Solano Avenue

From Oakland, North to Richmond, there is a mess that people in the San Francisco Bay Area refer to as The East Bay. Traveling on streets between Oakland to Berkeley, you really can’t tell where one city ends and the next one begins because it’s such a jumbled up sprawl. Same thing goes for the smaller towns of Albany and El Cerrito just North of Berkeley proper. They’ve been overwhelmed by the sprawl monster to the point of having no identity or distinction of their own anymore. Might as well call all of it Berkeley. Even the police are unsure of which department should respond to an emergency at times. Occasionally they are confused about the street location of an emergency call, is it in their town jurisdiction or is it in the next one over?

Nestled somewhere between the North end of Berkeley and the Albany/El Cerrito train wreck is a street called Solano Avenue. Sometimes I go over there in the morning for coffee with Autumn before we go out and do anything else on a Saturday or Sunday. I need my morning coffee badly like a junkie needs a daily fix. I can’t function without a healthy dose of caffeine. Autumn likes the Solano Ave. shops so we frequently head over that way for a variety of things, from shopping for groceries at Andronico’s to browsing used books at Pegasus, having dinner at one of the Chinese restaurants there or when we’re really feeling flush hitting an upper-scale Indian place called Ajanta.

There’s a great place to go have a few beers in a quiet atmosphere on Solano, which is a refreshing change of pace. I’m weary from local dive bars that allow crummy garage bands to play music far too loud in them. Can’t hear myself think let alone have a conversation with someone when that crap is going on. The Solano Pub is cool because you can go in there and grab a pint of solid English brew and plunk yourself down in an easy chair with a book. They sell good tobacco for pipe smoking and they have a pretty good selection of cigarettes. Once you pick out something from the Pub’s case, you can walk into a smoking room they have set up in the back and puff away. It’s a very relaxed scene.

Perhaps my favorite establishment on Solano is The Bone Room. It’s a small shop that’s easy to miss if you’re driving by. The only thing that sets it apart from the rest of it’s retail neighbors is the jet black awning with stark white lettering over the front door. The Bone Room specializes in vending truly odd items. I have seen human skeletons from India on sale there as well as a basket full of freeze-dried kittens. Their mainstay is dead bugs though. You can browse their collection of exotic beetles and countless other insects to pick something out that catches your eye. Then you get a framing kit and go home to steam your selected bug so that it’s joints become temporarily movable again and put it into a lifelike position. After that it goes in the frame and you hang it on the wall in your home. Kinda wacky, but whenever we are walking by I always have to stop in The Bone Room to see what’s new there.

Even though Solano Avenue has an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops, I hate being there. Part of the problem is some genius of a city planner decided it would be a great idea to change curbside parking from parallel to perpendicular so they could add more parking meters. Solano gets a hefty dose of traffic almost every day, so when someone is trying to leave the area they have to back out into oncoming traffic. That fucks everything up. There’s also a large group of suicidal pedestrians that like to dash out at random in front of anything from motorcycles to buses. That also adds to the general traffic snarl and chaos. So it really sucks trying to get from point A to point B in the neighborhood. Solano Avenue has to be avoided at all costs if you are trying to get someplace on time.

Solano Avenue attracts the upper-class Berkeley crowd. Standing on the sidewalk sipping my morning coffee I’ve seen some pretty interesting things happen there. I’ve also made some stark observations about the people. One day in particular stands out in my memory. I was sipping a cup of coffee on the sidewalk standing by a row of expensive luxury cars. Brand new Mercedes, BMWs, and Volvos were stacked up all over the place. Along came a haggard woman pushing a shopping cart. She was covered in filth from head to toe and in the shopping cart there was a little blonde haired boy playing with a junked toy. The woman was going from trash bin to trash bin picking out bottles and aluminum cans. Meanwhile, hippies were getting into and out of their luxury cars without paying the homeless woman and her kid even the slightest bit of attention. Nobody stopped to give this woman a couple of bucks, or to offer her anything really. It was like she didn’t exist. I wished I had brought my camera with me. A photo of that woman rifling through a trash can while seemingly well-off people came and went in their upper-class cars would have said volumes about the Berkeley crowd. What a contrast it was.

Hypocrisy seems to be alive and well there on Solano. Frequently I see hippy vehicles plastered with bumper stickers calling for everything from world peace and ecological activism to the downfall of the US Government. Nothing but black oil-burnt smoke will be belching out of their car’s tailpipe as they pass by. It’s easy to cry for a Green Earth and point the finger of blame for pollution at big companies, but it’s nearly impossible for just one of these hippy nitwits to take the time to properly maintain their car’s engine so it doesn’t blow thick black smoke into the air. Gotta spend their money on the next bag of weed instead, I guess.

My new partner on swing shift, Jim has told me stories of his encounters with people on Solano. Before working here he used to be a dairy truck driver. His assigned delivery route was in the East Bay and one of his stops was the Andronico’s market on Solano. Out of his entire route that Andronico’s stop was the worst, he said. Their parking lot in the back of the store is tiny and there’s no way to get a big rig through it. Jim was always forced to park his truck on a side street while offloading and making the store’s deliveries. While he was there, he told me countless shoppers leaving the store would flip him off, shout insults at him, and occasionally attempt to pick a fistfight with him. Just because of his truck being parked near Andronico’s parking lot exit. Nowhere else on his entire delivery route did Jim get hassled like that. It’s interesting that people there behave so poorly. Supposedly that Berkeley crowd is all about loving their neighbors and making the world a better place to live. But when you see them in action up close and personal they generally send out a very different message about themselves.

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~ by factorypeasant on March 14, 2006.

2 Responses to “Solano Avenue”

  1. Bad hippie! No doobie!

  2. you said it, brother.

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