After a ten-minute search for the preschoolers misplaced lunch box and cahier de vie (at Ecole Bilingue each child has a photo-and-words book that they take back and forth between school and home to share what goes on in each place), we take off on the twenty minute ride with the three and five-year-old granddaughters babbling in French in the back seat of my Kia Soul. Delivered safely and even on time, I take off for my next task–calling AAA to tow the family van which had had three of its tires slashed the day prior in broad daylight. But AAA won five stars for being there in 15 minutes with a flat bed, with the driver being appropriately crestfallen and efficient. At Big O, my son-in-law takes over by phone and handles the new tire transaction. I’m a bit shaken so decide to try the donut cure at Dream Fluff, the famous donut shop at Ashby and College.
On the two-block walk from my parking space to secure my drug of choice, I fend off fears that the tire slasher has moved on up from San Pablo Avenue to this neighborhood. Fighting to stay in the present, I start paying attention to my surroundings and am treated to Berkeley at it’s Berkerkly best. I pass the line streaming out the door at the Elmwood Cafe but not until I’ve walked past an elderly homeless man, his used-to-be-fluffy winter jacket pulled up to his ears. Six bags of recyclables and meager possessions are arranged neatly on each side of his scruffy boots. He waits patiently for whatever “next” lies behind his vacant stare.
At the entrance to the Cafe, two Berkeley officers in precision-pressed blues, one with Tony Curtis curls threatening to fall sexily onto his forehead, are being regaled by a tall and equally handsome but completely unpressed and dreadlocked gentleman whose description of the latest neighborhood drama spills out of his mouth at meth-speed, forgive the redundancy. Their patience matches his insistence and, in true Berkeley fashion, there is no hint of acrimony or threat of arrest. A few steps further down, outside my favorite restaurant La Mediterannee, a fashionista fourteenth-month-old points out two tiny scraps of trash to her politically-correct father who nods in all seriousness and confirms that leaving such flotsam on the sidewalk is indeed a mortal sin. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the freshly filled water dish and plastic tub of doggie treats outside the corner all-natural fiber clothing store.
Donut deal done, I start eating out of the proverbial paper bag on the way back to my car. As I drive away, the homeless man has packed up his belongings and is on his way to “next”. The police pair are inside the cafe, drinking coffee that they’ve paid for. And my morning ordeal disappears in the familiar politics of a world I haven’t visited since my crazed sophomore year at Cal back in 1963.