Since the Bay Area was put under a shelter-in-place order I’ve been walking two miles a day, always observing six-foot social distancing and, lately, wearing an N95 mask. (I prefer the term safe-at-home to shelter-in-place — the former evokes thoughts of baseball, the latter thoughts of angry men with guns — so I’ll use safe-at-home from now on.) A local news outlet commissioned this video to give you an idea what outdoor Berkeley is like these days, but why don’t we take a ground-level tour? (Full disclosure: my walk extends into Albany, the town immediately north.)

If you haven’t been to Berkeley, you probably think of it as a place where the Hippie Era never died, where everyone’s first language is Political Correctness, and where Marxist professors dine at Chez Panisse while thousands of homeless people subsist on handouts from the local Food Project. That is the media stereotype, after all.

And there’s some truth in it. But it’s far from the whole story.

One of the nice things about Berkeley is that a greater-good mentality is common. The safe-at-home order is routinely honored, to the point where this cheery exhortation is nearly superfluous.

Here’s what Solano Avenue, normally a clogged commercial drag, often looks like nowadays.

This is after 10 AM!

The side streets are deserted too.

Shoppers patiently wait their turn to get into the local produce store while masked and maintaining proper distance.

And neighbors post teddy bears in the window so kids can count them rather than morbidly fixate on why adults act so terrified of each other.

Plus we’re united against hate!

That’s the reality beyond the stereotype, and it’s paying off. Berkeley did not suffer a COVID-19 death until last Wednesday. As of April 9, Stanford Medicine counted only 116 COVID-19 deaths in the entire Bay Area; contrast that with poor New York. The region is gaining recognition for handling the pandemic well. This article in The Atlantic even insinuates that San Francisco mayor London Breed forced the national shutdown of professional sports!

But a few of our fellow citizens are indeed using the pandemic to further their pet causes. Exhibit One: the radio-wave paranoiacs.

On an elevated BART track pillar. Who’s going to take seriously a doctor named Andy Kaufman?

Exhibit Two: the old-guard commies prompting us to rise against our oppressors.

This is effectively happening, but not because of anything a few Trotskyites said or scrawled.

Lest you think Berkeley exclusively hosts left-wing loons, this business blames our Democratic governor — who on the pandemic has out-shone every state chief executive, including the dour Andrew Cuomo, whose East Coast media sycophants have become legion for reasons I do not comprehend — for its closure.

And what does this fine establishment purvey? Alcohol and tobacco.

This reeks of classic right-wing rebelliousness, that “you can’t tell me what to do” insistence on stupidity because freedom. Although that attitude may be more prevalent elsewhere, rest assured it has a home in Berkeley, too.

Wait, did I just see more teddy bears?

Yes! Thank you Berkeley (and Albany). I am yours in solidarity. Now stay safe — and keep your distance.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

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