Nurse Ratched, I mean my friend Marge, was determined to get her morning caffeine fix.
To be fair, she also thought it was important to get me mobile post-back surgery (long story, will spare you the boring saga, let’s just say chronic pain is, like, you know, a total downer).
Once ambulatory (funny word that, means walking but makes me think of being carted off in an ambulance), it was time to share my sore and sorry self with the rest of the world.
Shuffling down the street I wish I had hiking poles to propel me forward faster. An impatient patient, the stitches in my back make moving swiftly impossible. During early outings, this one included, I’m on the look out for anything unpredictable — namely dogs, little kids, skateboarders, dodgy characters, and rev heads behind the wheels of fast cars. I have renewed respect and empathy for the elderly and infirm trying to go about their business in a hyper-mobile, sped-up world.
We’re on a mission, Marge and I. She’s walking at her usual fast clip, or so it seems to crippled me, knowing that a well-brewed, steaming cup of Joe is in her future. Me? I’m just grateful to be up and out and taking one small step at a time towards recovery.
The surgeon’s directives were pretty clear: lots of little walks, frequently. Naturally, we ignore this sound advice and opt for one long walk — maybe 20 minutes tops, which probably took us twice as long ’cause of the aforementioned shuffle.
I thought I was going to pass out at one point. But eventually we made it. Then there was the humiliation of doing my duck waddle for all the groovy, young, able-bodied, early risers to see. I needn’t have worried. No quizzical looks as I headed out the back of my local.
I now have a local cafe, which makes me happy. Coincidentally enough, it’s called Local 123. I first heard about the place, which I have whizzed by a zillion times in the car, from a local restauranteur I interviewed prior to going under the knife.
So I stopped by that very day, on foot and hungry, and discovered what I’d been missing in my hurry to hot tail it out of my neighborhood. Friendly peeps, sweet space, super cool back patio with a Euro cafe vibe. Simple, satisfying eats.
Just what my neighborhood needed. Since then my son and I have eaten here for lazy Saturday lunches. I meet friends for breakfast or lunch.
Lots of people rave about the locally-roasted Flying Goat Coffee. Personally, I like their chai and anything they slather with tapenade.
The gals who own the year-old joint showcase local ingredients and artwork by local residents. They hold urban homesteading workshops and film and music soirees.
Local 123 became both part of my rehab and a go-to destination during those two weeks when I was pretty much under house arrest. At least, that’s how it felt to me, since I couldn’t drive. Friends played taxi, but getting in and out of a car at the time: Not fun. Sitting sucked, lying down didn’t bring much relief. What helped: The simple act of walking.
Former colleagues planned a dinner during my recuperation at a sustainable seafood joint I could stroll to, which is close to several stores selling ethnic food items. It’s easy to pick up the fixings for homemade tortillas, dal, and paella in one shopping excursion.
I realized I could walk to three farmers’ markets. Normally, busy schlepping from one kid-related sporting event or another, I’d just do a quick swing through the market by car.
My son and I discovered it was fun to go to the market under our own steam. He biked. I’d shuffle. Since I couldn’t carry anything over 10 pounds, his dad ferried food home for us. Not sure if the peaches would have survived hanging from the bike handles.
In actuality, this enforced slowdown predated surgery by about six weeks, when my chronic injury took a dramatically acute turn for the worse.
Thinking like the temporarily disabled person I was, I’d plan interviews in walking distance of my house. Of the 20 or so profiles of local food folks I’ve done to date this year, almost half are within a 20 minute amble of where I live.
It’s true, Berkeley is blessed with a crazy number of culinary types, but who knew I was in such close proximity to so many of them?
The South Berkeley neighborhood I now call home is relatively new to me, though I’ve lived in this gown town for seven years.
When I first moved to my current digs in November 2007, I didn’t do a lot of exploring. I figured I knew Berkeley by then and continued with my regular routines.
I have a theory about moving, whether across town, interstate, or over oceans: It takes two years before you feel like you belong. The first year is about adjusting to the unfamiliar.
The second year, you feel more settled. This time around — we’re talking seven moves in 12 years — it took an unexpected injury to help me get better acquainted with my local area.
And now it’s home. Turns out, there are loads of good eats here, some of them homegrown. People around the corner keep chickens, there’s a community flower and vegetable garden down the street, a gourmet grocer, and a community kitchen a few blocks away.
Just today I learned that next to that seafood restaurant an authentic pizzeria is set to open soon, with a chef from Naples on board and owners with a rep for running popular chowhouses in town.
I’m back behind the wheel and exploring beyond my ‘hood again, but it’s good to know that I can walk out my door — striding, these days, thanks for asking — and find fresh food a short stroll away.
Your turn: Can you frequent food venues on foot or do you have to drive to go anywhere you’d want to eat? How does walking to a fav eatery impact your quality of life?
Photo of Local 123 back patio by Rochelle Bourgault.