The African Rain tree in Jeanne Pimental's South-West Berkeley neighborhood which appears pleasingly diverse on the eve of July 4th. Photo: Jeanne Pimental
The African Rain tree in Jeanne Pimentel’s Southwest Berkeley neighborhood which appeared pleasingly diverse a couple of days before July 4th. Photo: Jeanne Pimentel
The African Rain tree in Jeanne Pimentel’s Southwest Berkeley neighborhood which appeared pleasingly diverse a couple of days before July 4th. Photo: Jeanne Pimentel

By Jeanne Pimentel

Wednesday, 8 p.m. Time to catch up on today’s World Cup results, but first some exercise before the sun sets.  

I walk up the block to Strawberry Creek Park, but instead of turning left to the creekside lawns where birds, children, and dogs prevail, I turn right to the series of sports courts that line the rear of the block of apartment houses uncharacteristic of our neat, single-family-home neighborhood, and sometimes called the projects or the “barri-ghetto.”

On the first open basketball court, just vacated by Berkeley Youth Alternative’s “Twilight Team” of local, mostly African-American schoolgirls, is a middle-aged white woman practicing Tai-Chi. On the second, a local father and son are shooting hoops. In the first of the enclosed courts it’s soccer, played on asphalt partly covered with the shredded remains of green surface material.

A small crowd stands on the pathway watching the teams of mostly Latino men playing with intensity matched by their agility. It is surprisingly quiet, and very disciplined. There are no apparent uniforms; the boundaries are lines of concrete blocks up against the fence, so there’s no throwing in from outside, just scuffling the ball back into play. I don’t see a referee or any officials, but the teams change ends and switch out players with swift efficiency — there seem to be plenty of eager and skilled participants.

After enjoying watching for a while, I walk on, smiling happily. One or two people catch my eye and return my smile, but I, an older white woman, seem to be invisible in this scene. And I feel quite safe, at home in my village.

I pass the next court, rigged for tennis and the least frequented, then the last one, where a mixed race and gender volleyball game is going on, watched only by a dog and the children of the players.

Coming home along a street of small houses, including classic Berkeley bungalows and the occasional Victorian, many with flower gardens glowing in the late sunlight, I catch sight of a woman in a moslem headscarf hurrying indoors with her children, and a turbaned Indian man cycling home.

Turning the corner, I wave to the Japanese family across the street from my house, where I admire the African Rain Tree in full golden bloom, my contribution (with help from the City of Berkeley) to our treelined street, usually quiet except when the fire engines and police cars use it as a short-cut to downtown, or a local gang member uses the intersection to do doughnuts, leaving behind smoke and the acrid smell of burning rubber.

We’re getting ready for our Fourth of July block party, the biggest of the homegrown events that include earthquake-prep meetings, Christmas caroling, and pumpkin carving parties. My hungry cat greets me as I open my door.

Jeanne Pimentel is a semi-retired editor who has lived in Southwest Berkeley for 15 years.

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