The ultimate urban hike–the Solano Stroll

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photo collage courtesy of Solano Avenue Association’s website

I think I’ve missed only one Solano Stroll since we moved back to Berkeley 11 years ago. It’s just the funnest block party ever. And by “block,” I mean the mile of Solano Avenue that goes from San Pablo Avenue in Albany up to the Alameda in Berkeley. People who don’t live in the neighborhood have to deal with parking, but since I live a block off Solano, I just walk there.

I love the diversity of all kinds: toddlers and octogenarians rocking out to the Back Pages, belly dancers and tap dancers, people of many races wearing glittery costumes or t-shirts with slogans who are listening to music, watching martial arts demos, talking to political candidates, and checking out the local preschools, theaters, associations, and, of course eating everything fromimg_2279 Zachary’s slices on the street to sitting down at Fonda’s outdoor space for a meal and cocktails.

One thing I notice about Solano Strollers is their love of hats. Part of it is just trying to keep the sun out of their eyes, I’m sure, but yesterday’s stroll was cloudy about 97 percent of the time. Of course, many different kinds of head-wear were available for purchase at the Stroll, from knit children’s caps to wide-brimmed straw hats to cat-ear headbands. I get the feeling that a lot of people buy these and wear them right away but then forget about them after the novelty wears off because I don’t see many of these hats any other time of year. Just a theory.

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After walking the length of Solano Avenue, avoiding kids on skateboards and scooters, refusing the leaflets handed out by the hundreds, resisting the churros and kettle corn, and just being among thousands of people, I slipped into the Albany Theater for a welcome respite. During the Stroll, old cartoons are shown continuously all day for free, and tired parents bring their children in to rest in the cool dark space. Of course these kids are probably imagining Dora the Explorer or Spongebob, and they are confronted with weird adult-oriented humor that sometimes borders on racist or misogynist using animation techniques from well before the Nixon administration, often with out-of-date references. I heard a toddler loudly exclaim to her mother, “I don’t like this.” One cartoon relied on the audience being able to read a note written in cursive handwriting in order to understand the action. Most children can’t read cursive until at least third grade, and really little kids can’t read at all. But it made me even more grateful for Pixar. And it was a good spot to update my Facebook status and take a breather.

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my groupie pin!

My agenda for the Stroll always has two major components: enjoying my favorite Stroll band, the Back Pages, and arriving early enough to get a good seat for the Katie’s Dance Studio performance. Neither ever disappoints.

Although I am somewhat crowd-averse and never attend big arena concerts anymore, I relish being able to wander down on foot what is a busy thoroughfare the other 364 days of the year.

It’s comforting to recognize the people running the booths for local businesses and organizations. I smile knowing that Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (which is actually not in Berkeley but in Kensington) will be there alongside the East Bay Atheists and the Berkeley Buddhist Priory. I love running into people whom I know from various aspects of my life: past students and their parents, fellow singers, neighbors, former colleagues, and people I’m sure I’ve seen around somewhere before, if only at last year’s Stroll. It feels like a huge family outing but with less stress.

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And a lovely thing happened to me in a situation that could have been tense and embarrassing. I’d used my cash to buy my lunch earlier but saw many happy people exiting As You Wish, the frozen yogurt place. I was tempted by the idea of some frozen yogurt during the short warm spell in the afternoon. Luckily I spied the sticker that let me know I could use my debit card. I gleefully served myself a little chocolate, cookies and cream, pomegranate-raspberry tart, and something called Italian tart. Then I scattered some granola and crushed cookies on top. Yum. I put my frozen concoction on the scale, and the cashier gave me the total. I opened my phone/wallet to retrieve my MasterCard, but it wasn’t there. I searched all my pockets. No luck. I checked for hidden cash. Nothing. I apologized profusely and started to walk away from my cup of yogurt, but the person behind the register told me to take it anyway. I started to refuse, not wanting to take advantage of her kindness, but I realized she wouldn’t be able to sell it anyway, so I promised to come back with the money I owed soon. She just smiled. I’m going there later today to pay my debt. And I know that I’ll be a regular customer at As You Wish.

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2 thoughts on “The ultimate urban hike–the Solano Stroll

  1. I’m not a fan of crowds but live vicariously through stories like these. It sounds quite interesting! And how nice was that of the yogurt lady! Hope you found your card though ’cause that would suck =\

    1. Oh, I realized I’d left it in the pocket of my jacket, which I’d left at home, stupidly. So I wasn’t too worried. But it’s not like I could drive back home to get it because I wasn’t in my car, and it was about a 20 minute walk, after which I wouldn’t be able to drive back because the street was closed to vehicle traffic. But I drove there the next day.

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