In about a week, I will be heading back home to Berkeley, California, to visit my family and friends back home. I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about the trip a lot lately. Planning what I want to do while I’m home, figuring out what I want to bring with me, that sort of thing, yes, but also thinking about all the things I miss about Berkeley. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent living in New York, but there are some things that I find myself wistfully reminiscing about when I think about going back home. Here are some of the top contenders for “things I miss the most about Berkeley.”
1) Being able to see the sky…. After my first year in New York, I flew home to the San Francisco airport, fortunately avoiding Asiana airlines. When I first came out of the airport, and was on my way home, I found myself marveling at how much of the sky I could see just by looking out the window of the BART. (BART is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, for folks who aren’t familiar with it. It’s the subway system for the whole Bay Area, and it costs about ten times as much as the NYC subway; I don’t miss that part.) I felt like I had flown to Montana by accident. Here in Manhattan, in the course of a normal day, you only really see little patches of sky, never the whole sweep from horizon to horizon. You never get the “inverted bowl” effect here. Instead, you’re always just catching glimpses of these fragmented slivers of sky between the skyscrapers. I miss being able to look up and see nothing but sky.
2) …Especially the stars. During the day, since work and classes often keep me indoors a lot of the time, the absence of the sky isn’t quite so bad. But at night, when the city is all lit up, blazing and blaring and bright, you can barely even see a single star. It’s not as though there isn’t light pollution in Berkeley, too, but on a clear night, you can clearly and distinctly see whole constellations, even walking down a brightly lit street. From the hills up above the city, you can look out and see the whole sweep of stars across the sky, It’s not as clear and pure and bright as the view of the Milky Way from Deep Springs (a tiny little self-sufficient college/farm in the middle of nowhere along the California-Nevada border), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but compared to the featureless blackness above New York, it might as well be.
3) The smell of the sea. Even though Manhattan is technically a lot closer to the sea proper (as opposed to the Bay) than Berkeley is, you’d never know that from the air. In Berkeley, there is pretty much always a sea breeze, and it actually smells like a sea breeze. It’s cool on your face and salty on your tongue. In New York, it’s often windy, but the wind just doesn’t smell like anything. (If you’re lucky.) Of course, the fact that the summers here are so much hotter and wetter doesn’t help; right when you need a refreshing sea breeze, you instead get a blast of garbage-scented wind, as hot and humid as can be.
4) Radical philosophy and politics. New York is way too staid and conservative for me. Yeah, I said it.
5) Random piles of free stuff everywhere. Yes, really. See, people in Berkeley have this thing about leaving stuff at the curb. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. I mean, yes, I’ve seen (and occasionally even claimed) things left on the curbs in New York, and in other places, but Berkeley folks are just on a whole different plane of existence when it comes to free curbside scrounging. You can literally find anything on the curb in Berkeley. Each year, NYU organizes this “Green Apple Move-Out” program where students leave their stuff in big bins to be donated. Anything in the bins is fair game until the bins are taken away for donation, however, so anyone who stays for the summer (e.g. me) can just go down to the basement of their residence hall and find basically anything they could possibly want. In Berkeley, that’s just what walking down the street is like. Every day. Anything and everything that people don’t need or want, they just give away, for free, to random anonymous strangers. Now that’s what you’d call “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” right?
You can find furniture, clothes, shoes, bags, appliances, lamps, antiques, bicycles, sports equipment, vast collections of books and films…even expensive electronics, from cameras to computers, if the weather is good. (Watch out for anything with a piece of paper taped to it that just says “WORKS,” though. It probably doesn’t.) And, on the flipside, anything of yours that you want to get rid of can simply be left on the curb, no disposal necessary. No matter how useless, broken, gross, or otherwise defective an item might be, it will be gone within an hour. You may not be able to imagine how there could actually be a single person on Earth who would find your item useful, but trust me, that person exists, and they live in Berkeley. One of my father’s colleagues, a longtime Berkeley resident, once joked that in Berkeley, you could leave a dead body by the curb in front of your house…and it would be gone before you got back to your porch. I’ve personally never tried that one, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
So, there you have it. That’s a little tribute to the spirit of Berkeley. There is so much more, of course, but these are some of the most significant things I miss about Berkeley itself. Naturally, I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family, but it isn’t just the individual people I miss, but the place itself. The feel of it. If I could get a full refund on my plane ticket now, and magically have all my family and friends come visit me here in New York instead, I wouldn’t do it. I miss Berkeley itself, and I can’t wait to be headed back there, even if it’s just for a couple weeks before the schoolyear starts up again. Goin’ ‘ome!