded away over the Golden Gate. It wasn't the end of the world; around the corner was a very different staircase, a broad stately one that I'd discovered back in 1970 when I was living in the Delta Kappa Epsilon house at Piedmont and Bancroft (long story; ask me some other time). Even then the stairs looked ancient, like some sort of Greek or Roman ruin, and 35 years had only enhanced their patina.

I'd sat there many times back in "the old days," even taken a picture to show the folks back East what a classy place Berkeley was. I'd like to show it to you here, but, well, it's buried somewhere and I don't have a scanner. Aaron and I sat there for about half an hour talking about what Berkeley had meant to us, how it had changed, how it would never change. Then I was off to El Cerrito to see the family and he disappeared into the night on a beautifully painted bicycle that Eggplant had apparently found in a creek. For a little while time had stopped and I remembered why I once loved this town so much.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cool story.

What is Aaron doing these days?

Larry Livermore said...

Writing a lot. I believe he has a new book coming out in just a couple months.

Anonymous said...

Very cool. Can't wait for that.

-[same anonymous as above] I swear I'll get an actual login soon...

The Deviot said...

That is cool. I managed to find a few of the Cometbus fanzines at the only mom, and pop record shop here in town, and they were pretty good.
Anyway it seems that here, every week they either build new condos, another retail chain store we don't really need, or said chain store's newest chain competitor. Moreover, they never take the time to revamp the roads, so our already crowded streets bottleneck every 5 miles.