Public Comment

Moments When Berkeley Still Surprises and Inspires

By Joanna Manqueros
Friday December 29, 2006

Our town has moments which stand out, and keep me surprised and in love with this place. 

A graduate of the Berkeley Schools from first grade through UC Berkeley, I sometimes get jaded walking around town. I attended 5th grade with Zachary Running Wolf, before he considered himself an activist or representative of any tribe. A shy kid, he was quiet in class. For me, it’s a small town. 

Here are some memories of places around here, for which I give thanks: on a regular school day in 3rd grade in Kilamanjaro, an experimental branch of the Berkeley Public Schools, I met a truant officer. I was selling rings with my friends on Telegraph Avenue mid-morning in 1972 when he asked to meet our teacher. “OK” I said, “come with me.” 

My friends and I walked him back to our “school”, an open area on Euclid where the teachers were high up in an oak tree playing chess with some older kids. “Hey,” I said, “you guys, there is a guy here to meet you.” They called down, “just send him up.” The poor man, dressed in a suit looked as if he had been struck; “those are your teachers?” 

Off he went, totally befuddled. 

My early morning YMCA visit yesterday: no one around and a cold frost on the cars. I see a woman sleeping under a blanket on Allston Way. I learned from my paramedic husband not to touch sleeping homeless people, even if you are giving them something, because they have learned that danger is all around and might jump up with a knife. 

Instead, I called to her, “Good morning; here is some money.” Under the blankets, a sleepy face greeted me with a big smile. “Thank you so much lady and merry christmas.” I hand her the $10 and move on to my day. 

The Ethiopian cab driver who gave me a lift when my car broke down thanking me for the Vik's chai, the “best hot chai” he had had since leaving home years ago. 

I interviewed Tom Bates on KALX the day after he lifted the newspapers and became elected mayor anyway. Upbeat, fun and full of energy for the job, he was ready for work, almost like a young boy with a new toy. When asked about the university and how to get them to pay their fair share, I remember him saying that one of the “first things” he would do in office was to get them to pay up, especially for services they get for free like fire department and other perks that the citizens pay for. 

The blues guitarists playing the Berkeley flea market in the cold. There is no place like home. For me this is the biggest holiday gift this year, to live somewhere I truly love, imperfections and all.