I moved to El Cerrito in 1998 after living in Southern California nearly all my life (I was born in Texas, but other than having a powerful affinity for hush puppies, I don't consider myself Texan). I came up here to interview for a job and promptly fell in love with the Northern California weather and the views of the bay. The ocean down south seemed so boring in comparison, what with having no bridges or mountains or abandoned prison islands to break up the view.
I still remember the first time I drove to the top of Moeser to see what was said to be a spectacular view of the bay. I got out of my car, turned around to look and thought — Wow, that's some really thick fog. I can't see a freakin' thing. El Cerrito is no brazen hussy who shows her goodies all year round; no, she likes to wrap herself in a blanket of fog and make you wait a little. Especially in the summer. Or when you're trying to sell a house with a view.
The longer I live here, the better El Cerrito gets. (I'm not trying to establish causality here, I'm just noticing.) First of all, the city has awesome pavement now. It's practically award-winning pavement. When I first moved here, my street looked like it had been pelted with asteroids — if you wanted to skateboard on it you would have needed a board with suspension. Now my street is like butter, only black and unyielding, the way butter-like streets should be.
Since I've been here, El Cerrito has also gotten a new swim center, rebuilt the shopping plaza and evolved a Fourth of July party that would make Thomas Jefferson weep with joy. (I've heard he was a big fan of world music.)
Then there's the beautiful new high school, with its cushy, high-tech high school theater. I'm pretty sure we have the best high school theater in the world. U2 will be booking a concert there any day now and Pink will be begging to suspend herself from its ceiling. Because how could they not? It's a fantastic theater, and in fact, the recently made it their home. I love telling people that El Cerrito has its own opera because I think it makes them think more highly of me — yes, I'm the kind of person who lives in a town with an opera. And did I mention that we also have a live theater over at the ? Forget "," we're practically "Puny New York." Especially now that we're getting our very own .
Ah, the brewpub. How my heart did flutter when I learned that there would soon be excellent handcrafted brewskies over at Elevation 66 — just as soon as their local and federal permits come through. I'm damn close to calling the feds myself and demanding that they get those permits processed, because what else are they doing that's more important? Really.
Speaking of beer, El Cerrito has one of the few movie theaters around where you can get some. Or wine, if that's your preference — the is happy to accommodate. Plus, they have tasty pizza and sweet potato fries and all sorts of yummy other stuff. I'm thinking that maybe Elevation 66, which is but a couple of doors away, could run taps to each of the chairs at the Cerrito Theater, thus providing fresh beer to a thirsty audience. (Note to my teenage friends: No.)
I love that El Cerrito is backed up to lovely Wildcat Canyon, where I've spent many happy hours hiking and mountain biking. (Though not, of course, at dusk through dawn, because I prefer not to become cougar kibble.) You can enter the canyon via Rifle Range or go around to the Alvarado entrance in Richmond, ride along the canyon floor for several miles, then hook into the Tilden Park trail system.
For shorter outings, there's the quiet trail around the Boy Scout camp. The back side of Camp Herms is all nature-y and peaceful, and at twilight you can hear the coyotes singing in the canyon below. They're probably singing about the prodigiously stupid wild turkeys who like to impede traffic on Moeser — those birds could make every day a coyote Thanksgiving.
But maybe the best thing about El Cerrito is the people.
For example, there's Shielaugh, who works at the and is always willing to help me out when I have (once again) screwed up my kids' summer camp schedule.
There are the , who are awesome. I've needed their professional services a couple of times — once when my house was broken into and once when I came home to find some weird guy in my front yard — and they've always been responsive and friendly. The EC Police force includes the most excellent Officer Caputo, who rides with the El Cerrito High School (we have a mountain bike team!) and is one of the funniest, nicest guys around. One time he took the whole team out to (we have a Jamba Juice!) after a training ride, because... well...I don't actually know why. My feeling is, if you go for a long bike ride with a cop, and he wants to buy smoothies afterwards, you don't ask questions. (I should note here that no municipal funds were used for this smoothiefest of joy.)
And finally there are my new neighbors, who are hip and energetic and play bongo drums. They invited my husband, me and our three kids to a barbecue at their house one Saturday evening. They fed us a delightful dinner and some tasty beer and — even though they don't have kids themselves — they cleverly knew to turn on a movie for our younger kids when they got restless.
There are fine people moving into our town, I'm telling you.
Maybe they like the pavement.