One year ago today Helen and I arrived here in Berkeley. The Penske truck we'd picked up in Manhattan made it across the US amicably--the only time I was really worried was in Utah, when it seemed that the truck was descending a mountain precariously. But nothing happened, and we drove on.
Via Craigslist, we'd arranged for someone to meet us to help move our belongings in. The ad insisted that he only be paid in cash. Nevertheless I demanded a receipt--which he wrote in pen on a folded sheet of paper--because it was part of the moving expenses.
And so it began. Over the past year I've come to really like Berkeley, despite its sometimes justified reputation for being holier-than-thou. For me Berkeley's pieties--like the claim that you are entering a "nuclear free zone" when you decide to visit the city--are a reason to laugh rather than a reason to get annoyed.
Berkeley is in close proximity to San Francisco, of course, but it has more than enough amenities on its own: a world class university and business school; great restaurants, bars and coffee shops; an almost embarrassing profusion of quality bookstores for a town of its size (120,000 people, I think); farmers markets and unique grocery stores; amazing hillside views. (This has been your Chamber of Commerce minute.)
Berkeley reminds me of Brooklyn (even though Brooklyn is larger than Manhattan, unlike Berkeley and SF); almost anywhere in the US it would be the prime attraction, but here it's always eclipsed. And it also reminds me of Evanston, given the amazing university in its midst. So there are two levels of nostalgia for me in Berkeley, which probably means that I am not really seeing the city on its own terms.
It's far from perfect here; homelessness is rampant, or at least panhandling is. The BART doesn't run late enough (not really Berkeley's fault), and most places close too early for it to be a full-time city. But then again, who said it has to be? New York will always be New York, and even if Berkeley doesn't echo Gotham in its shop hours there are many echoes in sensibility. (Manhattan groupthink was easy to tease too.) It's very common to meet people with a background in New York, or at least who have spent time in the city.
If we stay here in the Bay Area, San Francisco is our likely final destination. Just as Manhattan trumps Brooklyn, SF beats Berkeley. But these Berkeley years are proving to be quite a pleasant interlude.