Two months ago today, I'd just returned from my first visit in over 20 years to the San Francisco Bay Area. The time I spent there in June of this year was wonderful -- seeing friends, meeting people, visiting old haunts, discovering new places. People have asked about the trip & I've told everyone, "It was wonderful." Now that I've been back for a couple of months, I want to write about it here. I'll mostly go chronologically, although I'm sure that I'll include some diversions. So, here goes Part One of my blog about my Visit to the Bay Area from 10 - 21 June 2010.
Flying Southwest went very well, until we arrived in Denver & learned that our Denver to Oakland flight would be delayed by 2 hours. That meant arriving in Oakland at 5:15 PDT, rather than 3:15 -- something that really threw my schedule for a loop. Still, the flights went well; little problem getting my wheelchair when we arrived in Oakland. (My electric wheelchair traveled in a special place in baggage.)
Flying from Denver to CA on Friday, 11 June, I was able to see Lake Tahoe and knew when we were close to the CA coast -- the hills, green in the winter, had already turned golden-dry. That was my first hint of home. After we landed & I went into the terminal, I had my next more-than-hint, from the advertisements & vendors, as well as the "Welcome to Oakland, CA" sign. By this time, having had little sleep Thursday night & being tired & excited, when it hit me that I was, really, finally, in California, I cried. I'd re-scheduled my para-transit van pick-up for 6:30 pm, so I sat outside waiting for it to arrive. Once it did, I was on my way down the freeway to Berkeley & the first place I'd be staying overnight: Benton Hall, a graduate student residence on the campus of my graduate school, Pacific School of Religion (PSR) on Berkeley's Northside.
First impressions on the ride from Oakland Airport to and then through parts of Berkeley: The dire fiscal condition of the state revealed itself to me almost immediately, in the condition of the freeways and city streets. TERRIBLE. Worse, really, that parts of Hartford, where we deal with damage from winter, salt, sand and asphalt & concrete shrinking & expanding due to extreme changes in temperatures. I bumped & bounced all the way from Oakland to PSR. And I was in tears a good part of the way, too, seeing familiar signs and signposts, familiar buildings and street signs. Oddly enough, & I'd never realized it when I lived there, one of the most visible & recognizable buildings in Oakland is the Oakland Court House, scene of numerous Black Panther demonstrations.
When I reached PSR, I just sat in my wheelchair for a few minutes, taking in the green, the buildings, the chapel -- so familiar from all those years ago. The PSR campus has remained the same -- no new buildings since Mudd was built in the early 1980's, & nothing to obstruct the view across the quad or over to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Benton manager showed me my room, gave me my keys, & I was on my own.
After stretching for a few minutes, washing up, & deep breathing, I decided to poke around Northside for a bit. I knew I needed some seltzer to drink -- I drink plain seltzer & almost any kind of tea, & that's it -- so I grabbed what I needed & went out & about -- for a new experience: seeing Northside in my wheelchair. While there were several restaurants open on Euclid, I didn't feel like eating, & the ice cream shop that had been there when I lived there was gone, so I stopped into Seven Palms, got a bottle of Perrier, & then rode around a bit. Up passed the Franciscan School of Theology (FST -- now painted dark green, I think), then up Le Conte to Le Roy and by the Jesuit School of Theology building and its HUGE new addition. Whatever were they thinking??! The addition, to the left of the old building, is twice as big as the original building & a completely different architectural style. It looks really strange. I couldn't figure out whether the new building houses offices or serves as a large dormitory for Jesuit seminarians, & no one was around who could tell me. The best part of the addition: A ramp for people with disabilities! No more climbing up that huge flight of stairs from the sidewalk to the front door.
I went down a block on Virginia Street & then turned back onto Le Conte, passing the old GTU admin building -- no more bookstore! terrible. When I reached the front of the Unitarian Universalist School (Starr King School), I stopped still, hearing singing. Of course, I had to explore, so I went in. Turns out it was the Friday night Women's Spirit Sing,open to any woman who wants to attend. Something to remember for my return... I stayed for a few minutes, until my cell phone rang. On the phone was the PSR Housing Coordinator who wanted to make sure I'd gotten in to my room. She'd just begun a break from her evening Church History class, so I went over to Mudd to meet her & say hello. After that, realizing that I was really tired, I went to my room. And crashed.
