When we first moved to Albany, I thought of it as a decent, reasonably safe place in the east bay that’s close enough to SF, which is, of course, the center of the universe. There is plenty of stuff within walking distance, including Solano Ave shopping and dining. Berkeley culture is just a few blocks away. And I could garden to my heart’s content.
But after being here for a couple years, it came to seem a little too sleepy, a little too cool and foggy for kick-ass tomatoes (and other fruits), a bit too far away for genuinely impromptu trips into the City, and at the back end of the some of the worst traffic in the Bay Area. Not only that, but most of the shops and restaurants seemed a far cry from the hip joints found in neighborhoods like Rockridge, Elmwood, and even 4th St, much less places in the City. It seemed like a sort of overpriced suburb.
Maybe it just takes time, maybe it takes having a kid, or maybe it just takes a change of perspective, but I think I have come to see that the most valuable quality of this place is the sense of community, and in fact, the actual community. It sounds kinda hokey, but going to community events and seeing so many friendly faces really gives one a sense of place and stability. There is always something going on, like July 4th pancake breakfasts at the Veterans Memorial Building, parades of soccer kids and high school bands, Santa Claus visiting on a fire engine, a month of music in the park, and on and on. The latest event to bring everyone together was a dinner to celebrate Albany’s centennial. The entire town was invited to come down to Solano Ave for dinner, music and dancing in the street. It was an absolute blast. And there are not too many places around here where you can put a couple thousand people together in the street with loud music and alcohol and have it all come off without trouble.
Before it starts to sound too much like a Norman Rockwell cover, consider that many of the everyday folks who live here are recent transplants from the SF or other nearby cities looking for a safe place to raise their kids. The place is chock full of interesting people. So it turns out the likelihood of meeting a parent who is either a punk musician, artist, surgeon, web programmer, scientist, landscape architect, or [fill in the blank] ready to pound a few beers and dance in the street is really very high. A conversation ranges from avant garde music to research on climate change, to bluegrass, to growing apricots, and of course to progressive politics. So, I am loving my community. I am sorry I doubted you.