Well, I am in Berkeley, California right now, typing this in a comfy chair in the lobby of the Shattuck Plaza, also known as the local Howard Johnson’s. This is my first time visiting norcal, and it’s exciting to start by dipping my toe into the reactionary waters of Berkeley, rather than San Francisco. The depiction of this place as a teeming hotbed of liberal sixties culture is, well, understated. As I type this, a very high man, who was muttering to himself for the last five minutes while waiting for the hotel desk clerk to return from his break, is now shouting obscenities and railing against the Howard Johnson’s Corporation. This fit of rage was apparently triggered by the hotel desk clerk asking him if he preferred a smoking or non-smoking room. Too many rules for him, I guess. OK, he’s wandered off now, sweating and cursing, down Allston Place. I’m quite certain more exciting times lie in store for him. The very blond hotel clerk shook his head, barely perceptibly, and said a very understated “wow”.
Anyway, I’m here for the Radiance Workshop I mentioned a few days ago; it starts tomorrow, and I can’t wait. Since I’ll be in geek heaven all day, all week, starting tomorrow, I figured I’d take a stroll around the town this afternoon and see what’s up. Berkeley sort-of reminds me of Santa Fe, from a humanistic & color standpoint. You have a lot of liberal people here, and you are not far from the desert, so it’s sorta brown. It’s pretty, but brown. I always associated northern CA with greenness, but I guess I need to venture out further to see that.
The people here very loose. Birkenstocks are the norm, as is long hair (and long facial hair for the fellas), loose clothing, and tattoos. Lots of tattoos. I can certainly dig the counter culture, fuck authority motif, though many of you know my intense dislike for the Grateful Dead and all their detritus. Unfortunately, this whole town reeks like a Grateful Dead show, but I’m trying to look the other way as far as that’s concerned. The people are exceedingly nice for the most part, I just got here, I’m just observing.
Now, on my stroll along Shattuck Ave, I passed at least four bike shops (even though I haven’t been in the saddle in ages, I still love bicycles with every fiber of my being, and every time I’m in a new place and I see a bike shop, I check it out). But one place was particularly intriguing; The Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative, Inc., had a neat display of antique bikes in the window, and old articles and magazine covers from 70’s bicycle racing magazines on display. I ventured in.
The reek of vulcanized rubber and WD-40 hit me as I approached the door, and it drew me in like a familiar friend. I spent years working in shops, and that unique aroma is somehow comforting to me. It reminds me of my youth. The usual shop decor presented itself; bulletin board with ride announcements, bikes for sale, stolen bikes to look for. Pictures of local riders, having fun. Notices for upcoming races, and races long since over. Bikes and wheels hang from the ceiling, and a guy in back trues a wheel. I try like hell to blend in and just take in the shop and its wares, as I have done all over the US every time I find a new bike shop. The wheel truer discovers me anyway, and asks if I need help, “No thanks, just lookin’”, is my standard response. Leave me alone. I’m trying to soak this up. Usually, shortly after the “just looking” exchange, I size up the rest of the place, flip through the latest issue of Velo News and Procycling, check to see of they have any cool t-shirts I might want to buy (this is an addiction that never leaves you, even after you stop pedaling) and mosey on out the door.
But then, the other mechanic on duty was helping a young woman out with her new bike. At first, the conversation sounded familiar: “you might want to do something about that seat; the tilt of the seat is wrong”. Then, the VOICE sounded familiar: “Here, it’ll only take a sec…” I turn around, and there, twirling a wrench, is Scott Hicks—a guy I worked with at Bike Tech in Philadelphia in 1991, and hadn’t seen since. Holy shit.
We shot the breeze for a while, got caught up a bit on each other and some of the others from the old crew. Damn, this is a small world. He also told me about a good place down the street that brews their own beer and makes great pizzas. Turns out it’s across from my hotel; I can see it right now. And yes, the beers are great, and they have Anchor Liberty Ale on tap. I plan to go back there and sample Liberty Ale draft; I think I just may see god. As for the pizza, I am trying like hell to blend. Get this, I had a pizza with fucking BARBECUE SAUCE on it. But you know something folks? It was good, and I’ll defend that choice all the way to the grave.
So, day one of my Radiance/norcal extravaganza is winding to a close, though I have some homework to do that I brought with me. But there’s that great brewpub across the street, and Neal Stephenson is signing copies of his new book here in Berkeley on Thursday, and surely tomorrow will bring all kinds of new discoveries about Radiance that I didn’t know and will want to play with, so uh, I gotta go.