From the East Bay to the Pacific

beach @ golden gate park. photo by dailytransit.

THERE’S SOMETHING DISCONCERTING ABOUT speeding through a dark tube mere feet away from the crush of thousands of cubic tons of seawater. But you’ve got to get across the Bay somehow, and so Nick and I sit calmly as we zip along on the BART towards Berkeley.

We come up to street level to find ourselves amid crowds of Cal fans who’ve arrived for the day’s football game. People are hocking tickets, looking for tickets, and we cut a line towards the greenery of campus. The last time I came to UC-Berkeley we spent so much time wandering around shops that it was dark by the time we got to the main campus entrance, and so I never really got to explore the college that had rejected me years back – to see what I had missed out on.

I should preface what I’m about to say with this: I’ve seen some gorgeous campuses in my day. The University of Washington probably tops them all with its Gothic architecture, cherry-tree lined quad, and views of Mt. Rainier. Tied for second are the University of Wisconsin-Madison, nestled between two vast, clear lakes, and Seoul’s Yonsei University, with its old stone buildings choked by lush green ivy. And so as we’re wandering through Berkeley, taking in the fields and the orange-tiled roofs and all I can think is, “It’s pretty, but it isn’t that great.”

Campus snobbery aside, Nick and I do take the time to lay down in beautiful green field and soak in the day. A young coed is chatting away on her cell phone not far away, but it doesn’t break the calm washing over us. My mind feels delightfully untethered, my consciousness floating just above the spot where I lay.

After enough sun we meander down towards Telegraph – Berkeley’s version of the college strip, like Seattle’s University Ave or Madison’s State Street. But we do notice a key difference: the hippies here are old salts, sexagenarians who’ve probably been smoking gummy weed for decades. They sell tie-dye tees, knit caps to hold up natty dreads, and used reggae albums. Peace and love and fighting the empire are carved into their lined faces.

We grab lunch at Cafe Intermezzo – the same place I came when I was at Berkeley six months ago – and shove the massive quantities of salad into our fiber-deprived guts; a welcome change from the grease and beer that have been our diet’s staples. Sitting at the window bar we see a guy wearing cycling shoes holding a hand-made anti-war poster. “Silence is consent!” he shouts.

After our meal we browse at Rasputin Music – I scour the shelves for a collection of Cambodian music I heard at a cafe in Portland and for a punk album that a friend in LA told me was an essential listen, but come up with nothing. We decide it’s about that time, and walk back towards the BART station.

***

Several hours later, Nick and I are sitting with my friend Danielle at Brother’s Korean BBQ (형제 갈비) in San Francisco’s Richmond district – another favorite from my previous trip to the Bay. We order a large bottle of OB Lager, and the thin, fizzy taste of the beer reminds me instantly of nights back in Seoul. Nick has never eaten Korean food before, so I’m excited to show him a proper meal: we get an order of Bulgogi (barbecue beef) and another of Kalbi (barbecue short-ribs), and as it starts to cook over the wood coals set into the middle of our table thick, delightful smells waft into the air. Our waitress lays out 15 or 20 side dishes (반찬) and I’m happy to see Nick indiscriminately digging in, enjoying everything from the fish cakes to the sweet potato.

We massacre the meal and are so full we nearly have to roll out the door. We spend the rest of the evening at Union Square Park watching Rebel Without a Cause on a huge blow-up screen, surreptitiously swigging beers.

Afterward we head to Danielle’s aparment, where she freshens up, and then in short order cruise the city and wind up outside a thumping dance club. One of Danielle’s roommates has been promoting an event here, but it’s not exactly our sort of shindig – we have the lucky excuse of not having proper attire, and so we scoot over to a nearby bar. It’s absolutely nuts in the tunnel-sized establishment, but we manage to squeeze onto a couple stools and order pints. Amid the cacophony two girls try to start a conversation and are coincidentally from Seattle – but the chitchat is extremely forced, and we’re not interested, so we drain our beers and leave.

Where to? You guessed it – Vesuvios.

***

We find ourselves Sunday morning cutting through the gorgeous green space of Golden Gate Park, taking advantage of the closed roads to make a sprint down to the beach. We lock up the bikes, kick off the shoes and take a stroll – the tide is out, and over the coast hangs a blanket of fog and briny spray.

Mild rollers crash and creep up onto the sand. Jeans cuffed we dip our toes into the frigid water. Nick sees some shiny mass wash up, and for some reason decides to poke it. The next thing I hear is “GAHHHH!” as he jumps back, surprised but luckily not stung after inadvertently sinking his forefinger into what is now obviously a dead jellyfish – I have a good laugh at his expense.

We take a couple deep, savoring breaths, and then decide to make the climb back up towards the city.

(Next: Last Days in San Francisco / Updated 10.16.2007)

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