A stranger discovers Berkeley with a local

By Nan Silver-Alvarez Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday June 16, 2001

I was rushing out the door heading to Ozzie’s 80th birthday party/fund-raiser at his namesake lunch counter at the Elmwood Pharmacy, when the phone rang.  

The strongly accented sweet, young male voice on the other end of the receiver told me he was Martine, from Buenos Aires.  

He explained that he knew a dear friend of mine. She gave him my name and number in the hope I had a room in my house for him, and a willingness to play host and guide.  

Martine had come from the straightest possible arrow.  

He had spent the last five years as financial analyst for a top British bank with a branch in Buenos Aires.  

My idea of a Bay Area travel guide was one you would never find in any book. I was out to blow the mind of this 30-something Argentinean M.B.A. 

“If you can get here in less than half an hour, I’ll take you to a very different first stop on our tour de force.” Martine made it.  

We left for Ozzie’s 80th, and we arrived just in time for a toast to the honorable maitre d’ of the political hang out of the Berkeley left.  

If was over B.L.T.s and milkshakes that rent control was strengthened and candidates for the Berkeley left political party, commonly called the B.C.A. or Berkeley Citizens’ Action, were chosen. Ozzie’s – its placemats sporting nostalgic photos of luncheonette memorabilia with “counter culture” written on top – still remains a good eatery and a speakeasy for diehards. 

At the Nabolum Bakery up the street, a woman named Georgia had a photographic gallery of fine black and white Ozzie lunch counter photos honoring Ozzie who more than soda jerked on the corner of College Avenue and Russell Street for an astounding 40 years. No one works 40 years anywhere for anything any more. Ozzie was hosting folks everyday, and he was Berkeley’s unvoted mayor for more than four terms.  

He and Fidel Castro will go down in history for the longest amount of time doing people leadership.  

It was truly an Elmwood experience with the local shops joining in to celebrate this notable networker and legend.  

There were Save Ozzie’s lunch counter T-shirts and information on the political aspects for the saving of both the pharmacy and lunch counter. It is definitely a Berkeley grassroots movement founded on the need for good drugs and gourmet California cuisine sandwiches. 

Martine was a bit confused and impressed. He had never seen a lunch counter in a pharmacy, let alone one that had become a political focus. I heard him whispering to himself, “Save Ozzie’s! Save the pharmacy!”  

I thought I also heard him say something like “La gente unido could save this pharmacito!” Travels with Martine had just begun. 

Late that night, very late, so late we didn’t have to pay the cover, we went down to Ashkenaz on San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Street, to dance the last numbers of the Californian Cajun Orchestra. The beautiful, spacious dance floor was not crowded.  

There were lots of smiling faces. The atmosphere was wholesome and down to earth – just the way David Nadel always envisioned. Even though David was shot and killed one night by an unruly customer, the glory and uniqueness of his dance hall remains a constant memory of him for Berkeleyans. 

Dancing with Martine is like the first mouthful of the fudge sundae at Rivoli’s on Solano Avenue.  

It’s like the cream and the Hog (that’s my nickname for Hagen Daz), and the hot homemade fudge merge together with your saliva into a smooth texture that rolls down your mouth from the back of your throat. Your whole inner being becomes wet and juicy with the overwhelming sweetness. The buzz starts at the top of your head and sends this incredible flash of pure contentment through your sympathetic, parasympathetic and down right compassionate system till you feel rushes of emotion – mostly the utmost sensual pleasure and ultimate satisfaction.  

There is a saying that Argentineans dance before they walk. The expression came about after the birth of Martine.  

I think you get the idea. 

We started out the next morn biking to the middle of the UC Berkeley campus to drink lattes at the Free Speech Café.  

We were moving slowly towards the Himalayan Fair, the annual event at Live Oak Park that is probably the closest I’ll come to Katmandu. Amid the scents of India, one walks through hundreds of stands some with authentic Himalayan arts and crafts, some with exotic foods, and some selling Ayuveda remedies.  

Tibetan dance and music from the stage area resound around this “mercado” of flavors.  

Martine bought an incense holder, a hashish pipe, and worry beads. I was seduced by this Ayuveda cure that contains special pure water that a crew of Hawaiian divers dove 2,000 miles down under into a secret cave to extract.  

The water is mixed with this sap that comes out of certain trees that grow only in the Himalayas. It is probably a “bubbameiser,” (grandmother’s story) but I was so intrigued with the “salesman’s” enthusiastic Elmer Gantry style that in a trance I bought a case.  

I took the bottles home only to discover that it tasted like tap water with a bit of piss in it. I think the bottle says you may not feel effects for the first six months, except a bad taste in your mouth after swallowing. 

On Wednesday, we went to the Tool Lending Library at the South Branch Berkeley Public Library, where we were taken on a V.I.P. equipment tour delivered in Martine’s native tongue.  

Martine wants to start an entrepreneurial version in Buenos Aires of this Berkeley socialist venture. Good luck,Charlie! 

Martine left the next day for Seattle to watch a woman channel a 1,000 -year-old wise man. (I don’t think I get that channel.) He will be back in a week or so and Travels with Martine will continue in the Daily Planet. Happy trails till then! 



This is the first part of a short series written by Nan Silver-Alvarez, a Berkeley resident.