Wednesday, June 25, 2008
While spending this week in the Bay Area, some things have become quite clear. The vibe is so different from Portland. It's only been two years, but I feel the pace and tension down here constantly.
Air quality is miserable because at the moment there are about 800 fires currently burning in California. Oakland is on a record homicide pace with 5 unrelated murders occurring in the last 5 days alone. People drive much faster here. There is no sign that the $4.69 gas is deterring many from driving SUVs either.
In walking, which has been curtailed because of the smoke/ash in the air, the dryness is noticeable. This morning, with the smoke mixing with fog and haze, visibility is nil. People are less friendly. When I pass a mother with a baby in a stroller, no smile. Every place is crowded. Grocery store aisles, surface streets, lines in the coffee shop, lines on the faces.
I wander around like someone whose been gone longer and notice which stores and restaurants are gone, how faded many of the signs have become, how truly bad the streets have become; deep potholes, patchwork quilt of pavement, uneven sidewalks even away from the fault planes. And yet, the diversity continues to amaze. The mixture of languages I hear on the BART trains, in the kitchens, the media, and the schoolyards.
And then there's Berkeley. How Berkeley do you want to be? The tree sitters are being hauled away; the big University will have it's way. This generation can't really relate, they tolerate everything from Young Republicans to the current cost of a semester at Cal. Today, we went to Berkeley Bowl, the only food store I know where people wait outside daily for the doors to open. The price of produce is much better than the Northwest. It's the most impressive display of fruit and vegetables I've ever seen. At least 10 varieties of apples, half a dozen kinds of pears, many berries, all manner of greens, tubers, legumes, and nuts. Last week at Whole Foods in Portland we paid $7.50 for a head of cauliflower. Here we could get 3 for the same amount.
Still it's all relative. I'm an Oregonian now; a proud Oregonian. No regrets, and hopefully, when I return in a few days, no fires.