Saturday, October 08, 2005

Storied Passage

I live on a row of little houses in the southwestern corner of Berkeley, California. Our teal bungalow with purple trim is tucked somewhere near the corner of Ashby and San Pablo Avenues. San Pablo is a main artery which runs from Crockett through the malls of El Cerrito and past Berkeley into the heart of Oakland. The strip on the edge of Oakland has changed rapidly in the past several years.

When I first moved to Berkeley, I'd drive down University Avenue on the way to the 580 freeway, and I'd pass the intersection of University and San Pablo and barely notice it. There was a cheap clothing store on the left with big signs offering shirts for $10, pants for $25. On the right was a Long's Drugs. It wasn't until I discovered Cafe Trieste that I started to feel the renaissance of San Pablo Avenue, this storied passage, the old Lincoln Highway, the final leg of America's first transcontinental highway connecting New York and San Francisco in 1913.

Since 2004, Cafe Trieste has become a hub for the neighborhoods in west and southwest Berkeley. Cafe Trieste first started serving espresso in the 1950's in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. It has deep rich coffee, wine, surly barristas, a dark wood bar, and local opera and jazz. Locals sit and sip coffee and eat almond torte and discuss Supreme Court nominees. A dad with spiked hair and tattoed biceps buys gelato for his little girl clad in a Ramones t-shirt, and Berkeley cops nurse lattes at the outdoor tables.

Next to Cafe Trieste is Good Vibrations, a brightly-lit sex shop, and then Sea Salt, a busy new restaurant that serves oysters, littleneck clams and a yellowfin tartare with orange and basil. There's also Sign-a-Rama, a bamboo nursery, a used clothing store, Omega Salvage, a pet store, the Ecology Center, dive bars, and an old butcher shop that sells rabbit and goat to immigrants from Nigeria and Guatemala. San Pablo Avenue then crosses Ashby and continues to Oakland.

The eastern terminus of the original Lincoln Highway was across the country at Times Square, near the current Lincoln Tunnel. Then it wound into New Jersey, through Jersey City and Newark and then southwest through Rahway, Edison, New Brunswick, and Trenton. From Edison, take I-287 a couple of miles to the Garden State Parkway and then cruise for about 21 miles until Exit 105 and there you are, down the shore, back at Asbury Park.


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