Check Out Time at Berkeley’s Hotel California

There she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
I was thinking to myself
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell
Then she lit up a candle
And she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor
I thought I heard them say
Welcome to the Hotel California.. .

This is the sad tale of a friend of mine. I’ll call her “Jane.”

Jane came out to Berkeley from a small town in Iowa. She was raised with home grown values: church, school, wholesome activities, and respect for others. An excellent student, Jane chose a prestigious university, Cal Berkeley, for her doctorate in education.

It was hard at first for Jane to get used to what is commonly dubbed, Berzerkely. Jane was surprised by the roughness and the toughness and the whole urban vibe. The road rage scared her, as did the psych patients who torment residents on the street. Eventually, she got used to it all, and what once seemed abnormal was now the new normal.

A year after moving here, Jane met Brian, a native of the area. The two of them started dating and within a year they were living together. Brian was very different than the boys at home: he loved to party late into the night at SF clubs. He also abused drugs. Soon the two of them were using ecstasy and coke. Jane’s grad school studies suffered as she existed under a continual haze of substances.

When Brian wasn’t around, Jane hung out with other boys. She had a few random hook-ups, something that she never did in her small town. Some of the casual encounters ended badly, for instance, the guy who stalked for her for weeks afterwards.

With Jane’s grades plummeting, her advisors spoke to her and told her that she would be expelled from her program unless she cleaned up her act. Unfortunately, Jane was too far gone at this point. She was advised to leave school, and Jane left Berkeley and returned home.

Jane’s story may seem far fetched, unbelievable. How can someone come to the SF Bay Area a relatively stable human being and end up in the drug and hook-up culture? Well, I am here to tell you that I’ve seen many Jane’s (and John’s), a few with even worse stories. For some, the temptation may not be drug and booze but the very dark underground sex scene, with its whips and chains and leather. Then there are those hook-ups with random strangers, as well as the ever present polyamorous and/or gay scenes. Some people don’t get involved in high-risk behavior, but become depressed, even suicidal, from the nihilistic spirit around them.

Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face

It’s not just the females who can go spiraling downhill. Plenty of males get into behavior they’d never even consider at home. The problem with Berkeley is that behavior unacceptable in Kentucky or Utah is not only tolerated here, but promoted. No activity is too extreme. . . and there’s no reason to feel any shame about living like some sort of baboon in the wild. And if a previously stable person like Jane could spiral downward, can you imagine what happens to the more vulnerable? They, of course, find unlimited ways to feed destructive tendencies.

Mirrors on the ceiling
The pink champagne on ice
She said, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”
And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
We are programmed to receive
You can checkout any time you like
But you can never leave.

Luckily, Jane’s story has a happy ending,

When she left Berkeley and returned home, her sanity was soon restored. Before too long, she snapped her out of her hypnotic trance altogether. She found a great job, friends, and a man who treated her right. Now married with three children, Jane looks back on her time in Berkeley, as in, “What on earth was I thinking?”

Not thinking is Berkeley and SF in a nutshell: people can become so intoxicated by all of this so-called “freedom,” that they are no longer rational human beings. Even though troubles keep mounting, they continue to indulge every primitive impulse and twisted passion. They can’t stop themselves.

Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year
Any time of year
You can find it here

But the happy ending to Jane’s story is proof positive that one can snap out of the delusion that is Berkeley. The key is to check out of the Hotel California before it’s too late. Given the severe housing shortage around here, this Hotel may appear like the only affordable digs in town. But it comes with a gigantic price. For some people, it is their soul.

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How Berkeley Has Made Me a Worse Person

It was a classic case of road rage that I engaged in not that long ago. It happened when I was running late and en route to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby suburb.

I was in a rush; I was wrong. . and I was lucky. Had I been in Berkeley or Oakland, I may not be alive to tell the tale.

Details aren’t important (and way too embarrassing to recount). Let’s just say it involved lots of road rage on my part, such as, leaning on the horn and making various gestures. (Proof positive that you can take the woman out of Berkeley — but not the Berkeley out of the woman.)