I hadn't expected to feel so completely exhausted the following day. It turned out to be a day when temps reached into the 90's F, however, I didn't know it at all; I was so wiped out that I cancelled my lunch plans with Russ, a friend & co-PSR alum, & his husband & my later afternoon plans to see my friend Judy from Boston. :-( As I lay there in bed, drinking Perrier, I kept trying to convince myself that the trip was NOT a mistake, that I would feel better the next day. It took a lot of convincing; luckily, I believed myself. By evening, I was able to shower, go out for more Perrier, and sleep, rather than crash. When I woke up the next morning, Sunday, I still felt shaky, however, I knew I would make it through the day. Plans for that day: Mass at Holy Spirit Parish / Newman Hall in Berkeley, where I was Baptized, Confirmed, & received First Eucharist, and, that evening, dinner with several very close friends, two of whom I'd know for over 30 years.
Mass at Holy Spirit: When I was Baptized, etc., @ Holy Spirit Parish, it happened at the 12 pm (noon) Mass. No more Noon Mass, though. Now, it's at 11:30 am. I rode across the UC Berkeley Campus, truly enjoying the journey; I will still contend that this campus is one of the most beautiful in the US. Past the carillon & its bells, past Dwinnell Hall, past Sproul Hall, through Sproul Plaza -- location of some of the most famous student protests in US history, & location of several protests in which I, too, participated, including one against apartheid in South Africa, at which Alice Walker read several of her poems. Then down Telegraph Avenue and up Haste Street, a right on College Avenue and keep going on College to Dwight Way. On the Northeast corner of College & Dwight is Holy Spirit Parish / Newman Hall
Built of poured concrete in that era of building, it forms a large, hulking presence off of the large open space in front of the doors. Inside and straight ahead through another set of doors is the chapel. Very modern with its massive Christ figure and almost bare walls, its unmovable altar & ambo that seem to grow organically up from the floor. I love this chapel, this worship space, perhaps because it was the first Catholic Church in which I was welcomed & completely free to worship & to pray. I prayed for several minutes, then went to find Judy.
Judy & I had met when we were both members of the Paulist Center in Boston, MA; we both sang in the music ministry & both had grown up Jewish. Judy had decided to become Catholic, & I was on the RCIA team the year she received the Sacraments of Initiation. She then moved to Berkeley. It was terrific to see her! She'd cut her hair, looked wonderful, & was doing well. We didn't have enough time to talk; a friend from many years ago who I'd known from my first days at Holy Spirit had waited to see me, & the 3 of us talked for 20 minutes, until just a few minutes before Mass. Then, I needed to go in to make sure that the presider, George Fitzgerald, CSP, & someone else I knew from those earlier days, knew that I was there & that I would need a gluten-free host. Big, happy greeting from George; yes, everything is set. Then, wonderful surprise, big hug from Heather Skinner, a woman I've known for many years through the parish; she, her husband, & her mother-in-law had come to that Mass at Holy Spirit knowing I would be there! What a lovely welcome!!
And it felt like home. Quiet, low-key Mass, fitting for the almost beginning of summer; it felt very familiar. Of course, there's always something that I would do differently... and I would have chosen different music... Mostly because I didn't know most of the tunes the congregation sang.
After Mass, George & I had a little time to talk, then I went back down to Telegraph Avenue. Outside of the now-closed Cody's Books, I found a florist & purchased some beautiful deep purple iris for Jose's house where our Sunday evening dinner was to take place. Stopped at Walgreens to pick up some toothpaste -- the travel-size one I'd brought with me was no good, too old -- & then back across campus & at Seven Palms stopped for more Perrier. Then I took a ride down another few streets to the house where I had lived during the last 2 years of my PhD studies at the Graduate Theological Union, on Virginia Street. I knew the house immediately by its bottom-floor on-street windows. I had put my desk under those windows so I'd be able to look outside when I studied. Thought about that house for a few minutes, then went back up the hill to my room to rest.
Dinner & the next part -- tomorrow.........