Summer of Wonder

Berkeley Campinele from Wurster

View of Berkeley’s Campanile from the Architecture building, Wurster Hall

Summer 1991

Berkeley, California had been my dream since ninth grade.  When I got accepted into a summer program there between my Junior and Senior years in High School, my anticipation turned to fear.  I didn’t think I’d make any friends, life would be dull, I’d be treated like a little kid and various other worries one has when she is about to go off on her own for the first time in her life.

Nevertheless, after my arrival in Berkeley, my worries vanished.  I made many friends and had plenty of work, went to parties and was treated as an intelligent adult.  A typical day was packed with action.  I had my first class, Environmental Design, then Calculus or Journalism dependent on the day. I would then study in the library or go to the studio to work on my design project until dinner time. And from then until at least two o’clock in the morning I would do something with friends, such as play ping-pong, see a movie, talk or play games. During the days I spent much of my time on campus with other students in the program I was in who were also in High School. But, since they all lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and I was the only one out of 500 students from out of the area, I stayed in the dormitories with the college students. In the evenings, I hailed adventures with the older students.

The summer whizzed by with a few interesting experiences.  I learned to grow comfortable with a co-educated dorm including co-ed bathrooms and showers. I wanted to giggle whenever I heard one of my male hall-mate hawk loogies in the shower. Consequentially his last name was Snodgrass, which just sounded too perfect for somebody gargling and spitting phlegm in the shower. I felt comfortable telling my friends I didn’t want to share any of their drug experiences, but was still happy enough to be around them. I did try alcohol one evening and tried to reach a point of intoxication but didn’t feel any effects after.

I also got to watch a partial eclipse of the sun. My meal card was blocked for two days so I couldn’t eat in the dining hall. I bought roller blades since I had been unable to transport my bicycle across country. And thanks to the earthquake entrenched sidewalks I sprained my wrist on my first day on them. I would occasionally receive care packages from my friends and family and my dad came to visit for a couple of days and we got to go Grand Prix racing. Without warning, the last week of my summer at Berkeley arrived.  I expected a grueling week of exams and no excitement, but I was quite wrong.

Monday night, I left the safe environment of the architecture lab building just as the sun began to diminish from the sky.  As I walked in the serenity of an orange and purple backdrop, at the edge of campus, I saw numerous unmarked  police cars drive to the corner, dispel officers and leave.  The officers formed several rows and marched down College Avenue towards my dorm.  I hurried along, parallel to the wall of uniforms.  Various street punks were jogging in front of the police and chanting, “Save the People, Save the Park!”

The “park” is People’s Park.  People’s Park is a vacant lot owned by the University, and it is also a refuge to the homeless.  The University wants to build on the lot.  Assorted projects had been proposed for the site, the most recent plan to construct volleyball courts.

Berkeley Riot PoliceDirectly in front of me, a homeless back girl was yelling across the street at a student, “You fucking white trash!  Take your tuition money and go back to mommy and daddy!  You’re no good!”

I diverted my glance from her troubled face just in time to see a shady object the size of a fist streak through the air and hit one of the policemen, causing him to hit the pavement with his back.  Cameras flashed all around as I ventured through the chaos.  I could only observe the rapidly unfolding drama; I had no time to react or experience emotions.

Upon reaching the dorms, I was met by a steady stream of excited students coming out the door and heading next door to the People’s Park.  I joined a group of my friends and went to observe the riot.

At the park, I saw the remains of a construction fence mangled on the outskirts of the lot.  Several people were chanting, “Save the People, Save the Park!”.  Their jeers thundered in my ears.  A few bulldozers lay overturned inside the commotion, and a small Fiat obstructed the road.

At first, people were standing around more or less peacefully observing.  Somehow, small groups would be herded out by the police and chased away from the crowd.  I ended up in one of these groups.  Ahead of me, one of my friends tripped and was trod upon by part of the group.  As I reached her, someone else pulled her to her feet, unharmed, but slightly shaken.

Cautiously I slowed to a stop.  As I gazed around, I was awed by the groups that periodically passed me by.  One group jogged down the street carrying torches and chanting.  There were several clusters rushing stores, breaking the glass with stones, and grabbing merchandise, and sprinting away.

I returned to my room to get a birds-eye-view of the turbulence.  Lights shone everywhere in the usually dark alleys.  Right in front of the park, a cloud of smoke mushroomed up to create a thick haze.   Back at the park, the Fiat had been set aflame.

2riotAFP_468x310A few hours later, when things had calmed down, my friends and I went to survey the damage of the night’s activity.  The Fiat was charred and soaked.  Not one building, save the houses, had been spared by the hurled stones.  Many employees were at work boarding up their stores.  The radical Blondie’s Pizza had slogans posted in their window, “Sorry, closed for the holiday.  Riot on an empty stomach.” And “Slash pizza, not people.”  Several small fires still burned, feeding on the piles of trash in the streets.  Pairs of cops stood on each corner maintaining tranquility.

The next night, I stayed in my dorm, not wanting to get hurt.  I heard several bullet shots and saw helicopters with search lights circling the area throughout the entire night  I heard rumors of tear gas and rubber bullets being used by the police.

By the next night, I was gone. My summer was over, my plane tickets Berkeley Riot SmokeBombhad been bought at the beginning of the summer, so I had no chance to see the conclusion of the riots.  The riot was only one incident in a summer of wonder.  I never stopped learning that summer, something was always denting my brain with thought.  I learned more about human nature than I did in my classes.  Just being out in the world made me realize the complexity of every incident in life.

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