Twas the night before New Year's Eve and the Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue was peacefully licking its wounds after a recent spate of violence and a boycott.
The new owner, Craig Becker, 59, was taking his first vacation since he took over the Med more than three years ago. He had left the caffe in the hands of a triumvirate of loyal employees—something that surprised regulars.
Becker has been a one man management team. He buys the food and supplies and delivers them to the Med himself and does many of the repairs inside and out. He also manages a large staff of mostly young baristas and cooks who seem pleased to be preserving a Berkeley institution—and unembarrassed by their loyalty to their boss.
Attendance was low. It often is on Thursday night. That's why Becker started acoustic music nights, featuring local guitarists, pianists, and singers.
A teenager was singing "The Times, They Are A-Changing," with a rousing guitar accompaniment Dylan might have liked. It reminded me that times have changed at the Med.
But then again they haven't. My previous dispatch from the Med described an inscrutable boycott over free speech violations, classism, and insensitivity to homeless street people.
The boycott brouhaha bracketed an episode of violence: a robbery in which a barista was mugged; and an altercation in which an irate man tangled with Becker and wound up hog tied (see my Planet piece Dec. 21).
That previous article cited a 1986 boycott over smoking restrictions.
But there have been other Med boycotts—going back to '69. The '69 boycott (it lasted a day) was over banning street people from restrooms. This presages the recent babycott.
Before '69 the Med was hosting Free Speech and Black Panther meetings.
Perhaps the mother of all boycotts rolled in during the early eighties. This one was complex, involving hard feelings toward the owners who were accused of elitism, in-fighting, and intolerance to drug dealing in the Med. One of the owners, a reserve police officer in a nearby town, posted the” No Soliciting; No Dealing" sign which now is hiding behind a community billboard. The community billboard was Becker's idea.
That boycott emptied three tables. Some of the boycotters boasted they were brewing their own coffee at home. They never returned.
But Medheads who still indulge the habit (addiction?) are today more likely to be concerned over the wounded carrot juicer when it roars like a 747 at take-off—stopping conversations throughout the caffe—as they are about the latest boycott.
John Anderson, 88, buses in daily from Yountville, 50 miles away. He's deaf and blind, but finds his way to the Med, unassisted. He was at the Med's opening in '57.
Elder Medheads have been involved in many phases of the Med's comeback after years of neglect under the previous owner. Becker refers to them affectionately, if sometimes warily, as "the peanut gallery." Perhaps he's wary because the gallery has grown surly. In fact, my previous Med article reeks of peanut gallery.
Recently, a Medhead for 50 years stalked out after delivering a diatribe punctuated by four F-U's louder than the carrot juicer. He has not returned. Some Medheads (well, me) have asked him his secret for breaking the habit.
Another peanut gallery laureate went to the front of the caffe—now known as the "looney box,"—an ersatz soap box, to deliver a spirited denunciation of a new piano Becker had installed.
The piano, a turn of the century gem goes well with Joplin. Becker had to take a seminar in its operation and maintenance.
But the peanut gallery denouncer was having none of it. He wanted the Med to nurture its conversational roots. The piano was drowning out talk, he claimed.
And so it goes. Point and counterpoint, the Med's preferred dialectic.
Berkeleyans are loyal to, but attitudinal about, their coffee houses.
Ted Friedman has had a Med Jones for 35 years; he Medtweets about the Med at twitter.com/berkboy.