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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

Amazing Grace

I have a ‘free’ day – that is I have nothing planned, so, with detailed instructions and plenty of money still on my clipper card (San Francisco’s answer to MYKI), I enter the railway station and before long I am travelling towards Richmond. I get off at the El Cerrito del Norte station where I am to catch a bus. Given instructions by a station employee to get to the bus stop (walk all the way down and it’s to your left), I'm surprised that

a) the bus stop is not with the other bus stops; and

b) I cannot find a bus stop.

I wander for a short time, walk around the block looking for this fictitious stop, and because the bus is due any minute. I really must find it – fast.

I do find it and it is nowhere near the instructions as I understood them. It is approximately 10 steps from where I had asked the station assistant. Perhaps it would have been more helpful to have told me that the stop is directly at the main entrance. Not to worry, the bus pulls up after a couple of minutes and I’m on my way to the American chain store, Walmart.

Walmart is famous for setting up brand new stores on the outer-regions of a town and sucking the life out of the established mom-and-pop stores in the downtown retail area. It’s a brutal way of treating people and businesses and the truth is that once the centre of a town is deserted and abandoned, Walmart also abandons their store and moves to the next one. So, it is a surprise to me to see this Walmart set up in a disused department store in a disused shopping centre. It’s not at all organised like every other Walmart store I've been to, but I guess it serves a purpose for those who live here. I still have a look around before getting on the bus to return to the station.

By that I mean that I got on a bus with the name of the station on the front of it. After an hour of tootling around streets of a local neighbourhood or two, the bus stopped at Richmond station and since we had about twenty stops to go before arriving where I got off the train, I scarpered as quickly as I could out of that bus and onto the station platform. I was back in Berkeley within fifteen minutes.

I think that if a neighbourhood was in decline in 2019, it is worse today. Like many of our own suburbs in Melbourne, shop after shop after shop is closed permanently. Berkeley has some fine buildings, especially old Art Deco ones that are in excellent condition. I would dearly love to see these restored and repurposed. Abandoned buildings decay quickly.

I’m also shocked to see how many people are homeless here. Living under bridges in tents, in carparks or vacant blocks of land and surrounded by their entire belongings, it is a very sad state, particularly when there are plenty of disused/abandoned buildings, especially those along the train lines. To be honest, governments spend too much money on crap and not enough money on humanity. Globally, discussions should be held on the ways in which homeless people can be house permanently housed.

My day ends at the Freight and Salvage venue; a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to preserving folk music. Founded in 1968, the original venue was inside an old furniture store. Today the venue is Prior to Judy Collins coming on stage, a short video was played that highlighted the music of the Japanese internees in California during the second World War. It highlighted not only the traditional folk music of the Japanese, but the music that evolved inside the camps and the way in which it is still handed on through generations. It was such an enlightening insight into not only the work this group does to preserve folk and roots music, but it is intent on finding music where we least expect it. I wish there was something like this in Melbourne.

Judy Collins is a marvellous entertainer. At 82 years of age, she retold wonderful stories of years of performing coupled with stories about those with whom she performed. She really is an American national treasure and I look forward to seeing her again next year at the Port Fairy Folk Festival.

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