Welcome to Bean Pie And Baking.
This is a story about bean pie, and being twelve, and growing up on the fringes of Berkeley in the mid- 1980’s.
I was twelve when I came to California. My mom, Sandy, had moved out there a few years before with my brother, Frank. She had met a younger man, married, and bought a house in Emeryville, CA. The summer after 5th grade I joined my largely unfamiliar family. I looked out the window as the plane flew into Oakland and thought I had never seen such ugly, brown hills. Nothing but brown, bare hills to the right as far as I could see from my window seat. And to the left? Cold, dark water filled with metal cranes and stack after stack of enormous ocean shipping containers, all of it covered in a thin, hazy, dirty looking fog: the Port of Oakland. Anyone who knows summer in California’s Bay Area knows it runs counter to everything you think you know about summer: it’s not green, it’s not hot and it was certainly not like anything I had ever seen in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Mark Twain once said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
There were still free-boxes in Berkeley then — beat up cardboard boxes dropped off on sidewalk corners filled with used clothes and random discarded household items. There was a huge free-box at the Ashby BART station and it still soldiered on long after the other free-boxes died out. That was the spirit of Berkeley then — passionate, freewheeling, community-driven, and disarmingly odd. Berkeley-ites were a strident people of visceral politics and liberal social policies. Some had money; many had not but they all seemed to rub along together under the shared conviction of quality food: cheese, bread, coffee, lemons. People who couldn’t afford cable t.v. made space in their wallets for freshly ground peanut butter and hot cups of Peet’s coffee. Sandy was one of those people; we ate bologna sandwiches on home baked bread, but she ground her Peet’s coffee beans fresh everyday.
But we didn’t live in Berkeley. We lived in Emeryville, a place a ripple or two outside of the concentric circles of local demographics. Emeryville was full of warehouses, some deserted, some still limping along. The railroad tracks ran through Emeryville. In fact, most things ran through Emeryville, but only to get to other places. Despite its proximity to the Bay Bridge — literally five minutes from the toll plaza — Emeryville was an odd, scraggly, semi-depressed place. Perfect for people like Sandy.