After I arrived at my destiny and my tantrum dissipated, I found a parking space in the medical pavilion. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the driver of the car in front of me was also going to the same address and parked a close distance from me.

Legitimately angry, the suburbanite headed over to me. He chastised me and asked why I kept honking at him. I immediately said that I was sorry. Luckily, he accepted the apology and walked away. I felt appropriately embarrassed and contrite.

Many inspiring stories have been written by survivors of catastrophic diseases and other near-death experiences about how the event made them a better human being. I take my hat off to all of them. But from what I witnessed from me that day in civilized suburbia, Berkeley has made me a worse person.

Now it would be very unfair to blame my bad behavior completely on Berkeley. No one forced me to lean on the horn. But there is something contagious about all the anger and negativity a person is subjected to on an almost minute-by-minute basis.

It’s probably not a coincidence that before heading off to the civilized suburb, some crazed driver swore and honked at me — for no good reason. So I started out my trek in a bad mood. And not a day goes by that someone isn’t shouting and gesticulating madly at each other.

It’s not just driving that inflames the temper around here. People can become unhinged for the slightest reason. A line that takes too long; an appointment that isn’t at the desired time; someone (horrors!) trashing a plastic bottle; anything or anyone can make someone go off the deep end.

To me, Berkeley isn’t just one of the most dangerous areas of the country — it’s one of the saddest. While all of this insanity is taking place right before our very eyes, residents maintain that they live in a sane and safe. . no – a superior part of the world. At least the residents who have the misfortune to live in downtown Detroit are under no illusions that they are “lucky.”

It’s like the story of the Emperor with no clothes. Somehow most Berkeley-ites can look beyond the trash-filled streets, the continual street harassment, the astronomical crime rates, and the hellish schools to boast about their great fortune in living around here. I suppose the alternative is to have to accept that one’s utopian dreams and aspirations are all a figment of one’s imagination.

That day in the suburbs, I had a glimpse of how the other half lives — and a reminder that what is considered normal in Berkeley is not. It was startling and humbling to spend time in an area so different than Berkeley and its surroundings. People were polite — and even smiled. No one looked so tense and frustrated that they were seconds away from blowing a gasket.

On the line at the lab, in fact, several people even joked with each other and laughed. This was a complete culture clash for someone who has spent decades operating Berkeley-style: avoiding all eye contact and assuming the worst about the next stranger.

I realized that while negativity is contagious, so is positivity. From my time in the ‘burbs, I felt more relaxed for the rest of the day. I found myself smiling at people, and being a more considerate driver — even when I got home.

The good news about my bad behavior is that I had the sense to apologize to the other driver. And I experienced quite a bit of healthy guilt afterwards about my immature outburst. I’ve also made it a point since then to try not to be another enraged Berkeley resident. I’ve had my ups and downs on the way. . but I’m trying.

So maybe Berkeley hasn’t made me such a bad person after all.

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Parents, Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Berkeleyites

There once was a popular Indian teacher named Papa G, who drew students from far and wide. People flocked to see him and hear his words of wisdom. One lucky man who was able to attend one of his retreats spoke to Papa G, with camera in hand. The visitor asked the guru what he’d like to say to the multitudes all around the world vying to come to India to see him. Papa G smiled an impish grin and said, “Stay home.”

Papa G’s words remind me a bit of Dorothy, who journeyed all around Oz, only to find that the best place of all was home. This isn’t to say that relocation isn’t sometimes in order. It may be better, at times, to move somewhere different, to see the world, if only to return, as Dorothy did, with a fresh set of eyes. But the point I want to make here is don’t, and I mean DON’T, come to Berkeley.

OK, if you want to do so for a day or two, maybe a week, come on by. Walk the mean, lean streets of Telegraph, Shattuck, and University Avenues. . hang out in SF (our “open psychiatric ward”). . .check out the drug-addled folks at People’s Park. . . and then you can judge for yourself. If you agree with me, don’t, I repeat, DON’T, let your kids or anyone else you care about move here.

