The largest city I had been in since September was Santa Rosa – population 150,000 – so it was a considerable shock to be surrounded by what seemed like an otherworldly amount of traffic when I crossed the Golden Gate. Could this many cars really exist?
I took transit to the East Bay and set up at Rachel and Jake’s, a contact I had made at Harbin a few weeks before. The apartment was a block away from Lake Merritt, the placid waterbody at Oakland’s heart. My first day, I visited the local farmer’s market and tried to adjust to the speed of the city. The second day was the Super Bowl: I cycled into Golden Gate Park and watched the game at one of Rachel’s friends living off Haight Street.
That night, we went to a bar in Berkeley a few blocks from the campus. Televisions were in every sightline and I found it hard to maintain my concentration or my conversation. I watched highlights of the game for sometime and then went upstairs to the patio. This guy leaned over to me, spilling a drink on my shoes: ”that’s the best beard I’ve ever seen!” I felt angry with myself, caught between isolation and belonging, like discovering a hole in a favourite pair of socks.