Baby got Berk

By Roy Ribitzky

Maria Uminski/Collegian

“Is Baby Berk out here? Oh…YES!” shouted drunken residents as they stumbled outside John Adams Hall at two in the morning one Wednesday night.

This is something I take issue with regarding our new mobile food service, and I am not alone. Baby Berk, a large truck that has built-in grills, fryers, freezers and refrigerators to serve burgers and fries at almost all times of the day is great for students like me who travel all over campus and work a night job. After some time, though, I came to find Baby Berk’s timing and location in the Southwest Area problematic.

The problem arose when I came back to John Adams after 4 a.m. on a weekend and saw Baby Berk, parked in the John Adams lot, surrounded by a huge crowd of people. And it was loud. As I looked around, I could see the annoyed look of residents on lower floors in the surrounding buildings. On top that, the entire JA “stoop” – the stairs leading up to the entrance – was cluttered with trash.

“OK, OK, it’s a Saturday night, people are out,” I thought to myself initially. Then it continued day after day.

What messages are we sending to students, especially about Southwest? I can say proudly that I am living in Southwest for my fourth consecutive year; I love this place. I also recognize, however, the many stereotypes surrounding “Swesties” and basic media portrayals of college students. And you know what? Not everyone stays awake until the sun comes up. Not everyone binge drinks, and some people don’t drink at all. Not everyone goes on screaming rants outside residence halls. Unfortunately, some students Baby Berk has attracted in the John Adams lot perpetuate those stereotypes, and that is not fair to students or to Baby Berk.

“Baby Berk is slated to be in operation seven days a week. During the weekdays, students can expect to look out for the truck from around noon to midnight, and from about 5 p.m. to the early morning hours during the weekend,” read the Daily Collegian’s September article unveiling Baby Berk.

It is not just the weekends that Baby Berk leaves a bundle of trash in the area. When it isn’t raining, Baby Berk has been outside of JA,  John Quincy Adams, Prince, and Patterson and MacKimmie on some school nights until 2 a.m.

Hayley Mandeville of John Adams summarized her feelings about Baby Berk’s late night presence in the JA lot.

“I think Baby Berk is good in the sense of when the DCs are closed, people need a place to eat, and it’s great when they feed the construction workers and staff [during the day],” she said. “But at night they are more of a disturbance than anything when it parks itself in residential areas between buildings [drawing] large crowds that normally wouldn’t be out there.”

“I’m not the only person who dislikes being woken up or who’s been woken up, [especially by Baby Berk] at 1:30 in the morning and the crowd that it draws,” she added, “nor do I like walking to class at 8:00 a.m. having to navigate through the hamburger buns, paper plates, fries and trash, especially when it’s raining – it’s disgusting.”

The police response has been less than supportive. On numerous occasions, the UMass Police Department has been called for excessive noise and brawls in the Baby Berk crowd. Their response? “Call UMass Dining.”  It’s not likely that they’ll be there at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night.

But the lack of police support does not end there. What are we to do when an ambulance is called to transport a student with alcohol poisoning and this massive truck and rowdy crowd is packed into an already tight space? Thankfully we haven’t had to test that out, but if it were to happen, I doubt UMPD would need extra motivation to call UMass Dining themselves.

In the Collegian article, Ken Toong said, “Wherever the truck is parked, there will be a whole line of customers. It’s a good way to build community with good food, not very expensive and have nice conversation.”

The only community building witnessed so far has not been because of the line formed waiting for the food, but the liquid courage flowing through the students at four in the morning and the anger floormates express to each other when they couldn’t get enough sleep the night before because Baby Berk was inconveniently parked outside their window.

We have to think of the precedent, however unintentional, Baby Berk is setting. Some students in the Baby Berk crowd are out later every night disturbing other residents and trash is left all over the place for students to tiptoe through and maintainers to clean up, as if they didn’t enough to deal with already. It’s just inconsiderate.

So what can we do about this? While having students vote on Facebook and Twitter for Baby Berk to come to their location is a great community builder, Mandeville thinks that Baby Berk should “stick to centralized parts of campus. A centralized place where people know it will be. At the John Adams parking lot, it draws even more people here. We don’t need any extra selling points of Southwest.”

There is no doubt UMass Dining is tapping into the late night ordering and delivery market in Amherst, and good for them for doing so. If they are willing to invest in expensive trucks, though, why not instead open the dining commons on weekends until 2 a.m.? If that can’t work, I’m sure UMass Dining would love to get positive criticism and ideas, so give them a call or send them an e-mail.

Either way, let’s open up a discussion about what students and UMass Dining can do to better serve the community.

Roy Ribitzy is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]