I say this even if you have to practice the toughest love imaginable with your beloved progeny. If your son or daughter insists that they want to go to UC Berkeley or SF State, do a Nancy Reagan: Just Say No. I realize that, if they are over l8, they are free agents. But you still have power over the purse strings. If you won’t contribute a dime to their education, they may reconsider.

I don’t say this to be harsh; but to give you advice that may be some of the best you’ve ever heard. It comes from someone in the trenches, who came here and has since regretted it as one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I suppose I should have gotten a clue when the first moment I landed here, a straggly, homeless guy was clearly eyeing my backpack. It was only my New York City street smarts that prevented him from obtaining it.

Now, in my ripe older years, I may not be able to get out of here so easily, unless I win the lottery (which I suppose I’d have to actually play to win). But at least my time here wouldn’t have been wasted if I can warn a few people.

And if you are already here, go home! If you have a parent somewhere else, a distant cousin twice removed, it doesn’t matter, go live with them for a while until you get situated. This is not a good place to settle down. In fact, it is one of the darkest places around.

Stay here long enough, and you may be mugged, maybe worse. Certainly you’ll have a close friend who will be. Rampant street crime is an ever present reality here, like the much heralded fog.

Or, if not outright bloodied, your car will be stolen or burglarized along with your phone and/or computer. (A recent study showed that the Bay Area boasted most of the cities with the highest car thefts; just another reason for the ordinary citizen to feel proud!) Perhaps even worse, you may become so psychically numb that when you see an old man with a black eye, or hear of a friend with a concussion, you’ll just pass that off as part and parcel of living in such a “wondrous” place.

There isn’t just street crime around here, as bad as that is: there’s violence so sinister that it’s pure, unadulterated evil. A teacher beat up by students in her own classroom. A high school girl gang raped and beaten unconscious by a gauntlet of boys. An elderly woman raped, beaten unconscious, and dumped amidst the pile of old tires at a car repair station (she died after being in a coma for a year).

All this crime has been covered up, by the way, by people who don’t want to see what they don’t want to see, and, therefore, have their balloon busted or (God forbid!) witness their real estate values plummet. This is nasty, vicious stuff that can only be explained by a dark force so powerful that it’s controlling much of the place.

It’s not a coincidence, I think, that the Church of Satan opened in SF in the 1960s (the “Hotel California,” was purportedly written about the “church.”). And Patty Hearst was kidnapped in Berkeley, around the same time that the city of Oakland was held hostage by the mayhem of the Black Panthers and other radicals. This area has a long history of extreme violence, much of it excused and tolerated. Not much has changed.

I don’t get the allure of this God-forsaken place. . .oh, wait, yes, I do! It drew me here decades ago. But one of the saddest sightings is a teenage, hippie couple sitting on the streets of the filthy downtown or Telegraph Avenue. They came here from a decent place like Minneapolis with high hopes of peace and love and flowers in one’s hair. Their haunted faces show what they found instead.

Your son or daughter or your beloved nephew may have heard the same hype, that the Bay Area is a truly happening place to be. As I said, reality is suppressed and reconstructed. But if your loved ones are California Dreaming, there are far saner locales. Check out the private colleges down south, as well as nicer public ones: UC Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego, UCLA.

But there’s something menacing in the air around Berkeley, and it contaminates the whole place. Mark my words: if you child comes out here, he will change. Even if he doesn’t become part of the darkness, something inside of him will die. Perhaps it’s his spirit or his innocence; but the light inside of him will dim. It may revive if he has the wherewithal to get out of here before it’s too late. But he may never be the same.

So I say this, not simply as someone coveting all the nonexistent parking spaces. I speak out as a veteran of a war that no one seems to know is going on. Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be Berkeleyites. Remember the immortal words of Papa G, “Stay home.”

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