Berkeley is small and cute and is largely populated by bright eyed students who attend one of the most prestigious colleges in the US. They’re not quite the same brand of radical students who led the Vietnam War protests but there’s still a good deal of middle class alternative lifestyle going on in Berkeley. It’s the kind of place where you’ll find bio-diesel gas stations and stores selling organic vegetables and sushi.
There are quiet, leafy neighbourhoods that are a pleasure to walk down though you’d need a million bucks to buy any of these detached homes. Up from there you have downtown where you can walk into a cafe and find that half the clientele are sipping coffee and staring into the screens of their laptops. Failing that they’ll probably be plugged into their I Pods or playing with their phones. In the rare event that you can make eye contact and, god forbid, start a conversation, you’ll find that most people around here are quite cheerful and helpful.
The last of the 60’s can be seen on Telegraph Street where people hang out and play guitar on the sidewalk near stalls selling necklaces and beads. Some colour is injected into the scene with the black guys from Oakland trying to sell their bootleg hiphop cd’s to the passing students (‘Now I know you like to dance, girl!’).
There are a lot of bums hanging around on the street, often young white kids from the poorer states up north like Michigan. Berkeley is a liberal, tolerant place where they can panhandle and not get hassled or beaten up. There are good secondhand book shops on Telegraph and you can get most titles you can think of for about five bucks. A few of the original students from the day still wander around here, selling their poetry or arguing in the Mediteranean cafe.
It’s worth taking a walk up on the campus too, which is one of the most beautiful places you’ll see in the Bay Area. The walkways take you through groves of eucalyptus and pine trees and there’s a lot of movement in the day with thousands of eager, smiling students. With a prospective diploma frrm Berkeley they have reason to smile too. Gradating from Berkeley they’re pretty much set for life and most of the students come from fairly priveleged backgrounds to begin with.
Students of Chinese origin are here in force and are such dedicated scholars that it’s said they had to limit their enrollement. During the day the students get political and you’ll pass booths and stalls ranging from the Latin Pre-Law Society to the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Asian Students Guild. The latter were handing out leaflets for a ‘date auction’ – they placed the prettiest girls from China they could find up on stage and guys would bid to see who’d get to take her to dinner.