Talking Turkey about Quirky Berkeley

My New Home Sweet Home

Talking Turkey about Quirky Berkeley

We moved to Berkeley, CA six years ago and I’m still getting used to it. There is much to love, but also much that is downright bezerkly. It must be a sign of age that world-traveler me is taking so long to get accustomed to this city, but that said in the interest of your enlightenment and amusement, I’m ready to talk turkey about quirky Berkeley! Here goes.

Tidbit 1: Hirsute Pursuits

I’m from New York City and Las Vegas, where women leave strict instructions to have their bodies taken to the beauty parlor before being dropped off at the embalmers. We don’t let a single gray hair see daylight … or the coffin.

(In my mother’s case, she started coloring her hair in her teens, choosing platinum blonde a la Jean Harlow! Once I asked her what her natural hair color was and she said she couldn’t remember!)

Berkeley women, however, don’t dye their hair ever. They go au naturel. This city by the San Francisco Bay is awash in gray, wavy locks. To hair-dyed since the age of 43 me,  this is quite a shock, although I admit the idea of being liberated from costly monthly hair appointments and dripping cold hair dye is tempting. Still, I cannot imagine myself with gray hair. The sight of those gray roots each month makes me cringe and count the hours till my next beauty parlor appointment!

Recently I had a near-death experience, going from the hospital ER straight into a hospital bed with a bout of pneumonia. The first person I called? My rabbi? Nah! My hairdresser to cancel and re-schedule my appointment for color.

And among my list of necessities I requested Handsome Hubby bring from home? The honey brown color spritz I use to cover the gray roots when I’m due for a touch-up and cannot get in for that blessed monthly hair salon visitation.

Yes, I may be shallow and vain AND going to Hell in a hand-basket, but I’m going with honey brown hair!

Tidbit 2: Hail to the Hats

Berkeley women don’t color their hair, but they do wear hats, floppy hats to be precise. They may be in their 60s. They may dress like they’re still living in the hippy-dippy 60s, but they protect their skin with a ferocity equal to beauteous Broadway star Bernadette Peters, who reportedly never sets foot outside until the sun sets.

This floppy-hatted fanaticism I applaud. It beats the skin-cancer inducing insanity of my Las Vegas days when we baked ourselves to a crisp in a mixture of baby oil and iodine while basking poolside under broiling hot temperatures of 115 degrees!

Yet, sadly I believe there are two kinds of women in the world – those who look good in hats and me. So, me and my already sun-damaged skin bravely (i.e. stupidly) go forth each day sans chapeau.

Old Dog? No New Tricks

I take this failure to wear a hat and protect my skin as a symptom of my middle-aged inability to break long-ago acquired bad habits.

And as for this six-year struggle to adapt to my new community? This too reflects my slow-to-adapt middle-aged ways. Ironically, I am, by no means, a newcomer to being a newcomer! I am, in fact, an expert at it. Growing up, I moved almost every year! I went to 22 schools and I loved new cities. But now that I’m older, I guess I’m less flexible. It’s harder to settle in, harder to adjust.

Quirky Berkeley Tidbit 3: Talking Trash

Berkeley trash collection is, well, complicated. When we moved here, my daughter read the city trash collection website as studiously as she had prepared for the SAT. She then schooled us all on the intricacies of Berkeley Trash-ology.

And while I appreciate the benefits of recycling and I’m proud that Berkeley recycles tons of material that otherwise would go to landfills, I am still befuddled by an array of complex questions.

Questions like:

  1. Does all food go into the “Plant Debris” container or just vegetables, grass clippings and all the houseplants I’ve killed?
    If the answer is yes – should we toss meat in that container? It decomposes after all. Or is the container a strict vegetarian as are many Berkeley denizens?
  2. Do cans and bottles need to be washed before being recycled?
    If so, doesn’t that waste water? Isn’t that a problem amid drought concerns?
  3. Does aluminum foil go into the cans and bottles bin?
    It’s a metal, but lacks a can-like shape. My daughter, the trashologist, says no. She says only solid metal shapes get a second chance at usefulness. Why? To paraphrase William Shakespeare, a metal by any other shape is still a metal. At least that’s what I think.

Tidbit 4: Shop Local (or at least Say You Do)

Berkeleyites are proud anti-corporate, anti-big business “shop local” individualists. This is commendable.

Yet, I wonder, who shops at all those big box stores “across the border” in Emeryville and Albany? (That’s Albany, CA, not Albany, NY.) Come on, Berkeleyites, fess up! You love Ikea, admit it. It’s OK.

As for me, I’m a Target-aholic. Yet, now when I shop there, fearing local condemnation, I don sunglasses, a Groucho Marx mustache, and a trench coat with the collar pulled up when turning into the Target parking lot!

Tidbit 5: Born to Bike

Berkeley has a strong biker culture. And the bikes I’m talking about aren’t motorized, they’re regular, people-powered bicycles. But beware, Berkeley bicyclists are twice as scary as Hell’s Angels!

Don’t get me wrong. I admire the many biking Berkeleyites and their commitment to the environment and to their health.

Nevertheless, when we first arrived here, I was terrified I would hit one of them. Now, however, I am equally terrified about getting hit by them! The reason? Berkeley bikers constantly run traffic lights, ignore stop signs, and change lanes without signaling!

When Handsome Hubby and I left the fast-paced East Coast, I thought we were reducing our stress. I thought life in Berkeley would be peaceful and mellow, but all these bikers brazenly buzzing by are blitzing my Bay Area bliss!

Fountain of Youth

Yet, all this Berkeley newness and all this Bezerkelyness might just prove to be my fountain of youth. At a certain age, we need to keep our minds active. We need to take on new challenges.

For me, living in quirky Berkeley offers one new challenge after another. And despite this list of quirky Berkeley tidbits – or because of it, most days the challenges are delightful!


And if you’d like to learn more about Quirky Berkeley, there’s an official website devoted to the subject!

4 replies
  1. Mary Rees
    Mary Rees says:

    I enjoyed your catalog of Berkeley quirks! A Berkeley quirk you missed out on, having moved here with kids already past playground-age, is the seeming taboo on correcting anyone else’s kid at the park.
    Bicyclists need to stop at stop signs and not ride the wrong way up one-way streets, here in Berkeley and everywhere. Otherwise, they’re endangering themselves and others, who won’t necessarily be looking for them.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      I think it always dangerous to correct other people’s kids — tempting, but dangerous! Only grandmas seem to get away with it! Age has its perks.

  2. ROwen
    ROwen says:

    Yes…Berkeley is quirky…and I to continue to color my hair…why…gray doesn’t suit me..and by the by…I moved back here 6 years ago and despite its quirkiness I love living here.


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