On a beautiful, balmy mid-February day, DPaul and I were compelled to undertake a field trip to Berkeley. Shocking, but true: We actually crossed the bridge.
Our main impetus for this excursion was to go to Sari Palace on University Ave to pick up a couple of Jodhpuri suits that we had had made for Saturday night's Mardi Gras event. This in itself is reason enough to go to Berkeley; we each had a gorgeously embroidered, beaded and brocaded suit made custom for less than off-the-rack at Men's Wearhouse.
But it was a lovely day, and as long as we found ourselves out in the Eastern colonies, we opted to avail ourselves to one of my greatest pleasures, Urban Ore. A self-proclaimed "ecopark," Urban Ore is a scavenge yard chockablock with the detritus and flotsam of countless renovations or demolitions. While it's not the place to go if you're looking for something very specific, you are almost certain to find something you didn't know you needed.
In a past life, when I was doing theatrical set and prop design, I practically lived at Urban Ore. When your budget is under $100 and you need to effectively build and furnish an entire house, this is where you start.
Urban Ore is not pretty. Nor is it glamorous. It is one step up from the county dump. But it is at least loosely organized. Outside are the suburban tracts of larger household items: Toilettown, Doorville, Window Heights.
That's all good and well, but inside is where things get really interesting. Urban Ore's vacuous interior is like a tenement of the damned, full of long-lost treasures of unknown provenance. Headless dolls. Orphaned family photo albums. Electronic devices so obsolete you cannot even imagine their original purpose.
Predictably, there is a general funk of dust and stagnation, the smell of thousands of attics and basements carried in with the artifacts. But as you move from one area to another, you get the occasional olfactory assault of something less benign yet no less familiar: The scent of decay. One can only imagine the number of deceased mice, rats and who knows what else hidden beneath the mountainous stacks of miscellania.
And yet it is all simultaneously macabre and wondrous, an outsider artist's dream. I always walk away reeling with ideas for massive and misguided art projects. It brings out my inner child, the one whose creative yen was fulfilled in my prop-making days. Of course I want to glue random hardware all over a broken toilet. Don't you?
But then reason gets the better of me. I dust off my hands, we get back in the car and, eschewing my mental mud pies for the mantle of a respectable middle-class capitalist, trundle down to Fourth Street.
1052 University Ave (at 10th), Berkeley
900 Murray St (near 7th/Ashby), Berkeley