In my five years and change as a Berkeley resident, every once in a blue (and gold) moon (go bears) there'd be a glitch in my overstuffed schedule--somewhere between a PACS106: Peace and Conflict Studies and Applicable Theories in the United Nations in the Global South class and a Student Coalition General Meeting for Protest for Oppressed Workers Planning Meeting (something like that), I'd have a couple of hours to kill, to roam, to be free.
Here are 8 things I miss doing in my downtime in Berkeley:
1. Smelling books. I mean, reading books.
I miss going to one of the twenty-three (!!!) libraries of the university to investigate obscure titles, thumb through math books filled with paragraphs and whose only numbers are the one at the bottom of each page, flip pages of art history books full of glossy photos and no text, or browse rice-paper-paged books decorated in mysterious foreign scrawl.
Off campus, I could go to one of the dozen new and used book stores and reminisce on old titles I'd read as a kid. I'd grab a literary magazine with works by local authors, camp out in a cozy corner of the store, and sample some Berkeley strangeness in the form of haikus and prose. Often, I'd make a spontaneous purchase on a super-duper-you've-got-to-be-kidding-me-this-is-so-cheap discounted hardcover bestseller book and build my personal library faster than I could ever possibly read.
2. Being a lazy obstruction to Ultimate Frisbee-ers. Aka sunbathing at a park.
As disgustingly cliche as it was, I do miss lounging about campus as though I were posing for a college brochure as a token student of color, relaxing on a grassy knoll or sitting cheerfully on the front steps of a Grecian campus building.
I miss warm, sunny days scattered throughout the year. I'm not a fan of temperate weather being reserved for solely to four months of the year . I miss having parks to choose from--where shall I go today: skater park, grove of trees, hilly mound, or stretch of green? I miss going for walks and passing by other people enjoying the little pockets of nature nestled between academic buildings, shops, and cafes.
3. Hipster-watching at a quirky cafe. That, and not being the most pierced and tattooed person in the room.
I took for granted the normalcy in sitting between mohawked, 2-inch gauge-pierced young people thoroughly engrossed in their work on their Macbook, designing fliers on Photoshop or reading scanned and uploaded pages and pages of ancient Russian literature. I miss shops and cafes with character, like the shop that was a cereal and milk bar, the cafe that sold lunch salads for one as though it were dinner for three, and the pizza shop that sold one kind of pizza per day (usually in the form of some kind of kale-goat cheese-cilantro-sun dried tomato combination).
I miss being served coffee by baristas who know coffee. I miss strong coffee. I miss comically large porcelain mugs with impractically small handles. I miss weaving between old, lumpy sofas, mismatched wooden chairs, and wobbly, tiny cafe tables to find an empty seat amongst the dozens of hot beverage patrons who have been camped out in one spot for over three hours. I miss maple-bacon-rose flavored ice cream.
4. Freeloading on culture and art. In Berkeley, it's often hard to discern if you've wandered into a museum, a gallery, a retail store, or an urban camper's open living room.
Berkeley is a place of whimsy for tickling the senses. For an educational-type of visual art experience, I'd go to the giant, gray and concrete non-museum-looking art museum free of admission. If I wanted to pretend to know how to appreciate modern art, I'd go to the alleyway art gallery between the bustling cafe and the little card and stationary shop. For every type of music under the sun (except current Billboard Pop, that is, as the store was usually lacking of that), I'd subject my ears to the old (and probably unsanitary) over-sized headphones to taste-test music in the legendary Amoeba Records music store. For one-woman-and-an-accordion (or ukulele, or didgeridoo, or mandolin) type of music, I'd... well, go outside to the nearest street corner. On Fridays at lunch time, I'd meander toward the open plaza for a free concert by a small- or growing-name rock band.
5. Eating fried plantains with black beans and rice...
...or healthy, hippy-dippy burgers and fries
...or gyros, falafels, hummus, and tahini
...or $1 naan and unlimited free chai tea
...or smoked chicken apple sausage hot dogs
...or Brazillian tri tip sandwiches with a side of mango shake
...or fresh mango with warm sticky rice and mango ice cream
6. Jamming with friends. In retrospect, I may have played a contributing role in the Berkeley hippy stereotype.
Somehow, I was never short on friends with an instrument in tow and a few minutes to kill. I'd run into a classmate, or friend, or friend of a friend parked out on a bench or a stoop with their ax. I could pick up an egg shaker and belt out some four-chord pop songs with them, botching the lyrics, but drawing a participating crowd nonetheless.
7. Popping into a lecture, meeting, presentation, or conference of some sort; listening in with no context whatsoever as to what is going on.
One time, I wandered into what turned out to be a job fair for green technology and business. I was wearing sneakers and jeans and had no idea what most of their presentation boards of graphs and statistics were about, but I shook hands with many people and walked away with my pockets full of business cards and belly full from a blue berry muffin and orange juice.
8. Filling journal pages with field notes on the zany personalities of the circus that is Berkeley.
My old journals and the margins of my lecture notes are filled with doodles and observations of the Happy Happy Man; the man who my best friend described as (unintentionally and unfortunately) looking, dressing, and walking like a zombie (really, the resemblance was uncanny); the Chinese man who played the one-stringed harp (beautifully); the skinny, middle-aged White guy who did tai chi every day; the man who'd hold a newspaper and blow into a whistle and shout about everything that he believed to be wrong with the world and criticize passerbys as being addicted to technology and cell phones (wake up, sheeple!); the End-of-the-World-is-Coming guy...
...and so on.
Ah, Berkeley. I do miss you. See you soon... maybe?