03 October 2006

What A Dump

That would be Berkeley, California, downtown Berkeley, to be precise. I got off the BART at Addison and Shattuck after a torturous ride across town and under the bay that seemed to take as long as the plane ride from London did, and the first thing I saw was six bums having a shopping cart convention, though on closer examination, it seemed as though one of them might have been gathering signatures or registering voters for the Democratic Party. It was difficult to tell, as he was sharing a joint with the rest of them, not that that proves anything, either.

And that was about it. Three o'clock in the afternoon and there wasn't much else shaking on Main Street in the Athens of the West, as they used to call it (it occurred to me today that the person who coined that ludicrous description could have been suffering fom a lisp and was actually saying "Ass End of the West," but never mind). A couple more stores had shut down, no new ones had opened, the streets were filthy, and the overall ambience was that of a Podunk ghetto.

Yes, undoubtedly I'm spoiled and my expectations are skewed by having spent the bulk of this year in Sydney, New York and London, and maybe Berkeley was always going to look bad when the drugs wore off (but in my case, that's been a few years now, and yet it keeps on getting uglier). But then tonight I had to go to Frisco, and it's just as squalid over there, maybe worse. Which leads me to wonder: probably nowhere will you find (in more than one sense of the word) so dense a concentration of people prepared to tell us how to run the world than in Berkeley and Frisco, and yet these self-proclaimed moral titans and political geniuses have managed to run their own once-beautiful towns nowhere but into the ground.

Enough, enough, I hear you say; if you hate it that much, why do you keep coming back there? Honestly, I'm not here on a pleasure trip; although it's always enjoyable to see my family and friends, my primary reason for being here is to have a long-overdue operation on my foot. It also means I'll be stuck here for four to six weeks, possibly longer if it's slow to heal. At least I'll be indoors most of the time with a fast internet connection, though I don't know if I'll be in any condition to type, at least for the first couple of weeks. Anyway, the operation isn't until a week from Tuesday, which should give me ample time to get around town finding a few more things to get riled up about.

Like, for example, the imbecilic Bay Guardian, which editorializes on its front page against Mayor Gavin's campaign to make Golden Gate Park more like New York's Central Park by rousting the drunks, junkies and hippies who live there on a more or less a permanent basis. Oh, but we wouldn't want that, oozes the Guardian, because Central Park - almost universally viewed as one of the world's great urban oases - is "run by and for a private group of rich people."

Okay, I know the Bay Guardian staff have been locked in a bunker doing bong hits since the 1970s, but I can assure them that I have visited Central Park many times - 50, maybe even 100 - and never once been asked for a membership card or my bank statement. Nor have any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who flock there to picnic, play or listen to music, stroll, dance, relax, dream. Okay, Frisco's a small town, so it's never going to attract those kind of crowds, and, face it, Golden Gate Park's location means the weather is going to be too lousy for picnicking and promenading at least 75% of the time. But that doesn't mean, as the Bay Guardian advocates, that it should be turned into a permanent sleepaway camp for the drunk, drug addicted and dysfunctional. Oh, wait, are we talking about Golden Gate Park here, or the San Francisco Bay Area in general? It's not always easy to tell.


kendra said...

i was waiting for a berkeley-bashing post. way to come through!

really, it's not so bad. but then again, it's not the bastion of wester civilization that new york is.

Larry Livermore said...

Considering that you've never even been to New York, is it possible that you are being sarcastic?

P.S. I've just come back from the park where I usually do t'ai chi when I'm here. Unfortunately, all my usual spots were occupied by bums sleeping and hippies with dogs (or dogs with hippies, it's not always easy to tell).

kendra said...

sarcasm, ha!

the bums in the park are nice when you miss a catch- they can get your frisbee for you!

other than that, i hate the yuppies and their volvos more. and my downstairs neighbour and her cars that don't work, but i'm like that with bikes.

Lefty said...

ha! i just got a volvo so i could become a "yuppie with a volvo," after 25 years of being a "loser with a motorcycle!" now that i am someone else's lazy stereotype, does this mean i am now welcome to visit central park whenever i want?

Larry said...


I'm Larry.

1. Berkeley sucks.

2. Oakland sucks.

3. San Francisco sucks

4. Muslims are barbarians.

4. London was cool but now I'm too cool for it.

5. New York is the only cool city in the world, but soon I will be too cool for it too.

Larry Livermore said...

Wow, I might as well retire now.

But you forgot Sydney, which is also a cool city.

Anonymous said...

uhh...have you ever been to San Diego?

Larry Livermore said...

I've been to San Diego, though about half my time there was spent in jail. It was a very clean jail, I will say that.