I told myself I didn’t want anything special today – no Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 or Alcatraz. Just the people’s city, please. I was looking for those people, plain folks who might want to talk for a few minutes.
I started off at Bette’s Oceanview Diner on Fourth Street in Berkeley, except I couldn’t find any ocean. What was there were nine red stools at the counter, each with good access to tiny juke boxes. A quarter for two songs. Cool. I tried “Whiter Shade of Pale” on for size, as well as an Edith Piaf melody in French. I joked with Jenna, my server, and she even plunked down two quarters for my listening pleasure. I asked a waiter to sing a song but he said he only does Prince songs. I found one on the machine … but he demurred. (Sigh)
Manfred was this rollicking happy German fellow behind the counter. He wants people to have a good time, especially since he owns the place.
On my left was a woman who started crying as she talked to me: the old gentleman on her left had just walked out, after paying for her meal. The guy on my right was, like me, an explorer of consciousness. He was so interested in the mind, particularly the link between intention and action. He also was curious about the Evolutionary Collective when I piped up about my passion.
So … a thoroughly alive place. Manfred called Bette’s “real”. I agree. This is the Bay Area I want.
I emerged from the subway (called BART) in San Francisco an hour later. Unlike New York City, there was no crowd of yellow cabs. There was, however, a seemingly endless line of cyclists powering past in the bike lane. The energy of the flow was immense, like a river. The sidewalks were crowded with folks walking fast. It felt like I was the slowest. Maybe I was. I don’t care. I saw lots of buildings that weren’t purely rectangular. Bow windows especially were très magnifique. And the colours were often bright pastels. My favourite was a three-storey jobbie all decked out in yellow with red trim.
Shortly after I emerged from the bowels of the subway, I came upon a giant mural on the side of a grey house. Huge letters pronounced “I have a dream.” And faces greeted me: Gandhi, César Chavez (a civil rights activist), Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. I loved their eyes as they loomed above me. Thank you, dear home owner, for mixing paint and spirit.
A few minutes ago, I felt moved to find a quote from each of these spiritual giants, so here goes:
Gandhi: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
César Chavez: If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him … the people who give you their food give you their heart.
Mother Teresa: Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
Martin Luther King: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last.
As I sauntered down the streets of common people, I felt the need for sweet. Almost immediately a bakery appeared, hosted by a jolly woman who waxed poetic about a nearby street – Valencia. We smiled a lot and I smiled some more as I bit into shortbread cookies filled with caramel. I know for a fact that such yummies have a proud spot in Canada’s Food Guide!
Further down the road, the image of a smoothie came calling, and once again providence provided. An ice cream shop opened its arms to me and placed a banana, pineapple, mango, coconut milk and vanilla gelato smoothie within reach of my mouth. Who was I to refuse? I sat outside at a tiny table, savouring a taste fit for all of us. Beside me was an old man who was praying with his eyes closed. I could almost hear his words. He stayed within an aura of reverence for the whole time I sat there. It was a privilege to share the space with him.
I roamed and rambled, chatting with a few folks in shops and subways. No one refused my words of greeting. I like this place. The only sadness I had was on the packed BART car on the way home to Berkeley. On a seat made for two, a woman placed her purse dead centre in the open space. There were lots of people standing. I wondered what that was about. Fear? The need to stay distant from other human beings? Or just plain unconsciousness?
In the nighttime, I walked along Allston Way from downtown Berkeley to my room at the Knights Inn. Gorgeous trees, bushes and flowers were near. And the scent of the blossoms followed me home. Goodbye, Berkeley. I’m glad we’re friends.