Tonight I'm starting a new compilation tape for my own use in the car. I'm
thinking of calling it, "Eight Years At The Same Phone Number."
That's partly a nod to the fact that, many nights at Hotel Utah and the Blue
Lamp and Rite Spot Cafe and various other venues notwithstanding, my musical
tastes haven't changed all that much since 1995; most of the stuff since then is
But mostly it's a muttering acknowledgement that, well, I've had the
same phone number for eight years. And that I've been in the same apartment for
seven years, one block from the UC Berkeley campus, and one block from Telegraph
Avenue. This geographic stagnation is easily confused with personal stagnation,
and some days I'm not entirely sure that it shouldn't be.
One weekend day recently, I was taking out the trash and ran into a younger
man, a New Yorker by the look and sound of him, who had recently moved into my
complex. "Hey, you don't live here do you?," he asked.
"Yes, actually, I do."
"Oh! Did you just move in?!"
"Really?!" Still overenthusiastic. "Where do you live?"
"Oh, OK. So you must know Penny and Stempy and Tipsy on your floor?"
"Actually, no. Don't sound familiar. Ya."
"Huh. ... So ... how long have you lived here?"
"Mmmmm .... Six or seven years."
"Six or seven ... YEARS??!! YEARS!!! Wooaahhohoho! Wowwww. Are you
STILL a student?"
"Uh, no. I graduated a couple of years ago."
"Huuhhhhhhhhh .... OK .... Wow ..."
"OK. I'll see you around."
"All right, dude, take it easy man! Wow, six YEARS ..."
This conversation did not feel nice. Most days now, I lament, at some point
and in some manner, the fact I still live so close to the university I graduated
from three years ago. The same university I spent essentially six years at as an
undergraduate. The same campus that claimed even claimed three of five college
summers, and through which I walked every morning on my way to an internship in
the fourth. (The one summer away was spent as a staff member at Camp Stevens.)
Sometimes, it just feels like I've been here too long. Other times, the
students annoy me, and I feel like a grumpy old man. Like when they spill out of
Kip's, the bar that is essentially next door to me and a historic favorite of
students with fake IDs or who just turned 21, and who do not know how to hold
their liquor, and who tend to yell and fight and puke near my front stoop when
are shoved out the door after last call, about 2 a.m.
Also, there's not much of interest within short walking distance as far as
food goes. Two-dollar pizza and msg-laden noodles and greasy hot dogs and bad
vegetarian food and cheap, poorly executed psuedo-ethnic food do not appeal
to me much any more. The nearby "market" carries only Wonder bread -- no whole
wheat, no rye -- and often no basic items like chicken stock, bacon and canola
oil, even though it's about three times the size of a typical 7-11. This is
because they make their money selling beer and cookies and cigarettes to --
guess who? -- students!
Why haven't I chucked it all and moved to San Francisco, where I work and
where rents have been tumbling for more than two years, or to Oakland, where two
of my friends live in a glorious Victorian with big rooms, high ceilings, low
rent and bars on the windows?
The thing is, I have a decent place. Its one of the city's older buildings.
To give you an idea of how old, my kitchen has a metal pantry that clicks shut
because it used to be an ice box. The pantry underneath has rough wood slats
where the ice used to go. The electrical wiring was all grafted on after the
fact, outside the walls, as was the telephone wiring. There is a wall panel
that, for some strange reason, rotates outward from the walk-in closet into the
liing room, all the way around, perhaps because there was once a hide-a-bed
The ceilings are nice and high, the floors are hard wood. There are plenty of
big windows, a view out toward Telegraph, and back toward the Campinile on
campus. I have a bedroom, a living room, a reasonable kitchen.
Plus, Berkeley is rent controlled, so the $750 I pay monthly for these 600 or
so square feet is only about $70 per moth higher than when I moved in. Getting a
one-bedroom place in San Francisco, of similar size and character, in
a decent neighborhood, would be at least twice that much, even though rents have
fallen quite a bit. I would save at most 15 minutes in commute time, since BART,
which is only a 10 minute walk from here, can get me into the city in less
than 25 minutes.
And while my neighborhood sucks, my city is still great. Just consider the
food. We have the Cheese Board Collective, which alone makes Berkeley a
worthwhile city. We have a robust farmer's market. We have the original Peet's.
We have Chez Pannisse, Cesar, Rivoli, Downtown, Cafe Rouge and on and on and on
with the restaurants. We have great book stores--Cody's, Moe's, Black Oak.We
have Berkeley Bowl, Ver Bergge meats, Monterey Market.
Such is the quality of products that tonight I was able to eat Fromage
d'Affinois, a sterling if common French brie, and Pt. Reyes bleu on Pan Au Levin
from Berkeley baker Acme Bread, whose bread Vogue food critic Jeffrey
Steingarten calls "the best in America."
Even relatively simple pleasures, like neighboring frozen dessert shop Yogurt
Park or the new, first-in-America gelato shop downtown, help drag some of my
friends out for visits (the Yogurt and gelato tend to be more of interest to
female friends, go figure).
Sigh. Perhaps some day soon, saving $750 per month in rent won't mean so much
to me. Or there will be a job offer in Los Angeles, New York or London that I
just can't refuse. But I'm not holding my breath. I've still got all these
Berkeley parking tickets to pay off! Arghhhhh ...