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 — with no accountability.

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 just 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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